March 08, 2020 06:42:25
It’s time to worry.
Did you hear the Insurance Council of Australia has cancelled its 2020 Annual Forum, due to be held in Sydney’s Hilton Hotel on March 18, because of the risks associated with attending large public events during the COVID-19 crisis?
If Australia’s actuaries have calculated the probability of contracting coronavirus from their peers and found it unfavourable, what chance do the rest of us have?
That was the joke circulating on social media on the weekend.
It played on something deep in the human mind: during times of uncertainty and ambiguity, our brains crave information that makes the world appear more certain.
That’s why our political leaders and health authorities have been holding near-daily press conferences at the moment — to give Australians the latest health advice, and to try to make them feel less uncertain amid the chaos of the virus outbreak.
Everywhere you look, experts are trying to understand how the virus is spreading and impacting the economy.
Preparing for the worst
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says he has modelled a range of possible scenarios, in which a different number of Australians contract the virus, to help him predict what type of strain the country’s health system may be facing.
Worst case scenario, he said, was “some millions of people being infected over a period of several weeks”.
“And we think our health system is well prepared to cope with that,” he said.
The governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, says he estimates the coronavirus will wipe at least 0.5 percentage points off the March quarter GDP, based on an estimated 10 per cent fall in tourism and education exports, and the bushfires will wipe another 0.2 percentage points off.
That means there’s a high probability economic growth will contract in the March quarter.
We don’t even know the damage yet
Who knows what will happen in the next quarter?
Lowe says it’s too early to say, but economists warn much of the economic damage that has already occurred won’t show up in the national statistics until the June quarter data.
So the longer it takes the Morrison Government to release its stimulus package, the less chance it has of keeping the June quarter data in positive territory.
The political implications of that are obvious.
If Australia’s economy contracts in the March and June quarters, it will record two consecutive quarters of negative growth — a technical recession.
Will Australia’s record of 29 years of uninterrupted economic growth come to an end under the Morrison Government?
Wasn’t the Morrison Government warning 12 months ago that Australia would fall into recession if Labor won last year’s election?
Parliament isn’t immune
Your questions on coronavirus answered
On top of that, there is speculation inside Parliament House that if the coronavirus outbreak becomes too bad Parliament won’t be able to sit its final sitting week before the Federal Budget in May because MPs won’t be able to fly to Canberra.
That means if the Government needs to pass legislation for its stimulus measures to come into effect it will have to recall Parliament for a special sitting, but the ability to do so will depend on the state of the virus nationally.
There’s uncertainty everywhere.
In the last fortnight, Australia’s stock market has lost well over $300 billion in value because investors have been making financial decisions based on fear, or with incomplete knowledge.
The economic benefits of stocking up
Australians have been stockpiling toilet paper, hand sanitiser and products with a long shelf-life like rice, pasta, canned food and frozen vegetables because, well, everyone else has started doing it.
On Friday, Citi’s research team tried to put some order on that particular chaos by trying to figure out if the stockpiling of toilet paper and other goods will benefit some companies.
They found the boost to sales for supermarkets “may be helpful,” especially against a backdrop of increasing earnings risk across the market.
“For Coles and the supermarket sector … we estimate the items stockpiled would be 4 to 5 per cent of the overall supermarket basket,” Citi’s team said.
“However, the stockpiling has been large and could be equivalent of four to eight weeks of sales for these items.
“For Coles, the uplift in 3Q20 could easily result in a similarly weak result in 4Q20, given pantries are full.
“However, we expect some benefit through operating leverage to the unexpected spike in sales.
“In addition, promotions are likely to be reduced over the next four to six weeks given potential limitations on supply.”
There’s a lot we don’t know
On Wednesday this week, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, Guy Debelle, will speak at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit.
His speech is expected to have a strong focus on the coronavirus and its impact on the global economy.
It will be watched closely, given it follows last week’s statement by Lowe which mentioned the coronavirus nine times in seven paragraphs.
The key takeaway from Lowe’s statement? Uncertainty.
He said the coronavirus outbreak is having a significant effect on Australia’s economy and it’s difficult to predict how large and long-lasting the effect will be.
He said the RBA board is prepared to ease monetary policy further to support the economy.
Economists say that means the RBA may soon pursue unconventional monetary policy but, again, we’re uncertain what it will look like.
The Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment survey will be released on Wednesday, providing an update on how consumers are feeling.
It comes after retail sales contracted over the last two months, by 0.3 per cent in January and by 0.7 per cent in December — the first time since mid-2017 that Australian retail sales have dropped for two consecutive months.
The NAB business survey will also be released on Tuesday, and data for lending for housing in January will be released on Wednesday.
And let’s not forget the Morrison Government’s stimulus package. It is expected to be released imminently.
We’re uncertain what it will look like, or if it will work.
Will actuaries have a better idea?
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Ask us your coronavirus questions
March 08, 2020 06:40:24