Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stevens thinks things are great, but in Victoria...

VICTORIAN business has sent out a mayday call, warning that the state's economy is deteriorating.

A new business survey reports that conditions have slid to their worst levels since 2009, and are expected to get worse in the coming year.

As Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens talked up the economy at a lunch in Sydney, the quarterly survey by the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) and the Commonwealth Bank found a very different message coming up from ground level, in Melbourne and regional towns alike.

The 300 or so employers surveyed said conditions were the worst since the global financial crisis. Sales, profits and business investment were all at their lowest level since March 2009. The only growth was in wages and labour costs, they reported.

Forecasts for 2012-13 were even bleaker. For Victoria, only 9 per cent forecast stronger growth in 2012-13, while 61 per cent tipped growth to weaken.

For Australia, they were only slightly less pessimistic: 13 per cent predicted the economy would improve while 51 per cent expected it to weaken.

VECCI chief executive Mark Stone was almost apologetic, suggesting the results might have been affected by "uncertainty due to global instability (and) . . . the introduction of the carbon tax on July 1". But he said it did reflect recent conditions and urged the federal and state governments to give a lead by:

. Lifting investment in productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects, such as the East-West Link.

. Reducing "unnecessary red tape stifling small business competitiveness".

. Helping more Victorian firms get into export markets.

The survey highlights the reality that Australia is a two-speed economy, growing mostly in the minersphere mining and industries dependent on it. Deloitte Access Economics forecast this week that in the next five years Victoria and the rest of the south-east would grow at barely half the pace of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

"The bulk of the evidence suggests Victoria's slowdown will be modest, with the dangers of its housing setback contained without wider damage," Deloitte said. It predicted that the state's economy would be rebooted by solid growth in consumer spending, sharply rising exports and a housing recovery from late 2013.

Others are less confident. BIS Shrapnel chief Frank Gelber has urged the state government to bump up infrastructure investment, to make it a driver of growth, rather than cut it as planned.