After 25 years growth, what next?
Although it’s one of the most attractive international investment destinations for UK companies and investors, Australia is always a difficult market to read. It’s not just the distance and time zone. Perhaps the conflict comes from the fact that it feels so “British” in so many ways, but is economically so different. The heavy dependence on mining and a services sector focused on Asia-Pacific tends to mean that economic cycles are almost the inverse of those in the UK and USA.
So back in 2008-2011, when doom and gloom hit the West, Australia powered ahead, with rapidly improving GDP and strengthening exchange rates – almost solely built on Chinese demand for raw materials. Over the past two years, however, the economy has retracted as mining has suffered.
That’s not to say that the economy has not been resilient. Despite negative factors, the end of the financial year last Thursday (June 30) brought with it official confirmation of 25 years of uninterrupted growth. In the last year, though, whilst GDP grew by 3.1%, net disposable incomes actually fell by 1.3%. So the country is producing more but earning less. Average salaries have fallen as high-paying manufacturing and mining jobs have been replaced by low-paying service sector jobs, many of which are part time.
Now economists are worrying about what will happen in this new financial year, with uncertainties around Brexit (despite the distance!), the Chinese economy and many other international factors which have significant effects on Australia. A new government and new budget may mean increased taxes.
As a result, Australians are spending less, and companies have drastically cut back on investment.
So is this a crazy time to consider trading with Australia? Not at all, if the focus is right.
The Australian dollar continues to trade at around 20% less than in 2013-14 and is around 30% less than its peak in 2012, when its value made it basically impossible for any business to sell anything in to or out of the country. The costs for visitors, whether on business or tourists, were painful. Now costs seem more reasonable and the country is once again viable for visitors and investors.
Key reasons for foreign direct investment into Australia are the high skill levels, geographical positioning to act as a base for the whole APAC region and, of course, the ease of doing business and easy cultural fit. Although salaries are still relatively high compared to most other developed countries, Australia is definitely viable as a base for R&D and other skilled activity in sectors such as Healthcare and IT. Tourism also presents good guarantees of investment return.
Since the exchange rate is only likely to reverse in the future – albeit it’s unlikely that will happen very soon – it could be a wise moment to make long term investments in Australian companies. The ones that dominate their part of the world stage, and demonstrate great long term potential, are property investment companies such as Macquarie, AMP, LendLease and Westfield. Their well-diversified portfolios mean that A$ growth should be reliable, and future exchange rate changes are likely only to improve the valuation.
From the exporter’s perspective, the opportunities for selling goods seem poor. On the other hand, it could be a better time to be selling services, especially those that can be delivered into Australia from lower cost economies. For example, “in time zone” outsourcing to Philippines has been undersold in the past, but must now be increasingly attractive as businesses seek to control costs. More cost-effectively, Australian companies could be encouraged to invest in setting up their own offshore Shared Service Centres for even greater economic benefit.
by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations