“The majority of economists believe the economy will have contracted by up to 0.4 per cent,” one journalist reckons today, anticipating Wednesday morning’s GDP figures.

Says another: “A Reuters survey of financial institutions found that, on average, Wednesday’s national accounts figures are expected to show gross domestic product declined by another 0.2 per cent in the March quarter.”

On the predictive form of both economists and financial institutions over the past year, that almost certainly rules out a GDP result of negative 0.2-0.4 per cent.

Meantime, the sawtooth nature of recent economic data continues. Last Thursday brought a dire result for new private capital spending. Today brings record retail spending, although AAP somehow wrangles that to talk about how it “cements expectations for a frail set of national accounts”.

Whenever there are positive economic signs, they’re either methodologically suspect or they somehow demonstrate how bad things really are.

We’re not asking for what Kevin Rudd, amusingly channelling FDR, calls a “ballyhooing” of the economy. We’re asking for straight reporting and competent analysis. And in particular, we wonder why journalists, even those whose beat is normally politics, feel it necessary to undertake speculation about the content of Wednesday’s GDP figures, when pretty much no one has speculated correctly for a good 12 months or more, and we’ll find out on Wednesday morning anyway.

Of course, if the GDP number turns out to be flat or positive, we’ll hear all about how it was a shock to economists, or reflects errors by the ABS.

What is the point of the next 48 hours of uninformed GDP speculation, apart from talking down the economy?

Peter Fray

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