Well, hello, 2016. Are you going to be a heartbreaker like 2015 was? Dates, dates and more dates; numbers galore; a year of events, figures and more figures; doubt, gloom, doom and precious little sunshine; and the end of El Nino. The new year is shaping up to be a bit more frayed than the year we just buried. Take that, pesky sharemarket. No sooner had we settled in for the early January holiday break than everything went pear-shaped. Last week ended up the worst for the Dow since 1897, and the worst for the S&P 500 since forever. (But not for China because their New Year isn’t until Monday, February 8). So that’s why there’s a whiff of panic around the local market today.
Events in China continue to drive the global markets for the next week. The December and overall 2015 inflation data on the weekend showed another worrying hint of deflation, then we have the December and 2015 trade data on Wednesday; and next Tuesday the rest of the figures for last month and last year, along with the all important GDP number for the final quarter. Chinese media reports at the weekend claimed GDP grew 6.9% last year, 10 days before the government releases the figures. No wonder more and more foreign analysts and others doubt the official data. Some banks reckon real growth is half that, others take every figure with a bag of salt. — Glenn Dyer
And in Australia. We’re still chillin’ like RBA governor Glenn Stevens told us to in a speech in December. The November data for housing approvals, trade and retail sales didn’t surprise. The latter showed retail sales grew 4.1% through 2015 — a strong outcome. Car sales hit an all-time high here (as they did in the US and in parts of Europe). This week we have the labour market data for December and the housing finance figures for November. The jobs figures are the most interesting — what will happen to the stunning 71,000 new jobs reported in November? The stronger-than-expected labour market was the big economic surprise in Australia last year, so more of the same in 2016? The RBA board meets on February 2. A year ago we were surprised by the first of two rate cuts in 2015. The central bank has its first monetary policy statement later that week on February 5, with new forecasts for GDP and inflation. Expect a flood of forecasts, predictions and prognostications between now and then from the usual cast of galahs, most of whom got their forecasts for 2015 wrong. — Glenn Dyer
America the mixed. The US created 292,000 new jobs last month and added a further 51,000 for October and November. The markets really didn’t care. In fact, the final quarter experienced an acceleration. Employment growth averaged 284,000 new gigs a month, up from about 200,000 in the previous nine months. Some of that might be due to the mild winter (which meant more jobs in outdoor work like construction). Normally such a strong report would have sent the economic galahs off on a “rate rise looms” chase, but that lasted a few hours, at best, before investors resumed worrying about China and one other factor — oil prices. Not too many analysts talk about the “benefits” from lower oil prices and higher consumer spending anymore. Consumers in many major Western economies remain cautious and are saving some of those gains. But the gains are proving to be small compared to the negative impact on investment and employment from the slide in prices, and the way it has added to the slump in non-energy commodities. Will 2016 be the year the US oil and gas boom is finally popped and output slumps? And if you hadn’t noticed, America will be distracted this year by the presidential and congressional election circus. Trump doing well will be a big sell signal. — Glenn Dyer
Slippery oil. No one saw the 10% slide in global (and US) oil prices last week after a 30%-35% drop in 2015 (and few noticed that the price of heavy Canadian crude produced from tar sands, which sells at a discount to normal crudes, fell to US$19.81 a barrel last week). To some in the markets, that’s a taste of what’s to come; to others, it’s a one-off. But, in the past month, the weak outlook for oil has led Saudi Arabia to start the biggest economic restructuring it has contemplated, and a couple of small US shale companies have gone bust. Petrol prices in Australia are flirting with $1 a litre, despite the sharp slide in the value of the dollar in the past year.
Another round of misery is in store for struggling producers here, such as Santos, when they produce quarterly reports later this month. Sliding oil has added to the misery from slumping iron ore, copper and the usual cast of commodities. BHP, Rio Tinto and Woodside are all among the targets — sorry, group companies — also reporting (not to mention federal and state budgets and RBA forecasts). BHP produces its interim profit report on February 23. That’s when analysts and shareholders expect to be told that the “progressive” dividend policy is out and the company is hunkering down. And we also have a federal election, and a budget and the whole political circus that goes with that this year.
China’s New Year starting February 8 is the year of the monkey. Monkeys are supposed to be witty, intelligent and have a magnetic personality … so for PM Malcolm Turnbull, a portent? Certainly no one could say that Tony Abbott is “witty, intelligent and has a magnetic personality” could they? (Eric Abetz excepted) — Glenn Dyer