With wage growth stagnant, unemployment unlikely to fall, and the economic cost of bushfires and drought to soar well into the billions, Australia's economy could be treading water, rather than roaring into recovery in 2020.
That's according to the Deloitte Access Economics' Business Outlook for the new year, with cratered consumer confidence expected to weigh heavily on growth.
Deloitte partner Chris Richardson said this dwindled confidence is in part due to the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) communication with the public, with comments regarding recession scaring consumers and threatening to become a "self-fulfilling prophecy".
Mr Richardson said some positives could be taken heading into 2020, but warned of the long term damage of skyrocketing house prices.
"Yet there are important positives too, including cuts to taxes and to interest rates, as well as a lower Australian dollar and a rebound in housing prices. (The latter is bad news for the longer term, but it does help to steady the outlook in the near term)," Mr Richardson said.
Inflation is set to be low for some time, with the private sector having little to no growth and wage growth similar.
"And although wage gains have been a little more inflationary than you’d think at first glance – given that productivity growth has been dead as a doornail – they too are an unlikely candidate to boost consumer pricing pressures," Mr Richardson said.
Sectoral scars deepening
Retail is already at its deepest downturn since 1990 and construction is shrinking at the fastest rate seen since 1999 and Mr Richardson said 2020 is not the year either recover.
"By the time this year is over, further falls in apartment activity will mean that residential construction will have matched its weakest ever recorded share of the Australian economy," he said.
"In turn, that will have flow-on effects, ricocheting back as continuing weakness through both the wider construction and retail sectors."
Meanwhile extreme weather events have all but destroyed much of the farming industry, the finance sector looks set to record its weakest growth since the global financial crisis, and the glory days of manufacturing and mining are mostly in the rear-view mirror.
There are positives to be found though; information services continue to open new paths to prosperity and health care is close to record highs.
"It [health] became Australia’s largest employer a decade ago, and this sector’s trajectory will see it have the nation’s largest revenues (beating out mining) within a decade from now," Mr Richardson said.
Housing outlook mostly positive
New South Wales started 2019 on a downer and 2020 will be no different according to Deloitte, but lower interest rates and planned infrastructure look to lighten the load.
"That combination should see the state through a downturn in apartment building and the toughest retail conditions in many years," Mr Richardson said.
The nationwide slowdown in growth has hit Victoria harder than anywhere else but population growth could be a saving grace.
"Yes, Victoria’s economy has slowed as consumers grew cautious, housing construction stumbled, and even the infrastructure spend struggled to grow.
"But remarkable population gains have put a floor under the economy’s growth."
Mr Richardson said Queensland's economy has been partly saved by export earnings masking the falling housing and engineering construction activity.
"But the state’s ‘people power’ is an increasingly good news story, and key drivers are pointing to an eventual turnaround in both housing construction and business investment."
South Australia's consumer activity, housing construction, business investment and exports all fell back in 2019 but there are said to be plenty of positive projects in the pipeline.
"That’s why the current tightness in the state’s economy should ease – albeit gradually, and only a little – through the course of 2020 and 2021," Mr Richardson said.
Western Australia has dealt with a slowdown in China as well as Australia and elevated global uncertainty and wobbly iron ore prices means the path to economic growth is uncertain.
Tasmania's economy skyrocketed in 2019 and that's expected to continue, although at a reduced rate, to eventually below national rates.
The Northern Territory's economy had a shocker last financial year as exports rose but everything else fell, but Mr Richardson said the worst is behind them.
"There’s a modest rebound in the offing – aided by the lower $A – and great longer term potential."
Canberra is defying the national downturn, continuing the drive which has seen it record is largest ever share of the national economy, despite falling house construction.
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