Data and policy
Australian economic data
The major source of Australian economic data is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). There is a schedule of major upcoming data releases. Most releases are accompanied by excel spreadsheets which you can download for further use, but it is usually worth at least glancing at the commentary on each release to check whether there have been any important changes in the way the data is compiled, or any significant statistical problems with the release in question.
The Reserve Bank publishes statistics on the Australian financial markets (including daily and monthly series on interest rates and exchange rates), money and credit aggregates, indexes of commodity prices, some data on the Australian and foreign share markets, household and business balance sheets and some major economic data (originally published by the ABS). Most of these are downloadable in excel format.
The Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority publishes quarterly data on the assets and liabilities of Australian banks and other financial intermediaries, in particular, their property exposures.
The best source of data on Australian property prices is CoreLogic (formerly RP data) although most of their data is only available on a subscription basis. That’s also the case with data from the Real Estate Institute of Australia, which can be purchased here.
There are a number of useful private sector surveys of economic activity. The best of these, in my opinion, are the monthly and quarterly surveys conducted by the National Australia Bank. The quarterly Westpac-Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Survey of Industrial Trends has a history going back to the 1960s. Sensis conducts a quarterly survey of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) . The Australian Industry (Ai) Group published the Australian versions of the ‘purchasing managers indices’ now available for more than 40 countries around the world, which are designed to provide ‘early warnings’ of turning points in economic activity.
The principal survey of consumer confidence in Australia is the one conducted by Westpac and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, which can be purchased here. ANZ and Roy Morgan publish a weekly measure of consumer confidence.
The Australian Government’s Department of Employment publishes a monthly count of internet job vacancies , and a quarterly report on wage increases obtained through enterprise agreements, awards, etc. There is also the long-running ANZ job advertisements series.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) publishes detailed data on Australia’s international trade in both goods and services, some of which is downloadable in excel format.
A large amount of data on Australia’s agricultural sector (including production, prices and exports) is available from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (then click on ‘publications by series’ and then ‘agricultural commodities’ or ‘agricultural commodity statistics’).
A similarly useful source for data on Australia’s energy and resources sector is the Office of the Chief Economist of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (which has taken over the functions formerly performed by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics) - click on ‘publications by title’ or ‘publications by theme’ to find publications such as ‘Resources and Energy Quarterly’.
The Productivity Commission produces an enormous amount of data in its reports. Particularly useful are the annual Reports on Government Services published in late January or early February each year, which provide a trove of information about spending and outcomes in each State and Territory. Another useful source of data on the activities of State and Territory Governments is the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s annual review of GST revenue-sharing relativities, normally published in April each year.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publishes a large range of data and analysis on subjects such as health, housing, and social welfare.
Australian economic policy makers
Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)
The Reserve Bank Board meets on the first Tuesday of every month except January, and releases a statement at 2:30 pm (Sydney time) in which the Governor announces any monetary policy decision which may have been made (an increase, reduction or no change in the official cash rate) and a brief explanation of the reasoning behind that decision. A fuller account of the proceedings of each meeting is released in the form of the minutes of that meeting three weeks later. On the first Friday of the middle month of each quarter, the RBA releases a detailed Statement on Monetary Policy, which provides a comprehensive overview of the RBA’s thinking about the global and Australian economies, an outline of its forecasts for key Australian economic variables and the risks to those forecasts, and the rationale behind current monetary policy settings. All of these documents can be found on the RBA’s home page on the day of release, or here at any other time.
Australian Government Budget
Fiscal policy is effected through the annual Australian Government Budget, which is ordinarily presented to the House of Representatives by the Treasurer at 7:30 pm on the second Tuesday in May. The Budget Papers released at the same time set out the Government’s view of current and prospective global and Australian economic conditions, the Government’s fiscal strategy, the decisions (to raise or lower taxes and government spending) which it has made in putting together the Budget, and detailed forecasts of the Government’s financial position in the current and following four years (the ‘forward estimates’ period). The Government also issues a Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) sometime between 1 October and 31 December each year, which updates the forecasts contained in the Budget Papers and usually includes some new policy announcements. If an election has been called, the Departments of Treasury and Finance issue, within 10 days of the election announcement, a Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO) which independently updates the outlook for the economy and the Government’s finances. All of these documents are available both for the current fiscal year and back to 1996-97.
Other useful sites
Another useful source of information about fiscal policy is the Parliamentary Budget Office, which was established in 2012 to provide independent analysis of fiscal policy issues – including costings of alternative taxation and spending programs – to Members of Parliament. The PBO also publishes its own research on topics of interest.
State and Territory Governments publish a similar array of Budget Papers and Mid-Year Reviews: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT.
As noted above, the Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services and the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s annual review of the GST revenue-sharing responsibilities also provide a wealth of information on State and Territory Government activities.
The Australian Treasury publishes a variety of reports and analyses of fiscal and other policy issues, and economic conditions. Speeches by the Governor and other senior officials of the Reserve Bank are available as are staff research papers.
Overseas and international economic statistics
Almost every country’s statistical agency and central bank publishes a variety of economic and financial indicators online. A list of national statistical agencies (with hyperlinks) can be found on the ABS website, or at the United Nations website; while this is a comprehensive list of central bank websites.
Another useful listing of data resources is maintained by the American Economic Association.
I make particular use of these websites:
The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) database, published in April and October each year. The IMF also provides downloadable data for all of the charts published in the WEO Reports. Also useful are the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Reports and Fiscal Monitor , which are published a day or two either side of the WEO, and the Global Housing Watch.
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a grouping of now 34 (mostly) ‘advanced’ or ‘developed’ economies, publishes a wealth of data on economic activity, public finance, education, and environmental issues (among other things). The starting points for accessing their data are here and here. Particularly useful are the statistics and forecasts published with the twice-yearly Economic Outlook and the annual Revenue Statistics. Also valuable for anyone interested in education are the data generated by the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
The World Bank publishes a large range of economic and social development indicators.
The Bank for International Settlements (a central bank for central banks, based in Basel, Switzerland) publishes what I usually think is the most insightful annual review of the global economy and financial system, typically in the last week of June – click on the ‘Research & publications’ tab and then on ‘Annual Report’. The BIS also publishes very useful internationally comparable statistics on debt, property prices and ‘effective’ (or trade-weighted) exchange rate indices.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, publishes a suite of demographic statistics - including the especially useful World Population Prospects. The UN Development Program publishes the annual Human Development Index, which seeks to provide a broader basis for comparing countries’ well-being than simply GDP per capita.
A really useful source of data on GDP, population, employment and labour productivity which now covers more than 70 countries in an internationally comparable way, and in many cases going back as far as 1950, is The Conference Board’s Total Economy Database. This database was originally built by the late Angus Maddison, as part of what was his lifetime project of ‘backcasting’ economic data in order to provide unique insights into global economic history (Maddison’s database).
The World Trade Organization (WTO) provides comprehensive statistics on international trade in goods and services (and on barriers to trade); while the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) provides similarly comprehensive data on foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks and flows.
One of the best resources for global energy supply and use statistics is the BP Statistical Review of World Energy which is available in excel spreadsheet format in June each year. It also includes data on carbon emissions. The US Energy Information Administration publishes an International Energy Outlook each May which has a large range of downloadable excel spreadsheets.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report is based on a mix of objective and subjective comparisons of countries across a wide range of indicators. A similar rankings exercise is undertaken by the Institute for Management Development (IMD).
Other interesting international rankings are:
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the ‘Economic Freedom’ indexes published by The Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute in Canada, andthe ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings compiled annually by The World Bank.
Economic journalists, economists and academics
Here is a list of links to the websites of other economists, economic journalists and academics whom I respect and whose thoughts and ideas sometimes influence mine.
Australian economic journalists
Australia is well-served by its leading economic journalists, who write frequently, clearly and sensibly about economic conditions and economic policy. The ones I read most often are:
The Sydney Morning Herald’s long-serving economics editor Ross Gittins and at his own site
The Melbourne Age’s Peter Martin and his own site
The Australian’s Adam Creighton
The Australian Financial Review’s Alan Mitchell
The Australian’s David Uren
Fairfax Media’s Jessica Irvine
The Australian Financial Review’s Jacob Greber
The Guardian’s Gareth Hutchens
Bloomberg’s Michael Heath
And although these journalists call themselves ‘business and finance’ reporters or commentators rather than ‘economics’ writers, they are also worth reading (or watching / listening to):
Alan Kohler, in The Australian, on the ABC, and at his own site
Phillip Lasker on ABC-TV
Sheryle Bagwell at the ABC’s Radio National
Michael Janda on ABC Radio
Michael Pascoe, in the Fairfax papers and at his own site
Malcolm Maiden, in the Melbourne Age and SMH
John Durie in The Australian
Rob Burgess at The New Daily
Most of Australia’s senior political journalists also have a good understanding of economics and economic issues. Among the best are:
Paul Kelly, David Crowe and Peter Van Onselen at The Australian;
Mark Kenny, Michael Gordon, Peter Hartcher, and James Massola at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald;
Laura Tingle, Phil Coorey and Brian Toohey at the Australian Financial Review;
Lenore Taylor at The Guardian;
Emma Alberici and Leigh Sales on ABC-TV;
Fran Kelly on the ABC’s Radio National;
David Speers at Sky News;
Bernard Keane at Crikey;
Michelle Grattan at The Conversation; and
Karen Middleton and Mike Seccombe at The Saturday Paper.
Australian economists and academics
The major banks’ economics teams make most of their research and commentaries available online, although sometimes access is restricted to customers and clients:
Australia & New Zealand Banking Group
Commonwealth Bank of Australia
National Australia Bank
Westpac Banking Corporation
Unfortunately, not many Australian academic economists these days write regularly about contemporary economic issues. Among the few who do are:
Ross Garnaut, University of Melbourne
John Quiggin, University of Queensland
Sinclair Davidson, RMIT University
Richard Holden, University of NSW
Tim Harcourt, University of NSW
Andrew Leigh, ANU (before he entered Parliament at the 2010 election)
Two other useful places to find articles and papers by academic economists are:
The Melbourne Economic Forum, a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Victoria University
The Conversation, a collaborative venture between a number of Australian universities, the CSIRO, and several funders, which uses journalists to help make academic writing more accessible to the general public
Some other economists’ sites:
Stephen Koukoulas (aka ‘The Kouk’)
Several think-tanks publish regular material on economic issues:
The Grattan Institute
The Australia Institute (an unashamedly left-of-centre think tank)
The Institute of Public Affairs (an unashamedly right-of-centre think tank)
The Centre for Independent Studies (a free-market think tank)
The Centre for Policy Development (a left-leaning think tank)
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA)
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) (focusses on defence and security issues but they have an economic content)
There are some websites which republish articles on economic issues from other sources and host lively debates (some of them are better at managing ‘trolls’ than others)
Macrobusiness (access to some articles is by subscription only)
Australian Property Forum
Overseas economists, journalists and academics
Some of my favourite economists from other countries:
Diane Swonk (Chicago)
Gail Fosler (New York)
Jonathan Anderson (Shanghai) - subscription only
Carsten Valgreen (Copenhagen) - subscription only