The attached note looks at the impact of the horrific bushfires seen in Australia in recent months. The key points are as follows:
- The bushfires are expected to result in around a 0.4% hit to GDP mainly in the March quarter followed by a rebuilding boost.
- The hit to consumer spending and tourism is likely to linger longer.
- The drag on economic activity has increased the pressure for more monetary and fiscal stimulus. We still see the RBA cutting the cash rate to 0.25%.
- The bushfires likely increase the pressure for more action on climate change and highlight the need for investors to be aware of industries and businesses that are vulnerable to climate change risk.
The Australian bushfire season that began in September has been horrific with more than 7 million hectares of bush destroyed, more than 25 deaths, significant loss of livestock, estimates of more than a billion wildlife animals killed and more than 1800 homes destroyed. More than 200 fires are still burning. Following the intensification of the bushfires over the Christmas/New Year period attention has now turned to the impact on the economy. This note looks at the key impacts.
The short-term impact on GDP and wealth
Physical disasters invariably cause a brief disruption to economic activity as measured by GDP followed by a boost as wealth destroyed by the disaster is rebuilt. In this sense measured across a year or so they are often seen as positive for economic growth, albeit this seems perverse particularly for those directly impacted.
The damage to property and wealth flowing from the bushfires will likely run into many billions. For example, the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires are estimated to have cost $4.4bn, whereas the current fires have covered an area 15 times bigger. So there will be a very big rebuilding boost to economic activity to come once the fires are brought under control. But the fires have been very widespread, have been going on for several months now and the crisis is continuing, so there will be a significant short-term negative impact and it likely will involve more than a short-term disruption to economic activity.
Activity related to farming, manufacturing, transport, tourism and business generally in the affected areas will be disrupted – this will involve around 2-3% of the population and will be concentrated around the March quarter. It will also be partly offset as affected people have to undertake spending that they otherwise wouldn’t have had to.
A bigger impact on economic activity is likely to come via a hit to consumer spending as the constant news of the fires and the smoke haze in several capital cities weighs on confidence. Australians were already very hesitant about the economic outlook after the slowdown in growth seen last year and continuing weak wages growth and high underemployment. A Roy Morgan survey released late last year found that 40% of Australians thought that 2020 will be worse than 2019, which is the worse reading since the early 1990s recession. At the same time a record-low 12% thought it would be better resulting in a net negative reading of 28% which is the worst in the survey’s 40-year history.
Source: Roy Morgan: AMP Capital