You’ve got to fight! For your right! … to fair banking

From The UK Conversation.

British governments have been trying to improve financial inclusion for the best part of 20 years. The goal is to make it easier for people on lower incomes to get banking services, but this simple-sounding target brings with it a host of problems.

A House of Lords committee will shortly publish the latest report on this issue, but the genesis of financial inclusion policy can be traced back to the late 1990s as part of the Labour government’s social exclusion agenda. The scope and reach of this strategy has since expanded beyond a focus on access to products and now seeks to improve people’s financial literacy to help them make their own responsible decisions around financial services.

The goal of increasing the availability of basic banking has become a tool for tackling poverty and deprivation worldwide, among governments in the global north and global south and among key institutions. In 2014, the World Bank produced what it described as the world’s most comprehensive financial exclusion database based on interviews with 150,000 people in more than 140 countries.

Retaliation? mobiledisco/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Muddy waters

However, broad and enthusiastic acceptance of such policy efforts has prompted doubts about the simplistic narrative of inclusion and exclusion. This way of thinking does not capture the complexities of the links between the use of financial services and poverty, life chances and socio-economic mobility. It also ignores the sliding scale of financial inclusion, from the marginally included – who rely on basic bank accounts – through to the super-included with access to a full array of affordable financial services.

You can see the complexity and contradictions clearly in innovations such as subprime products and high-cost payday lenders. They have made it increasingly difficult to draw a clear distinction between the included and the excluded. Mis-selling scandals and concerns over high charges have also shown us that financial inclusion is no guarantee of protection from exploitative practices.

Even the pursuit of better financial education offers a mixed picture. Critics have raised concerns that this shifts the focus away from structural discrimination and towards the individual failings of “irresponsible and irrational” consumers. There is a grave risk that we will fail to tackle the root causes of financial exclusion, around insecure income and work, if policy follows this route.

In the midst of this focus on customers, the government’s role has been reduced to supporting those education programmes and cajoling mainstream banks, building societies and insurers into being more inclusive.

Vested interests. The Square Mile in London. Michael Garnett/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Given the central role that financial services play in shaping everyday lives, a hands-off approach from the state is inadequate. It fails to address the injustices produced by a grossly inequitable financial system. Our recent research examined how the idea of financial citizenship might offer a route to improvements. In particular, we looked at the idea of basic financial citizenship rights and the role that might be played by UK credit unions, the organisations which, supported by government, seek to bring financial services to those on low incomes.

The idea of establishing rights was put forward by geographers Andrew Leyshon and Nigel Thrift in response to the growing lack of access to mainstream financial services. The goal would be to recognise the significance of the financial system to everyday life and set in stone the right and ability of people to participate fully in the economy.

That sounds like a laudable aspiration, but what could a politics of financial citizenship entail in practice?

Drawing on the work of political economist Craig Berry and researcher Chris Arthur, we argue that the policy debate should move on to establish a set of universal financial rights, to which the citizens of a highly financialised society such as the UK are entitled regardless of their personal or economic situation.

  1. The right to participate fully in political decision-making regarding the role and regulation of the financial system. This would entail, for example, the democratisation of money supply and of the work of regulators. Ordinary people would have to be able to meaningfully engage in debates about the social usefulness of the financial system.
  2. The right to a critical financial citizenship education. Financial education needs to go beyond the simple provision of knowledge and skills to understand how the financial system is currently configured. It should provide citizens with the tools to be able to think critically about money and debt, as well as the capability to effect meaningful change of the financial system.
  3. The right to essential financial services that are appropriate and affordable such as a transactional bank account, savings and insurance.
  4. The right to a comprehensive state safety net of financial welfare provision. This could include a real living wage to prevent a reliance on debt to meet basic needs and could go all the way through to the provision of guarantees on the returns that can be expected from private pension schemes.

Establishing this set of rights would be a major step towards enhancing the financial security and life chances of households and communities. The weight of responsibility would shift from individuals and back on to financial institutions, regulators, government and employers to provide basic financial needs. As one example, just as people in the UK are given a national insurance number when they turn 16, so the government and the banks could automatically provide a basic bank account to everyone at the age of 18.

The UK credit union movement does make efforts towards these goals, but it cannot fully mobilise financial citizenship rights largely due to its limited scale and regulatory and operational limitations. For the rights to work, they will need the support of the state, of financial institutions, regulators and employers. That would enable the country to build something less flimsy than the loose structure we have right now, which piles blame onto the consumer and relies on voluntary industry measures to pick up the slack.

Australia is adding an extra million people every three years

From The New Daily.

Thursday was a demographer’s dream. That’s when the Australian Bureau of Statistics released Catalogue No. 3101.0, which contains a whole bunch of thrilling data.

One of the highlights is that, as of September last year, Australia had 24.22 million people, an increase of about 348,000 in just 12 months. That’s broadly equivalent to adding the combined population of Hobart and Darwin.

This growth rate is relatively high by western standards. We’re still a popular destination for migrants with net overseas migration (the difference between arrivals and departures) contributing 55 per cent of total growth. The rest is provided by natural increase (the difference between births and deaths).

But it’s not unprecedented. We’re expanding at 1.5 per cent a year, which is below that of 2007-2009 and 1950-1970 when growth exceeded 2 per cent.

At a state level, Victoria was the big winner adding some 125,500 new residents, followed by New South Wales (110,000) and Queensland (68,000). Over the 12-month period, Victoria broke through the six million mark. For comparison, if Victoria was a US state it would rank 18th just behind Indiana.

The impact of net overseas migration is not evenly distributed. New South Wales, which houses 32 per cent of Australia’s population, attracts almost 40 per cent of net overseas migration, while Victoria with around 25 per cent of the nation’s population, punches well above its weight with 36 per cent. The vast majority settle in either Sydney or Melbourne.

Another interesting element is movement between the states. Each year, people move, for a host of reasons, interstate. The difference between those arriving and those leaving is termed ‘net instate migration’ and over the years state premiers have frequently attached their economic management credentials to positive figures.

At present, Victoria and Queensland are the ‘winners’, Tasmania and the two territories can claim a draw, while New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia are the ‘losers’.

Some of these trends are fairly well established, others relatively new. For example, at the height of the mining boom, Western Australia was a net importer of people from the other states. With the boom a distant memory, it’s now a net exporter.

Lest Victoria get too cocky, it should be remembered that in the 1980s and early ’90s, when many thought the state was in almost terminal decline as a so-called ‘rust belt’ state, net outflows (mainly to NSW and Qld) were in the tens of thousands a year.

Australia is also ageing, which will have longer-term ramifications. Life expectancy is greater and our fertility rate is below replacement.

We’re not as bad as Europe, where in some countries population decline is imminent. But it’s still a very real issue that has governments mindful of the fiscal implications of a society where more of us are older than 65.

Even in the few years from 2012 to 2016, the proportion of the Australian population aged 65 and over increased from 14.14 to 15.27 per cent, while the proportion aged 24 and under declined from 32.48 to 31.92 per cent.

Finally, the ABS gave us some predictions of future population and the number of households required to accommodate it.

By 2036, we’re projected to increase to 32.4 million and, by 2056, to 39.8 million.

Most of that growth is expected to be in the big cities, with Sydney increasing from almost five million in 2016 to 6.6 million in 2036 and to 8.12 million in 2056, and Melbourne growing from 4.6 million in 2016 to 6.4 million in 2036 and to 8.16 million in 2056.

Notice something?

Yep, by 2056 Melbourne is projected to have overtaken Sydney.

Will it happen?

It could, but it’s not guaranteed. Melbourne has been gaining on Sydney for many years now, but a range of economic, social and cultural factors could threaten that. Back in 1991 few people would have foreseen Melbourne becoming Australia’s growth capital.

In any event, Sydney has large centres of population on its doorstep (the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and even the Hunter Valley region) that could potentially be called into play if Melbourne began to mount a serious challenge.

Chris McNeill is a demographer and urban economist with Essential Economics, a consulting firm specialising in the economic analysis of people, places and spaces.

The forgotten cost of the housing boom: your retirement

From The New Daily.

The house price boom is going to costing us thousands of dollars in retirement, according to a new report.

The entire retirement income system is based on the assumption that home ownership is affordable, and that anyone stuck in lifelong renting will be helped out by state governments.

But these assumptions are “increasingly dubious”, prominent economist Saul Eslake has warned.

The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, which represents all not-for-profit super funds, commissioned Mr Eslake to dig into the potential impact of rising housing costs on retirement.

In 2013-14, about 88 per cent of households headed by Australians aged 65+ spent less than 25 per cent of their gross income on housing — down from about 92 per cent in 1996-97, the economist found, using official statistics.

Worse still, the proportion of 65+ households with housing costs of more than 30 per cent gross income has doubled from 5 to 9 per cent over the last 15 years.

This is partly because Australians are buying and paying off homes later in life because of price growth, Mr Eslake warned.

housing costs retirement

Many of us will never make it onto the property ladder at all, trapped for life in the private rental market, which a recent report estimated can cost an extra $500,000 in retirement.

Outright home ownership has fallen from 61.7 per cent in 1996 to 46.7 per cent in 2013-14, Mr Eslake found using official ABS data.

“Compared to 15 years ago when almost three out of five home owners owned their home outright, home owners with a mortgage are now in the majority.”

This is a serious threat to retirement balances, as renting in later life is a drain on income streams, and many more retirees will use bigger and bigger chunks of superannuation savings to pay off the remainder of their mortgages, he predicted.

“In other words, there is a clear link between deteriorating housing affordability and the adequacy of Australia’s current retirement income stream.”

While price growth is not the only explanation, it’s a big factor, Mr Eslake wrote. Other reasons include less state government investment in social housing, and adults spending more time in formal education.

So, not only are irrational prices in Sydney and Melbourne squeezing out first-time buyers, they are likely to punch big holes in the federal government’s coffers when today’s struggling buyers become tomorrow’s age pensioners.

Home Renovations: Australia’s Next Building Boom?

The latest edition of the HIA Renovations Roundup report predicts that home renovations will become an increasingly important part of the residential building industry over the next few years.

According to the March 2017 edition of the HIA Renovations Roundup report, renovations activity grew by 2.7 per cent in 2016 to $33.06 billion. The pace of growth is projected to slow to just 0.3 per cent in 2017, before reaching 3.2 per cent in 2018. Further growth in 2019 (+2.4 per cent) and 2020 (+2.5 per cent) is expected to bring the value of home renovations activity in Australia to $35.94 billion.

“2016 marked the strongest year since WWII for new home building starts in Australia but our forecasts indicate that activity is set to decline on this front over the next three years,” commented HIA Senior Economist, Shane Garrett.

“In this context, our industry will become more dependent on work related to home renovations activity. Many are surprised to learn that renovations currently account for about one third of all residential building work. By the end of the decade, renovations activity is likely to represent some 42 per cent of all residential building activity.”

“Detached house building in Australia reached very high levels between 1985 and 1995. This large stock of homes is becoming increasingly ripe for major renovations work. Added to the mix are remarkably low interest rates and the big home equity windfalls in Sydney and Melbourne – pretty ideal conditions for renovations demand.”

“At the moment, the one key difficulty for the renovations market is the fact that turnover in the established house market is falling. This is an important driver of demand, and prospects for renovations growth would be even stronger if transactions on this side of the market started to increase again,” concluded Shane Garrett.

We would make the point that with incomes static, and mortgage rates on the rise, household incomes will be under more pressure. As a result some may choose not to move but renovate, but will they have the means to pay for it?

The Rule of Thirds

On average, according to our surveys, one third of households are living in rented accommodation, one third own their property outright, and one third have a mortgage. Actually the trend in recent years has been to take a mortgage later and hold it longer, and given the current insipid income growth trends this will continue to be the case. Essentially, more households than ever are confined to rental property, and more who do own a property will have a larger mortgage for longer.

Now, if we overlay age bands, we see that “peak mortgage” is around 40% from late 30’s onward, until it declines in later age groups. The dotted line is the rental segment, which attracts high numbers of younger households, and then remains relatively static.

But the mix varies though the age bands, and across locations. For example, in the CBD of our major cities, most people rent. Those who do own property will have a mortgage for longer and later in life.

Compare this with households on the urban fringe. Here more are mortgaged, earlier, less renting, and mortgage free ownership is higher in later life.

Different occupations have rather different profile. For example those employed in business and finance reach a peak mortgage 35-39 years, and then it falls away (thanks to relatively large incomes).

Compare this with those working in construction and maintenance.

Finally, across the states, the profiles vary. In the ACT more households get a mortgage between 30-34, thanks to predictable public sector wages.

Renting is much more likely for households in NT.

WA has a high penetration of mortgages among younger households (reflecting the demography there).

Most of the other states follow the trend in NSW, with the rule of thirds clearly visible.

Victoria, for example, has a higher penetration of mortgages, and smaller proportions of those renting.

We find these trends important, because it highlights local variations, as well as the tendency for mortgages to persist further in the journey to retirement. This explains why, as we highlighted yesterday, some older households still have a high loan to income ratio as they approach retirement. To underscore this, here is average mortgage outstanding by age bands.


Think The Unthinkable – The Property Crash We Have To Have?

In past years we have been highlighting the misaligned policy settings which have allowed home prices to balloon, household debt to soar, interest rates to slide and investors to gain more than a third of the market, higher than UK or USA. As banks have continued to lend and inflate their balance sheets and bolster their profitability, despite some tightening of standards; households are massively exposed.

The high debt means households have less disposable income and banks choosing to lend for housing rather than for productive business investment; both growth killing. The current capital rules have also encouraged more home lending and despite some recent tweaks, are still very generous.

Here is a tracker of home price growth, working back from today’s prices. The problem is not just the Sydney and Melbourne markets.  Its just that Sydney and Melbourne came later to the party.

Wage growth is still slowing whilst debt continues to lift. This is a real problem.

Had the settings been adjusted several years ago, this was then a manageable problem, but I am not sure it is now.

If the RBA cuts the cash rate it will stimulate housing further, whilst if it lifts rates, then mortgage rates will rise (beyond the recent and continuing out of cycle uplifts) and move the ~22% of households in mortgage stress higher.  Some will default.  The international rate cycle is on the way up, not down.

If more homes come on the market they will continue to be snapped up by cashed up investors (often levering the capital in their existing property) and overseas buys, which account for perhaps 10% of transactions.

If first time buyers are offered incentives, be they stamp duty relief, money from parents, cash payments/grants or cannibalising their super, the net effect will be simply to drive prices higher, it being a zero sum game. We know there are more than 1 million households who “Want to Buy”. Plus more arriving thanks to migration.

Investors still want property, thanks to the tax breaks and years of sustained growth, despite crushed rental yields. If lending standards are tightened, and a lower speed limit put on investor lending, we will see more investors going to the smaller lenders and the non-bank sector.  Also, some who already bought will be unable to refinance as they would now fall out of revised tighter requirements – about 9% of buyers fall into this category.

Switching away from stamp duty to a property tax may make more people trade, but that will just change the demand/supply curve, and perhaps drive prices even higher (as an artificial barrier is removed).

In fact, even joined up thinking which collectively attempts to cool the market whilst encouraging first owners into the market, is unlikely to succeed. Given the current political environment, this is even more unlikely.

Beneath all this is the financialisation of property, where it is seen as an investment class, not a source of shelter. This was called out recently in a UN paper, and is a global problem.

So, it looks to me as though we need a circuit breaker to kick-in, and that circuit breaker has to be a property correction, or even a crash.

A correction would scare off many investors, drop home prices to allow new entrants to purchase, and whilst many households would see paper profits falling, it was always funny money anyway.  Banks would take a hit, but then they have the capital buffers in place, and the RBA backstop.

In parallel, we still will need tighter rules of lending – especially for investment purposes, and the removal of the tax breaks which underpin the sector.  I think we need lending growth to track wage growth.

From here if we are careful, we can perhaps manage the settings such that such an explosion in prices wont happen again in the future.

But I wonder if we NEED a property crash. We certainly seem unable to manage under the current conditions.



Why Using Super For Housing Is Wrong

Interesting modelling from from Rice Warner Consultants, which shows that extracting money from superannuation to facilitate a property purchase will cost in later life and put a greater burden on state pensions down the track.

Universal superannuation was first provided to most Australian employees through industrial awards from 1986 and then via the SG from 1992. The original benefit “award super” was provided in lieu of a national increase in wages. Many members have wanted to get their hands on their deferred pay and there have been constant calls to allow young members to use their accrued super benefits as a housing deposit. Many of those with vested interests in the property industry have been touting the idea ever since.

The superannuation industry has tirelessly pointed out to various governments that the mandatory employer contribution is not sufficient to provide all Australians with a comfortable retirement. That is why, it is planned to increase contributions from the current level of 9.5% of salary to 12% by 2025. Given this, it is nonsensical to dilute retirement benefits further by allowing benefits to be used for other purposes.

The Financial System Inquiry (2014) recognised this and recommended the government adopt the objective of superannuation as providing income in retirement to substitute or supplement the Age Pension. Last November, the Financial Services Minister Kelly O’ Dwyer accepted the FSI recommendation without modification and it will become law as soon as a Senate committee has finished discussing the finer details of how this simple phrase should be worded.

Despite this clear objective, the Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has ignored his own policy and this week suggested that he is reviewing whether young people could use their superannuation benefit as a deposit to buy a home. Perhaps he will regret this when he realises what such an asinine policy would cost future governments in increased Age Pension costs.

This policy would create higher activity and would push up the price of housing as more people compete for the same amount of housing stock. It would benefit real estate agents and mortgage brokers who would get higher commission without needing to do any extra work – one of the consequences of distorting capital markets. State governments would also benefit from the higher stamp duties on inflated house prices. Again, rewarding an inefficient tax.

Self-sufficiency in retirement

We know that current levels of superannuation savings will not make people self-sufficient in retirement. If we look at people who have attained the retirement age, some 45% are currently on a full Age Pension and 31% are on a part pension. That means only 24% are not drawing a government benefit – and some of these are still working.

In 30 years, we estimate that the higher levels of superannuation benefits and a small increase in the pension eligibility age will push down the numbers on a full Age Pension to 33% with a corresponding rise in those on the part pension to 45%. However, the numbers who are self-sufficient will not change much at all. This shows that people will need to put more of their own money into super to become self-sufficient and they certainly cannot afford to take any out before retirement.

We have modelled the impact on a member aged 35 on average earnings taking $100,000 out of their super account to use as a housing deposit. Our young member now loses the power of compound interest and, assuming they only receive SG contributions and don’t top up their super later in life, they will draw an extra $92,000 (present value) in Age Pension payments in their retirement years.

So, the Federal Government allows someone to draw $100,000 and then pays them an extra welfare benefit of $92,000 later in life!

Some have suggested the super fund would simply lend the money to the member and it would be repaid. This would reduce the pain, though the member would still lose out on years of fund earnings – and investment returns make up a much larger component of a retirement benefit than contributions made throughout a career. The fund administrators would also need to keep records of this new activity which will increase fees for all members.

Clearly, there are far cheaper ways of getting people into home ownership, by looking at addressing the supply and demand for housing in our capital cities. Using super as a piecemeal solution is not the way to fix the housing problem.

Why higher interest rates should make you happy

From The Conversation.

The Federal Reserve just lifted short-term interest rates a quarter point and signaled that more hikes are to come over the course of the year.

The Federal Open Market Committee raised its benchmark lending rate to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent, as expected, and projected two more increases would be likely in 2017.

Numerous commentators have focused on who is hurt by rising rates, particularly those with lots of floating rate debt, such as a credit card balance, or anyone in need of a loan.

Not everyone, however, is negatively affected by rising rates.

There are some individuals and businesses cheering the Fed on as it pushes up rates, including savers, people traveling abroad and foreign exporters and businesses with large cash balances.

Let’s look at why each group may be celebrating the Fed’s action with a champagne toast.

Savers are happy

Interest is the economic inducement – or bribe – that compensates savers for waiting to spend their money in the future instead of squandering it today.

For eight years, the Fed has been giving us virtually no inducement to save because its target interest rate has hovered around zero ever since the 2008 financial crisis. People have been essentially punished for saving money because inflation meant at times you’d be better off stuffing cash in your mattress than in a savings account.

Rising rates means people who save money in certificates of deposits, money market funds and bank accounts will see higher returns. Many elderly people and retirees live off their Social Security checks plus interest and dividends from their savings. Retirees and people with large amounts of cash savings will now earn more money, which enables them to spend more and makes them big fans of the Fed’s current policy.

Even if you don’t have a single penny in savings but live or work in an area with a large number of retirees like southern Florida, Arizona or parts of California, the higher rates should translate into more economic activity and thus more jobs.

Travelers and importers are happy

Another group that should experience an immediate benefit includes importers and people traveling abroad because interest rate changes usually affect a country’s foreign exchange rate.

When rates rise in the U.S., the dollar tends to go up in value, which means it can buy more foreign currency. This makes traveling to other parts of the world cheaper.

In a nutshell, higher rates mean higher yields on U.S. bonds, mutual funds and certificates of deposit, making them more attractive to foreign investors. These investors need dollars to buy U.S. investments and are willing to give up their euros, yen, Swiss francs and other currencies to get ahold of them. By boosting the demand for dollars, the greenback appreciates, and suddenly that trip to Majorca is looking more affordable as fancy Spanish restaurants, flamenco shows, hotels and taxi rides become cheaper, in dollar terms.

This also makes people who export goods to the U.S. – essentially foreign companies – much happier as well at the expense of U.S. companies. Swiss chocolates, Korean phones, Chinese textiles, German beer and many other items will become cheaper for people in the U.S., meaning it should make Americans who prefer these items to their domestic counterparts happy too.

And since a boost in exports supports economic activity in countries selling these items, many foreign governments are also big fans of the Fed’s current policy.

Companies with cash are happy too

A third group that benefits are businesses with large cash reserves.

Nonfinancial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had about US$1.54 trillion in cash and cash equivalents as of Sept. 30 of last year.

Companies with large cash reserves do not let their money sit in a vault gathering dust. Instead, the money is often put into short-term investments that earn interest. When interest rates go up, they make extra earnings on their cash balances. This increase in profits, without a company doing any extra work, makes some CEOs fans of the Fed’s current policy.

In addition, there are a number of companies that bill customers up front and then make payments much later. Insurance companies are one example. People pay for their insurance policies first and then, if disaster strikes in the future, the insurance company pays out a claim. This means insurance companies hold large amounts of money for long periods of time that they’re hoping earns a good return.

So when rates rise, insurance companies become more profitable as they earn more money on every dollar of cash they have to set aside to cover an eventual claim. As a result, insurers like it when the Fed wants to tighten monetary policy and lift rates.

It takes two

Many people’s first reaction when hearing that interest rates are rising is one of panic and dread.

The result is less cash sloshing around in the system, which makes mortgages, car loans and credit lines all more expensive. In other words, borrowers take it in the teeth.

However, like most things in life, there are two sides to every story. For every individual, business and government that is borrowing money, however, someone else is lending it. Another name for lenders is savers who want to invest the money they’re setting aside for future use and make a little (or big) return in the meantime.

Savers and many other groups are cheering the rise in rates, which helps move the U.S. back to a more “normal” interest rate policy – the recent period of near-zero rates has been unprecedented – and also signals the economy is on a surer footing. That should make all of us, even borrowers, a bit happier.

Author: Jay L. Zagorsky, Economist and Research Scientist, The Ohio State University

Wage Growth Continues To Slow

The latest edition of the RBA Bulletin included a section of wage growth and this chart. Inflation adjusted wage growth is close to zero. Not good for households with large mortgages.  Interestingly they did not separate public and private sector growth, out data suggests public sector employees are doing better than those in the private sector!

The RBA says the job-level micro WPI data provides further insights into the slowing of wage growth in Australia over recent years. Following the
decline in the terms of trade, there has been a reduction in the average size of wage increases.

This has been particularly pronounced in mining and mining-related wage industries. The increasing share of wage outcomes around 2–3 per cent also provides further support for the hypothesis that inflation outcomes and inflation expectations influence wage-setting.

The Bank’s expectation is that wage growth will gradually pick up over the next few years, as the adjustment following the end of the mining boom runs its course. The extent of the recovery will, in large part, depend on how wage growth will respond to improving labour market conditions, including the level of underutilisation.

They observe that wage growth across all pay-setting methods has declined. Wage growth in industries that have a higher prevalence of individual agreements has declined most significantly over recent years,
following strong growth in the previous few years. This may reflect the fact these industries have been influenced by the large terms of trade
movements, but may also indicate that wages set by individual contract can respond most quickly to changes in economic conditions.

Wage growth in industries with a higher share of enterprise bargaining agreements have the lowest wage volatility, as the typical length of an
agreement is around two and a half years. While changes in wage growth and labour market outcomes by pay-setting may reflect differences in wage flexibility or bargaining power, these can be difficult to distinguish from a wide range of other determinants of wages, including variation
in industry performance, the balance of demand and supply for different skills, and productivity.

The share of wage rises between 2–3 per cent has increased to now account for almost half of all wage changes. This may indicate some degree of anchoring to CPI outcomes and/or the Bank’s inflation target. Decisions by the Fair Work Commission, which sets awards and minimum wage outcomes, are heavily influenced by the CPI. A little over 20 per cent of employees have their pay determined directly by awards, and it is estimated pay outcomes for a further 10–15 per cent of employees
(covered by either enterprise agreements or individual contracts) are indirectly influenced by awards.

Not everyone wins from the bank of mum and dad

From The Conversation.

The “bank of mum and dad” is helping young Australians with more than just their housing aspirations. New analysis of data on children receiving an inheritance or cash payment from their parents has found they are more likely to be involved in business startups, financial risk-taking and entrepreneurial ventures, and receive other benefits to those without wealthy parents.

The bank of mum and dad is an expression coined to describe parents generously helping their children to get onto the home ownership ladder. We already know that parental transfers are helping Gen X and Gen Y children break into home ownership, in a market considered unaffordable by international standards.

While some are angered by the growing intergenerational wealth divide between the millennials and their baby boomer parents, estimates from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey show many young people are benefiting from the wealth of their parents.

Between 2002 and 2012, 1.8 million Australians received an inheritance on one or more occasions. There was an average transfer of A$95,000 per beneficiary over the period. An even higher number (5.8 million) received cash transfers from surviving parents. These gifts averaged A$9,000 per recipient.

Housing assets remain the most important component of households’ wealth portfolios. The majority of households will therefore directly or indirectly draw down on housing wealth to finance monetary gifts to others while they are still alive. The family home is also typically the largest asset bequeathed when parents pass on.

Moreover, booming real house prices have boosted inheritances. At the same time, flexible mortgages have enabled parents to dip into their housing wealth to finance cash gifts to their children.

More than a leg up the housing ladder

A recent Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute report has shed new light on how financial gifts from parents help shape young people’s economic opportunities.

The study matches every person benefiting from an inheritance or parental cash transfer to a “control” person who is not a beneficiary, but has otherwise similar personal characteristics.

We found that the bank of mum and dad is helping young Australians with more than just their housing.

Intergenerational transfer beneficiaries are more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than non-beneficiaries. Among those who receive cash payments from their parents, 29% hold a bachelor’s degree compared to 21% of the control group who do not receive such transfers. Bequest recipients have double the average bank deposit account balance of the matched controls. These larger financial holdings can be used to buffer income shocks, and as collateral to relax borrowing constraints.

Beneficiaries might therefore be willing to take more risks. They are also better positioned to borrow and finance business startups that might not otherwise get off the ground. These ideas are supported by the data.

A higher percentage of those enjoying access to the bank of mum and dad have set up their own business. 22% of heirs to a bequest are self-employed. In comparison, only 16% of the matched controls were self-employed. Similarly, 17% of those receiving cash payments from their parents are self-employed, compared to 11% of the matched controls.

The findings suggest that the bank of mum and dad could play a role in lifting economic growth through multiple channels. These include business startups, financial risk-taking and entrepreneurial ventures.

Bridging an intergenerational divide or widening an intra-generational gap?

It seems the bank of mum and dad is recycling large amounts of housing wealth to the next generation through intergenerational transfers; and it is an increasingly important pillar supporting educational, housing and business opportunities. However, this is a “leg up” that only benefits those fortunate enough to have parents that are able and willing to transfer wealth.

The business opportunities, educational gains and home ownership status that these transfers promote will create a growing divide among younger Australians. Those whose parents own a home are able to take advantage of a wider set of opportunities than others.

As the home ownership dream fades for growing numbers of Australians, this divide will become more conspicuous. Life time renting is a prospect that many Gen X and Gen Y parents are having to contemplate. Unless Australian governments reverse the decline in home ownership, their children will in turn be bypassed by the intergenerational circulation of housing wealth.

These concerns should provide added impetus as governments strive to improve housing affordability, and restore the home ownership society older Australians take for granted. If our governments fail in this regard we could very well witness further entrenchment of inequality in decades to come.

Authors: Rachel Ong, Deputy Director, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Curtin University;  Gavin Wood, Professor of Housing, RMIT University;  Melek Cigdem-Bayram, Research Fellow, RMIT University