Private sector capex: Not riding to the rescue
There is an investing narrative that suggests with three interest rate cuts in the past few months, companies are about to unleash a capex spending spree. I’m skeptical. Yesterday’s capex data, which surveys both past and future company capital expenditure, supports my skepticism.
I need to preface all of this with the observation (raised before) that for some sectors, forecasts are misleading. You need to be careful about which conclusions are safe to draw. Some sectors are good at forecasting capex, and some are terrible.
One of the only growing sectors is mining equipment:
But for mining, the good news gets wiped out by the bad.
Once you get into the industrial sectors, a bleak outlook is standard:
I have a keen interest in the construction sector, which I think will be patient zero if the Australian economy falls into recession. The construction sector has poor growth forecast.
Unfortunately, construction capex forecasts are historically inaccurate. I’m reluctant to read too much into construction forecasts, even though they support my thesis.
Optimists can seize on the one good subsector out of about 20:
No white horse, maybe a white flag?
- The Reserve Bank has effectively run out of interest rates cuts to stimulate the economy
- The Reserve Bank wants the federal government to spend on capital expenditure
- The federal government refuses to spend more on capital expenditure
- The federal government wants companies and state governments to spend more on capital expenditure and research
- There are few property transactions, putting pressure on state government budgets which rely on stamp duty
- State governments also can’t spend more on capital expenditure – the federal government collects most of the taxes and is focussed on delivering surpluses
- Companies are refusing to spend more on capital expenditure due to the uncertain outlook
Far from riding to the economy’s rescue, the private sector seems to be hunkering down and not spending.
My view is that without considerable federal government stimulus, there is nothing on the horizon to suggest a recovery in the Australian economy. On the contrary, there is a range of risks which could result in considerable economic downside.
For our investors and superannuation clients, cognisant of the risks, we are carrying close to minimum weight in Australian stocks.
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Damien runs asset allocation and global stock portfolios for Nucleus Super, Nucleus Ethical and Nucleus Wealth. His 25 year+ career includes Global Quant at Schroders, Strategy at Wilson HTM & co-founder of Aegis.