The RBA On Business Investment

Deputy Governor Guy Debelle spoke at the UBS Australasia Conference on “Business Investment in Australia“.

He argues that investment has been strong over the last decade, thanks to the mining sector. This is now easing back, and the question is will the non-mining sector start firing or not? Even if it does, they have huge boots to fill!

Investment spending here has been at a historically high level over much of the past decade. This has been primarily due to the strength of investment in the resources sector, which reached its highest share of activity in more than a century. So, unlike in other countries, there has been a significant addition to the capital stock in Australia over the past decade. We are seeing the fruits of that investment in the strong growth in resource exports.

In Australia, investment spending as a share of the economy rose to a multi-decade high around 2012–13 (Graph 1). This stands in stark contrast to the experience in nearly every other advanced economy as well as most emerging economies, with China being a noteworthy exception (Graph 2).

Graph 1: Private Business Investment

Graph 2: Business Investment

Much of that outcome was clearly a result of the record level of investment spending in the mining sector. Investment spending in the mining sector rose from around 2 per cent of GDP in the early 2000s, where it had been for much of the previous five decades to peak at around 9 per cent of GDP in 2012/13. Or, to put that in dollar terms, investment spending in the mining sector in 2006/07 totalled $41 billion and rose to a peak of $136 billion in 2012/13.

He concludes:

  • First, there has not been a lack of investment in Australia over the past decade. Indeed, it has been close to the opposite, with investment reaching a multi-decade peak.
  • Second, the strength of investment spending in Australia has been clearly associated with the mining industry and the spillovers (both positive and negative) of that to investment in other parts of the economy have been greater than we thought ex ante.
  • Third, in reviewing possible explanations for why investment in the non-mining sector in Australia has been weak, the most powerful reason boils down to firms’ expectations of future demand, otherwise known as animal spirits. Mining investment was strong because expectations for future demand were high and there wasn’t that much uncertainty around that expectation. Expectations of demand elsewhere have not been strong.

We are now seeing signs of that dynamic changing around the world and in Australia. With any luck, it will be sustained. This will be timely for the Australian economy as the mining investment story draws to its close.


Author: Martin North

Martin North is the Principal of Digital Finance Analytics

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