From John Ray's shorter notes
December 01, 2010
How did Australia dodge the GFC?
Martin Hutchinson looks at how several countries have done after the GFC but omits the real standout economy -- Australia -- possibly because Bondi beach is all he knows about Australia. So maybe I should fill in a little gap there.
The first point to note is that Australia had NO crisis at all. A Leftist government had come to power just a couple of months before the global financial meltdown and paraded around spending money and offering government guarantees but that was just typical Leftist approval-seeking. They wanted there to be a crisis that they could seem to solve so they went around pretending that there was one.
The major Australian banks were never in trouble and in fact continued to make profits and pay dividends at around their normal levels. And unemployment is about half the U.S. level -- again at around its historically normal levels: A dream by world standards. And, as I have got about half my share portfolio in Australian banks, I am acutely aware of all that. By way of example, I have a parcel of shares in Westpac bank and in the year of the crisis, Westpac announced a profit decline from the previous year -- of only 1.5%
So Australian banks would be the obsessive subject of study by all the economists of the world if there were any mystery about why they did so unusually well. But there is no mystery. The answer can be given in one word: DEREGULATION. Australian banks were extensively deregulated a couple of decades ago and promptly went wild. With the government not telling them what to do they embarked on all sorts of "innovative" lending policies and got badly burnt in the process. The various banks owned by State governments all went bust in fact.
So they learnt their lesson. The surviving banks worked out how to do prudent lending and stuck firmly to those policies from that point on. And there were no government laws dictating that they make unwise loans, unlike the USA. Hence they didn't have any significant overhang of bad debt when the crisis struck. They had all bought small amounts of American paper because of its attractive yields but their now ingrained caution meant that they largely stuck to their own knitting. So losses on the American paper could be absorbed from domestic profits.
All that I have just said any economic historian should be able to dig up but it is not the full story. In my usual wicked way, I will now tell you the rest.
The American practice of making poorly secured loans and apparently thriving by doing so was deeply impressive worldwide and was therefore copied in many other countries -- and they suffered for it along with America in due course.
And in Australia also there sprang up a slew of financial intermediaries who offered what they called "low doc" loans. And they DID suffer from the GFC. But not too badly. They were mostly just taken over by the banks and everything continued on as normal.
So how come they did not cause a huge crash? Easy. As in the USA, the people who were given the poorly secured loans were mostly minorities. But Australia's big minority is very different from America's two large minorities. Australia's big minority is East Asian, mostly Han Chinese racially. And if you know anything about the Han you know that they would rather DIE than default on a home loan. The loss of face would be unendurable. If in trouble they would just get a third job. So loan defaults were relatively rare in Australia because Australia has a better class of minorities. Do you see why no-one else would ever tell you that?
AN ADDENDUM from 18 April, 2012:
Australia has the strongest economy in the developed world and it is expected to outperform all comers for at least the next two years, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The IMF - which issued its World Economic Outlook in Washington overnight - said it expected the Australian economy to expand by 3 per cent this year as fiscal tensions from Europe and the United States continue to ease.
The update said that it expects the Australian economy will outstrip growth over all other advanced economies over the next two years, noting we live in a region where exposure to troubled European banks was less than for other parts of the world.
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