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Pundits tip top 2001

ECONOMIC experts offered a positive picture for WA’s economy in 2001, led by a resource sector underpinned by steady growth in commodity prices, including gold.

Stockbrokers predicted Australian equities would perform comfortably, even though the mighty surge in US markets was unlikely to be maintained.

Retailers were also confident, despite the current trading period being below expectations.

Generally, pundits believed WA’s economy was well insulated by its strong resources focus, though there was still a risk that Asia could blow up in our faces.

WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Nicky Cusworth predicted business investment and the resource sector would keep WA’s economy above water in 2001.

Ms Cusworth said most Australian indicators where heading down and dragging WA down with it but business investment appears to be turning the corner and the resource sector was also showing signs of renewed optimism with many companies expecting to take up more office space in the next year.

“We are looking quite clearly at figures that show that the National economy is slowing and it’s to a certain extent bringing WA along with it. But there are some things that are unique to WA. Exports here are holding up very strong and WA spending has also been very high and holding up fairly well,” Ms Cusworth said.

“The figures are showing that we are pointing toward a recovery. We really need some of those major projects which have been on hold for the past three years to start moving.”

Ms Cusworth believes the normal stimulus stemming from pre-election sweeteners looks less likely in the coming election then traditionally, because the electorate won’t bear it and there is not the money in the kitty.

It will be exports which provide the major stimulus for the WA economy – regardless of what happens to the Australian dollar – with Gross State Product expected to grow 3.75 per cent in the next year.

Institute for Research into International Competitiveness director Peter Kenyon said private business investment which is expected to rebound strongly in early 2001.

More bullish about WA’s prospects than are most commentators, Professor Kenyon said state final demand was expected to improve substantially, with a forecast expansion of around 4.8 per cent over 2001, with a slower rate of expansion forecast for 2002.

Paterson Ord Minnett executive chairman Michael Manford said Australia would be seen as a safe haven for equity investors as the US markets dealt with a downturn in capital spending in the IT sector.

Mr Manford said Australia’s resources companies were looking well positioned.

“With slowing US growth it is not as though commodities will race away,” Mr Manford said.

“However, world stock piles are getting lower, so commodity prices will move forward. In general, Australia’s resource companies are still priced at a discount or at net tangible assets.”

“I think there is substantial further upside for them and commodities than there is downside risk.”

JB Were & Son WA director Richard Alder said he expected Australian stocks to perform well after a few more months of uncertainty.

Mr Alder predicted oil would steady at around $US25 per barrel and the benefits from tax reform would begin to show.

“Tax rates will be down to 30¢ in the dollar from July 1,” he said.

Australian Gold Council CEO Greg Barns believes the gold price has come out of its doldrums and will benefit from bigger capital spending and marketing efforts in the 150th year of its discovery in Australia.

“The industry will spend about $4.5 billion in Australia this year, a little bit up on what it spent last year,” Mr Barns said.

“We’ve seen a number of gold floats this year and expect that to continue next year. There’s some action in the equity markets that was missing last year.

The WA Retail Traders Association is predicting strong retail sales figures for 2001.

The combined effect of stable interest rates, consumer optimism and the fading spectre of problems with the GST suggest the retail industry is looking forward to a buoyant new year.

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