According to Bill Evans, Westpac's Chief Economist, Australia currently holds two world records: 27 years of uninterrupted growth, and the highest percentage of household debt.
Mr Evans was speaking to an audience of 300 at Lander & Rogers' annual Economic Briefing in Sydney. During his keynote presentation, Mr Evans discussed the Australian and global economies and his views on the economic outlook over the short to medium term.
Lander & Rogers M&A partner and MC for the event, Deanna Constable, said "While issues such as the possible collapse of Deutsche Bank, Australia's apartment oversupply, and our high level of household debt are cause for concern, it was positive to hear Bill's optimism about opportunities for growth through service exports such as education, tourism, and business services, and the need for government to drive economic activity through infrastructure investment. The announcement by Malcom Turnbull today of the updated trade deal with Singapore to free up access for Australian exporters to the Singapore education, law, financial and professional services industries is timely proof of that optimism."
Mr Evans was joined by a panel of Australian business leaders: Evelyn Horton, Non-executive Director at Mission Australia, MLC Superannuation Trustees, and Tasmanian Public Finance Corporation; Sean McMahon, Chief Investment Officer at Charter Hall; and Jason Yetton, CEO & Managing Director at SocietyOne who spoke about their views on the drivers of economic prosperity as they related to their sectors.
Speaking about the impact on the real estate investment sector of Australia's low interest rate environment, Mr McMahon said that, "Global players are still looking at Australian real estate quite favourably. Our view is even if bond rates tick up over time, there is a very good spread that makes real estate investment in this cycle really attractive."
Ms Horton questioned whether the effect of Australia's very low interest rates could add up to quite major implications for the financial services sector and its customers. "A low interest rate environment leads to lower incomes for people who are saving. And this has a flow on impact to the businesses that support those savers—fund managers, superannuation funds and banks," she said.
Lander & Rogers' Real Estate Sector Team Leader, Partner John Wells, said that in his view, "Australia's sustained low interest rates are definitely making us more attractive to global property investors. Not only are many of our existing off-shore clients pursuing opportunities at this point in the cycle on both the buy and sell sides, but we are also engaging with new foreign investors entering the Australian commercial, industrial and retail real estate markets on a weekly basis."
Mr Yetton spoke about Australia's $2 trillion superannuation industry, commenting that, "It is a world class industry, but the real issue, looking forward to the next 25 years, is the purpose of that superannuation. A clear trend is the ageing of the population, and as that occurs the primary purpose shifts from an accumulation phase—in which we've been very successful—into a pension and incomes phase. I would argue the product set and the real solutions for retirees are still somewhat limited and need to be developed, particularly around fixed income."
Lander & Rogers Financial Services Team Leader, Partner Natalie Cambrell, agreed, adding that, "There is a real need for income product solutions to be developed for retirees, and we are certainly seeing a number of our clients either innovating now or considering how best to innovate in relation to income streams. This next phase needs not just to be developed, but to be done well so that Australia continues to be world-leading in its valuable superannuation industry."
The Lander & Rogers Economic Briefing is an annual event held in Melbourne and Sydney.