John is Head of the Economic Research Department. During his career at the RBA he has worked in Economic Analysis, Economic Research and Payments Policy Departments. John also spent three years at the International Monetary Fund where he was the lead author of a number of influential chapters in its flagship publication, the World Economic Outlook. He has a PhD from MIT, which made a seminal contribution to the identification and analysis of the Great Moderation.
Underneath the headlines: understanding price change in the Australian economy
Joint conference hosted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Reserve Bank of Australia
22-23 May 2023
H.C. Coombs Centre
122A Kirribilli Avenue, Kirribilli NSW 2061
The pandemic, international conflict, and natural disasters have led to disruptions in demand, supply and labour markets resulting in price changes not seen in the Australian economy for several decades. As Governor Lowe has put it, Australia has experienced “a very large inflation surprise” (speech to the Anika Foundation, Sydney 8 September 2022). Understanding the dynamics of these price changes requires analysis below the macro – ideally the interaction of individual economic actors at the regional and sectoral levels.
The effects of these disruptions have been experienced in different ways across sectors, influenced by levels of competition, types of businesses and regional differences, and this has led to different outcomes in the speed and size of prices increases that have been passed along the supply chain.
The impact on types of households has also differed and resulted in changes in the observed patterns of household spending. The ABS is exploring the use of rewards card data to inform detailed expenditure by households and is designing a new Living Cost in Australia Survey to collect income, housing, and wealth data.
While wages growth is picking up from the lows of recent years, the current tight labour market has not yet generated real wage growth for many workers. Analysis of microdata can provide insight into contemporary remuneration practices (for example the use of non-wage remuneration) and the price setting behaviour of businesses.
The pandemic also placed significant stress on the provision of services in the non-market sector – health, disability and aged care, and education – resulting in increased costs and higher prices borne by government or consumers. This has highlighted the challenges in understanding the productivity performance of these sectors, their cost/funding models, and the interaction with the market economy (particularly in the competition for labour).
Research utilising detailed timely microdata is providing fresh insights into how these disruptions are being experienced across types of businesses and households.
The conference will explore how this data, and associated new measurement approaches, can inform contemporary research and policy questions into the dynamics of price change in the Australian economy.
Dr John Simon
Dr David Gruen
David was appointed Australian Statistician on 11 December 2019. As Agency Head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, he is accountable for the functions and operations of the Bureau. David was previously the Deputy Secretary, Economic and Australia’s G20 Sherpa at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Before joining the Department in September 2014, he was Executive Director of the Macroeconomic Group at the Australian Treasury. David joined the Treasury in January 2003, before which he was the Head of the Economic Research Department at the Reserve Bank of Australia from 1998 to 2002. Before joining the Reserve Bank, David worked as a research scientist in the Research School of Physical Sciences at the Australian National University. With financial support from a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship, David was visiting lecturer in the Economics Department and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University from August 1991 to June 1993. He holds PhD degrees in physiology from Cambridge University, England and in economics from the Australian National University. David was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (General Division) in 2022 for distinguished service to public administration, to economic research, to business, and to education.
Michael is the General Manager responsible for the social statistics program covering topics including education, health, crime and justice, homelessness, and social disadvantage. He has an extensive background in official statistics having worked at the ABS, Statistics New Zealand, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. Prior to his current role, he was most recently the global advisor on national accounts at the United Nations in New York.
Gina started her 5-year appointment as Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on 21 March 2022. Gina is the first female Chair of the ACCC since it was established as an independent statutory authority in 1995. Before she joined the ACCC Gina was a senior and founding partner of Gilbert and Tobin’s competition and regulation team. Gina has over 25 years’ experience advising on a large number of merger, competition and regulatory matters in Australia and New Zealand. She is widely recognised as one of Australia’s leading competition and regulatory experts. Gina was a Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley from 1986 to 1987, majoring in US competition law, financial institutions regulation and securities regulation.
Michael is Chair of the Productivity Commission. Previously Michael was Deputy Secretary, Fiscal Group, in the Federal Treasury with responsibility for budget policy, retirement incomes, Commonwealth-State relations, social policy and infrastructure financing. Before that he was Deputy Secretary, Economic in the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance. Michael has worked as an Associate Director in the economics and policy practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and as a senior adviser to Treasurers and Ministers for Finance at the State and Federal level. Michael holds a Bachelor of Economics (Hons) from the ANU.
Professor Jeff Borland
Jeff is Truby Williams Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne. His main research interests are analysis of the operation of labour markets in Australia, program and policy evaluation and design, Australian economic history and sports economics. Jeff is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. In he 2020 received the annual Distinguished Fellow Award from the Economic Society of Australia. His main current fields of teaching are microeconomics, economic analysis of public policy and economic history. He has authored the textbook Microeconomics: Case Studies and Applications, now in its 4th edition. At University of Melbourne Jeff has been a recipient of the Ed Brown University Teaching Prize and the Ross Williams Award for Career Achievement in Teaching in the Faculty of Business and Economics.
Jonathan is a Senior Research Manager in the Economic Research Department at the RBA, leading the Micro Analysis and Data stream. He has previously held positions in Domestic Markets and International Departments of the Bank, as well as a role at Australian Treasury leading their microdata analysis team. Jonathan holds a Masters in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from LSE. His research focuses on using microdata sources to understand macroeconomic phenomena, with a particular focus on productivity, competition and labour markets.
Dan is Research Director and Head of Policy Engagement at the e61 Institute. Previously he was Head of the Structural Policy Analysis Division at the OECD, where he led teams to analyse the policy drivers of productivity and employment growth. As a senior executive at the Australian Treasury, Dan founded the Treasury microdata unit and served as Co-Chair of the OECD Global Forum on Productivity and Australian delegate to the OECD Economic Policy Committee. Dan research documents the productivity implications of the COVID-19 shock and structural reforms, and has produced seminal research on the divergence between frontier and laggard firms, the rise of zombie firms and bank forbearance. He has also led research into the scarring effects of recessions, housing markets, globalization & inflation and the inequality-social mobility-growth nexus.
Bjorn is the head of the labour statistics program at the ABS. Over the past two decades he has been a passionate advocate for the power of high-quality statistics in understanding the Australian economy and society, and in informing important decisions by businesses, households and governments. In recent years he has overseen the production of a range of new labour market statistics and insights, including jobs and wages measures from Single Touch Payroll data, the monthly release of longitudinal Labour Force data, the introduction of a Labour Account, new statistics on labour hire work and workers, and insights into job attachment and job mobility in Australia.
Kate is an Assistant Director in Treasury’s Household Microdata Unit. In this role she leads research into wages, inequality and disadvantage using Treasury’s microdata assets, which includes Single Touch Payroll data. Kate has previously worked in a variety of policy roles in the Treasury and at the Reserve Bank of Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Computing and a Bachelor of Economics (first class honours) from the University of Tasmania.
Dr Gordon de Brouwer
Gordon was appointed as the Australian Public Service Commissioner commencing 11 May 2023 and was previously the Secretary for Public Sector Reform. Prior to this Gordon was Professor of Economics, jointly appointed to the Crawford School of Public Policy and College of Business and Economics. Gordon has extensive experience in public policy and administration in Australia, including as Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy (2013-17) and senior roles in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (including Associate Secretary of Domestic Policy Group and G20 Sherpa, 2008-13), Treasury (2002-08), ANU (Professor of Economics, 2000-02) and the Reserve Bank of Australia (1991-99). He is committed to public value, high-quality policy and implementation, and effective government. Gordon has a PhD in economics from the Australian National University, and was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2011.
Robert is Program Manager for the Business Indicators Branch at the ABS, leading the ABS’s production of a range of business-related monthly, quarterly and annual publications. Robert has worked in roles in the ABS, Department of Home Affairs and Commonwealth Treasury, focusing in these roles on using quantitative analysis and data to deliver better policy analysis and policy outcomes. Robert has degrees in Economics, Psychology and Public Administration from the Australian National University.
Leigh joined the ABS in 2008 having graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Business (Honours). I have worked predominately on the Consumer Price Index in both production and research roles, including 18 months at the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Most recently I led the development of the monthly CPI indicator, which was released for the first time at the end of 2022.
Fred is an economist in the RBA’s business liaison team. In this role Fred has been responsible for monitoring developments in housing markets by gaining insights from liaison contacts. Over the past few months Fred has been seconded to the ABS to conduct research on the ABS’s new rental price dataset.
Michelle is the Program Manager, Prices Branch at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). In this role she manages the ABS’ suite of price indexes, including the Consumer Price and Wage Price indexes. These indexes provide important insights that are relied upon by decision makers and researchers to understand and manage the economy. Prior to her current position, Michelle has worked in many roles across the vast array of economic and social statistics produced by the ABS. She has also worked internationally at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Michelle has a Bachelor of Science from Melbourne University and an MBA from the University of Canberra.
Dr Gianni La Cava
Gianni is Research Director and Head of Academic Engagement at the e61 Institute. He previously held several senior positions at the Reserve Bank of Australia, including establishing and leading a research team – Micro Analysis and Data (MAD) – dedicated to examining macroeconomic issues using microeconomic data. He also spent time working at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the UK and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Switzerland. Gianni holds a PhD in Economics from LSE and a Bachelor of Arts/Commerce from the University of Sydney. Gianni’s research focuses on answering policy questions with micro data and covers topics such as household wellbeing, inequality, the housing market, and the role of the financial sector in the economy.
Nicole is a Research economist at the e61 Institute. She previously worked at the Reserve Bank of Australia in a range of roles, analysing household balance sheets, commercial property markets, capital flows and foreign exchange markets. Nicole holds an honours degree in Economics from the University of Western Australia.
Professor Kevin Fox
Kevin is a Professor of Economics and Director of Centre for Applied Economic Research at the UNSW Business School. He works primarily in the field of economic measurement, with a focus on productivity and prices. His research on the use of scanner data in price indices has changed CPI construction in multiple countries. He is President of the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and member of the NBER-affiliated US Conference on Research in Income and Wealth. He chaired the 16th Series CPI Review Advisory Group in 2009-2010, is a member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Methodology Advisory Committee, and has been a consultant for agencies such as the Australian Treasury, UK Office for National Statistics, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the Swiss National Bank, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Asian Development Bank, and the New Zealand Treasury. He is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Productivity Analysis and an Editorial Board member of the Review of Income and Wealth.
|7:30am||Coffee, tea and breakfast|
|9:30am||Conference opening and Acknowledgement to Country||Dr John Simon, Reserve Bank of Australia|
|9:40am||Opening remarks||Dr David Gruen, Australian Bureau of Statistics|
|9:50am||Session 1 – The pandemic, natural disasters, and geopolitical events have led to supply shocks which have had significant impacts on prices. The intersection of these supply chain impacts and the level of competition in sectors of the economy has contributed to the price shocks flowing through the economy. How can the use of business microdata sets assist in understanding these mechanisms?|
|Setting the Scene: Business Microdata, Supply Chains, and Graphically Linked Information||Michael Smedes, Australian Bureau of Statistics|
|The role and benefits of deep data in delivering the ACCC’s mission to promote competition and make markets work in the interests of consumers, businesses and the economy||Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission|
|What can we learn about industries’ vulnerability to overseas price shocks from Merchandise trade data in BLADE?||Michael Brennan, Productivity Commission|
|Discussant||Dan Andrews, e61|
|Chair||Michele Bullock, Reserve Bank of Australia|
|1:00pm||Session 2 – The unemployment rate is as low as it has been for decades and there are wide-spread reports of labour and skills shortages; meanwhile the most used measures of wage inflation remain stubbornly low. Can detailed data and associated analysis of the labour market and relationships between employers and employees help explain this phenomenon?|
|Why do we have slow wage growth when the rate of unemployment is 3.5 per cent?||Professor Jeff Borland, University of Melbourne|
|Using new data sources to understand and monitor changes in prices, wages and incomes||Jonathan Hambur, Reserve Bank of Australia|
|Non-compete clauses in Australia: Structural policy meets economic measurement||Dan Andrews, e61|
|Discussant||David Turvey, Jobs and Skills Australia|
|Chair||Dr John Simon, Reserve Bank of Australia|
|Panel discussion: Using Single Touch Payroll for labour market analysis|
Jonathan Hambur, Reserve Bank of Australia
|4:30pm||Close session 2|
|6:00pm||Reflections on the RBA Review||Dr Gordon de Brouwer, Australian Public Service Commissioner|
|9:00pm||Close day 1|
|7:30am||Coffee, tea and breakfast|
|9:00am||Session 3 – As price inflation outstrips wage growth all eyes turn to the reaction from consumers and the impact of this decline in real incomes on the welfare of different population groups. What can we learn about the consumer response and the impact on living standards from the ever-increasing volume of consumer behaviour data from private sector sources?|
|How do consumers react to the price of food? Evidence from supermarket micro data||Robert Ewing, Australian Bureau of Statistics|
Leigh Merrington, Australian Bureau of Statistics
|New Insights into the Rental Market||Michelle Marquardt, Australian Bureau of Statistics|
Fred Hanmer, Reserve Bank of Australia
|The Effects of Changes in Unemployment Benefits on Consumer Spending: Evidence from the Australian JobSeeker Supplement||Dr Gianni La Cava, e61|
Nicole Adams, e61
|Multilateral index number methods for Consumer Price Statistics||Professor Kevin Fox|
|Discussant||Dr Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS and Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute|
|Chair||Elizabeth Williamson, Australian Bureau of Statistics|
|12:30pm||Closing remarks/wrap up/summary/key takeaways||Dr John Simon, Reserve Bank of Australia|
|12:45pm||Lunch and depart|
Papers - Session 1
The pandemic, natural disasters, and geopolitical events have led to supply shocks which have had significant impacts on prices. The intersection of these supply chain impacts and the level of competition in sectors of the economy has contributed to the price shocks flowing through the economy. How can the use of business microdata sets assist in understanding these mechanisms?
The role and benefits of deep data in delivering the ACCC’s mission to promote competition and make markets work in the interests of consumers, businesses and the economy
Abstract: In reporting on and understanding competition issues across the economy, the ACCC relies heavily on its statutory information gathering powers, which include the compulsion of firm-specific data. In recent times, we have been looking at particular sectors that have been impacted by external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical issues and natural disasters. The ACCC is also frequently directed to examine sectors experiencing more durable or ‘secular’ shifts in demand or supply conditions and where market failure is more likely to be prevalent. This paper uses recent examples of the ACCC’s work to highlight the critical role that data plays in informing our inquiries and enforcement work – including on digital platforms, gas, petrol, child care, stevedoring and insurance markets. The paper also looks at the potential benefits of increasing access to microdata sets by the ACCC and other regulators, in terms of both targeted market studies well as identifying market failures and instances of competitive misconduct.
What can we learn about industries’ vulnerability to overseas price shocks from Merchandise trade data in BLADE?
Abstract: Inflation overseas can impact domestic inflation through rising import prices and strong overseas demand for Australian exports. Imports can include both consumer products and inputs for domestic goods and services. This paper explores the Merchandise Trade data collected by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is integrated with the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE). How useful is this dataset for identifying which products are imported by which industries? How informative is the data on the value of shipments? And is it possible to estimate the elasticity of demand for particular inputs in particular industries, as a measure of likely cost pass-through?
Papers - Session 2
The unemployment rate is as low as it has been for decades and there are wide-spread reports of labour and skills shortages; meanwhile the most used measures of wage inflation remain stubbornly low. Can detailed data and associated analysis of the labour market and relationships between employers and employees help explain this phenomenon?
Why do we have slow wage growth when the rate of unemployment is 3.5 per cent?
Abstract: This presentation will address two main questions about wage growth in Australia: Why has wage growth declined over the past two decades? and why hasn’t wage growth increased more as the labour market has got tighter since 2021? The main potential answers to each question will be reviewed, using both analysis of ABS aggregate-level data and existing literature. Conclusions from, and limitations of, the analysis will be used to suggest ways in which ABS micro-data might be used to make further progress in understanding wage growth in Australia.
Using new data sources to understand and monitor changes in prices, wages and incomes
Abstract: New, timely administrative datasets are opening up new ways for policymakers to understand and monitor changes in prices, wages and incomes. This paper gives an overview of some of the ways that Reserve Bank has been making use of these new data, including constructing new timely measures of labour income, and measures of income for different demographic groups, and across the income distribution. It also discusses early insights drawn from a recently linked dataset made up of firm administrative data and web-scrapped price data, as well as the potential to leverage this new dataset to better understand the pass-through of input price shocks to final prices.
Non-compete clauses in Australia: Structural policy meets economic measurement
Abstract: Non-competes – a clause of a contract where an employee agrees not to compete with an employer after the employment time period is over – are emerging as a new frontier for inclusive growth and competition policy. This is most notably demonstrated by the Federal Trade Commission’s recent proposal to ban non-competes in the United States – which follows more than a decade of research documenting their prevalence and economic consequences – but non-compete clauses are also a feature of more regulated European labour markets. Yet, little is known about the prevalence of non-compete clauses – and other post-employment restraints – in the Australian context, let alone their consequences for productivity and wage growth. Against this backdrop, we propose an analytical framework to measure the prevalence of non-compete clauses in Australia, whereby qualitative stakeholder liaison is used to inform a quantitative effort that combines ad hoc online polling with more systematic measurement, in line with global best practice.
Using Single Touch Payroll for labour market analysis
Panel Description: The Single Touch Payroll (STP) administrative dataset provides a unique opportunity for timely and detailed insights into the Australian labour market. In this panel session, officers from the ABS, RBA and Treasury will share how analysis of STP has improved their understanding of the labour market and discuss future opportunities and challenges.
Papers - Session 3
As price inflation outstrips wage growth all eyes turn to the reaction from consumers and the impact of this decline in real incomes on the welfare of different population groups. What can we learn about the consumer response and the impact on living standards from the ever-increasing volume of consumer behaviour data from private sector sources?
How do consumers react to the price of food? Evidence from supermarket micro data
Abstract: How consumers react to the price of food is a question of substantial economic and health policy importance. Food makes up a substantial share of household’s overall budget, and choices between different food stuffs can have important economic and health outcomes. But analysing the impact of food prices is difficult as they evolve more rapidly than the measurement of economic statistics, and measurement of the volume of household consumption is less frequent than price measurement. This paper draws on statistics the ABS has generated from supermarket scanner data, which provides information on both the price and volume of sales of millions of individual items. Using this data the paper analyses the way that consumers are responding to price changes of a range of goods. The economic and health implications of these responses are considered, showing how the impact of price changes differs across different categories of consumption.
New Insights into the Rental Market
Abstract: This paper draws out new insights on the private Australian rental market using the ABS’s new large administrative dataset of rental properties, which is an input to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). CPI rent inflation has picked up recently. Rent increases have become more common, and larger on average over the past year. Each month, around 2-3 per cent of the properties in the dataset had a change in tenants; increases in rents have been materially higher for properties with a change in tenant than for the stock of rental properties. Rents have increased across inner city, regional areas and states over the past year. This is in contrast to the experience during the pandemic during which time rents fell in many suburbs close to the CBD but increased in regional areas amidst a preference shift among many households for more space.
The Effects of Changes in Unemployment Benefits on Consumer Spending: Evidence from the Australian JobSeeker Supplement
Abstract: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian government implemented the biggest increase in unemployment benefits in Australian history. The introduction of the JobSeeker supplement represents a natural experiment to gauge the causal effect of a very large change in unearned income on consumer spending. Using bank transactions data, we estimate that consumer spending increased by more than 50 cents for each dollar of supplement received. The increase in benefits was mostly spent on groceries, debt and rent repayments. The sensitivity of spending to unemployment benefits was stronger for Jobseekers that were liquidity constrained, though even those with large bank deposit balances significantly increased their spending. There was basically no consumption response to the expiry of the supplement as Jobseekers still held high levels of liquidity. Our results are important for quantifying the impact of the stimulus policies during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the importance of household liquidity in the design of policies to protect the economy from future recessions.
Multilateral index number methods for Consumer Price Statistics
Abstract: The increasing availability of supermarket scanner data covering expenditures and prices on a wide range of products has created new opportunities for national statistical institutes, including the possibility of publishing more reliable indicators of monthly price changes. We discuss and evaluate the properties of different multilateral index numbers for measuring high frequency price changes, drawing on household scanner data. We find that use of the Caves-Christensen-Diewert-Inklaar (CCDI) index, updated using the mean splice, is to preferred for both theoretical and empirical reasons.