‘Extraordinarily unlikely’: ANZ boss hoses down fears of a recession

The boss of ANZ bank says it’s extremely unlikely the country will fall into a recession, with most Australian households in “unbelievably good shape” to withstand economic uncertainty.

However, the bank’s chief executive Shayne Elliott acknowledged that while many Australians will have strong buffers to deal with rising interest rates and increasing cost of living, there will be those “on the extremes” who will struggle.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott sees a recession in Australia as unlikely. Credit:Peter Wallis

“Most people are still sitting on money, they are sitting in a position to be able to weather the storm, so it’s possible but I think [a recession] is extraordinarily unlikely,” Elliott told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Melbourne on Friday.

“I think the economy is in really, really great shape … and there is a lot of cotton wool in the system to withstand shocks.

“The problem isn’t the average, the problem is the tail, the people on the extremes.”

Elliott said the Reserve Bank of Australia faced a difficult task, as it tries to determine the effect of rapid rate rises, which may not be seen for months.

“The trouble the RBA has is trying to set a rate to change behaviour … it’s not something that happens in real time. It’s not like you change rates and tomorrow morning we all change our behaviour,” he said.

“So it’s this mismatch between action and outcome and you are trying to figure out the correlation between those two things. It’s wickedly complex.”

The banks have passed on all the RBA’s rate rises since the central bank started tightening monetary policy in May.

Despite the positive outlook about Australia’s ability to withstand rocky economic conditions, Elliott said he sometimes worried Australia’s “lucky country” mentality risked complacency or a lack of reform.

“I worry that in Australia … I worry that this ‘lucky country’ idea, which is true, it has been extraordinarily fortunate, sometimes makes it easy to walk away from really hard decisions and you think about reform, or lack of, over the last 10 or 15 years. Those things I worry about.”

Asked about what he wanted to see from the new federal Labor government when it delivers its budget later this year, Elliott said: “What we want is some aspiration.”

He said that ANZ was currently in the process of figuring out its own budget, and was grappling with similar questions about future outlook.

“I understand there are a lot of moving parts… the question is what are you going to do? What’s the aspiration? What are you going to do to change the future? How do you shape the future?” he said.

“The government, part of their roles is to set signals so that people in rooms like this sit around and go that’s the rules of the game … I have some clarity about those aspirations and the future.

“I think the good thing about our economy in a liberal democracy is private sector then gets on with it and says ok, those are the rules.”

Elliott also joked that the government’s upcoming jobs summit, should be a “worker’s summit”, given ongoing labour shortages.

“There’s lots of jobs, we just need people to fill them,” he said.

ANZ recently announced a $4.9 billion deal to buy Suncorp’s bank, which will face regulator scrutiny before it proceeds. On Friday, he said he was confident he continued to be confident about the deal and was “very optimistic” it would get the tick of approval.

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