Australia’s biggest companies are giving up on growth. Investment by businesses in the benchmark stock index will probably slip below rising dividend payouts within two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Wesfarmers Ltd., the country’s biggest private-sector employer with operations spanning retail, mining and manufacturing, returned a record A$2.75 billion ($2.58 billion) to shareholders last year.
Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens, who slashed borrowing costs to a record low, is relying on companies to recover their “animal spirits” and take risks to reignite the economy. Yet firms grappling with an overvalued currency and high costs that leave them unable to compete in export markets are opting to play it safe.
“Only a large real depreciation of the Australian dollar will change this reality,” said Ross Garnaut, a professor of economics at Melbourne University and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke. “Capital spending in the traded goods and services industries is catastrophically weak because few investments look profitable in the current cost and exchange rate environment.”