Australia 'Double dip' recession can be avoided if more people get COVID-19 vaccines, NAB boss says

06:06  22 july  2021
06:06  22 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Australians are becoming more financially and mentally distressed, with half the nation's population locked down at home and increasingly worried about their futures.

The National Australia Bank's latest consumer stress index, released today, reveals households are becoming more anxious about paying their mortgage and funding retirement nest eggs, while those on lower incomes are struggling just to pay the rent.

NAB chief executive Ross McEwan told AM that volumes of calls from distressed customers have risen 40 per cent this week (up from 10 per cent last week).

"The longer the lockdowns go on obviously the more people it impacts along with their financial buffers," Mr McEwan said.

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"The big thing they're worried about is their ability to pay their mortgage, even things like their credit card or personal loans. If it's a business, they need some financial buffers to help staff through this.

"Let's be quite clear, this lockdown hurts. That's why we want people to call us early so that we can intervene with them and then put in place a some sort of arrangement."

Some customers urged to sell their homes

Major banks have reintroduced loan repayment deferrals to residential and business customers to reduce stress during the lockdown, mirroring deferrals introduced last year when the pandemic hit.

Mr McEwan said despite the mortgage stress during the pandemic, the bank had held back from foreclosing on loans in default or at risk of default.

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"We've had no foreclosures of a single homeowner impacted by COVID over the last ... 14 months," Mr McEwan said.

"Our intention is to keep homeowners in their homes as much as we possibly can and work with them.

"We want to get people through this. This is not their fault."

However, Mr McEwan conceded there could be cases where the bank would be forced to make hard decisions about distressed loans.

"There will be some situations where for some customers, the best thing for them to do to put the house on the market if they themselves don't see themselves getting back into employment for a long period of time."

Interest in vaccination rises as COVID situation worsens

The NAB's consumer stress index shows anxiety remains highest in NSW, ACT and Victoria, while rising the most in Western Australia.

The research shows vaccination intentions are more positive, with almost eight out of 10 people saying they have been or intend to get vaccinated, up from almost seven out of 10 earlier this year.

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However, most of that increase has come from the "unsure" who are down from nearly one in five people to 8 per cent, while those who said they did not intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine remained stuck at 13 per cent.

Vaccination intentions were stronger among men (84 per cent versus 73 per cent of women), with uncertainty more than twice as high among women (11 per cent) and refusal also higher (16 per cent).

Vaccine hesitancy is also more than twice as high among young people (18 per cent of 18-29-year-olds) versus 7 per cent for over-65s.

Uptake and positive intent was highest in New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, at 80 per cent or more, and lowest in Queensland at 73 per cent.

Ross McEwan told AM that a faster rollout of vaccinations was critical to ensuring more lockdowns are avoided.

"This is now the way the country gets out of this COVID situation. Getting people vaccinated takes us back to the freedoms that we had pre-COVID," the NAB boss said.

"It does come down to getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. That is the answer to getting back to what will be normal life after COVID."

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Double dip recession is unlikely

Market economists are forecasting a lockdown hit to September quarter GDP, with the consensus centering on a 0.7 per cent contraction.

Mr McEwan is betting the eventual lifting of restrictions will mean a consumer rebound and a second consecutive negative quarter will avoided.

But he warns avoiding a "double dip" recession is dependent on the elimination of future lockdowns.

"We certainly look like we'll be going back into negative territory. But what we have seen after each of these lockdowns, the opening up does bring economic activity back very, very quickly," Mr McEwan said.

"We're still seeing unemployment at a very low level 4.9 per cent and by the end of this year we'll be around 4.8. But that won't be the case with more severe lockdowns."

Other major banks have also offered assistance to borrowers, with the Commonwealth Bank extending its moratorium on mortgage foreclosures if customers are unable to meet their home loan repayments.

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This is interesting!