The future of the economy with AMP's Diana Mousina
Diana Mousina, Senior Economist at AMP, discusses what's in store for the economy, careers in economics and how to improve gender diversity in the finance industry
The Australian economy is going through a challenging time, with significant economic global headwinds, increased inflation, high levels of national debt and complex geopolitical challenges. However, the national economy is better positioned than many others around the world, and prudent fiscal management will be critical over the coming years.
UNSW Business School recently spoke with Diana Mousina, a Senior Economist at AMP and UNSW Bachelor of Commerce 2010, Master of Finance 2017 graduate, about the economic challenges facing Australia, how to improve gender diversity in the finance industry, and what steps women can take to work in the field of economics.
What do you do as a Senior Economist at AMP?
It’s a very broad role and works across a lot of different parts of AMP. The main job is really to help clients understand what’s going on with the economy domestically, how that affects your assets or your investments and how that will drive investment returns. And within that, we work very closely with the investments team that looks after the superannuation accounts of Australians, and we help you to understand how we’re viewing the Australian economy and how we think that will impact investment markets.
And then also there’s a broader piece of talking to the media, and being part of the debate within the government and the economy around where we think the optimal economic policy and fiscal policy lies.
As a member of the economics and finance industry, what thrills you about your work?
In my team, we are involved a lot in the public conversation about interest rates, the unemployment rate. We get calls from journalists about what’s happening to inflation, the government budget, and what the government should be doing, what drives the national conversation (about the economy), what decides how people’s wages are determined, and what influences what the RBA does. Economists are a big part of that.
We are part of the conversation to drive fiscal policy and monetary policy and that impacts every single person in the country. I think it’s important and I find that the more rewarding part of my job.
What is your advice to women thinking of going into economics?
It’s a great area that more females should be in. Unfortunately, the study of economics is continuing to trend down. But I think that people sometimes don’t realise the types of jobs that you can have.
A lot of businesses use economists, whether they are called economists or whether they are called strategists, there are a lot of jobs in the government and the private sector for economists. You can also have a good profile and be in the media.
You must do presentations to people – that’s a big confidence boost as well. And in my mind, that might be a barrier for a lot of females, especially young females: they might feel they don’t have confidence.
How did your UNSW studies set you up in your career?
The economics teachers at UNSW are fantastic. The one that I remember clearly is my development economics teacher, Associate Professor Gautam Bose, who was excellent. And it was, it was really the economics teachers. I just loved them. And I thought that it was a great programme at UNSW.
I think, in my mind, it’s the best economics programme in the country. I was very lucky that I got to go there and just fuel my interest in economics, which was already there in school.
What changes do you foresee for the economy over the next year, and how might world economic changes impact Australia?
In the past two years, we’ve had a strong rebound in the economy. And things have been good and it’s kind of seemed easy.
Household spending has been incredibly strong because income growth rose since the pandemic thanks to all the stimulus that we were given both from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and from the government, and the next few years will be about paying for all that stimulus. And we started paying for all that stimulus in those good times with the increase in interest rates and with the increase in inflation that we had last year. This year will be about the impact of those rate rises really starting to hurt consumers.
I don’t think we’ve felt the full extent of those rate rises yet, due to variable rates not moving as fast as the RBA, and it takes time for banks to pass on rate rises. And, because some households have been on fixed rates and about 800,000 households are due to roll off those fixed rates this year. Those households will roll off onto fixed rates that are two, two and a half, three times what they fixed at, which means about an extra $15,000 a year that you must come up with, which is a lot so there goes your discretionary spending for a holiday or for new items through the year. So, I think this year will be much tougher for households, inflation is likely to slow down this year. But the impact of those rate rises will start to hurt consumers.
But we think Australia overall will not succumb to a recession, although it does depend on how far the Reserve Bank takes the cash rate and if we get the cash rate at four and a half per cent or so, and then the risks of a recession go up significantly. The cash rate is currently at 3.35 per cent. Another one percentage point increase from here leads to a significant risk of recession. And financial markets are pricing that risk of recession around the advanced world quite significantly.
What are some of the more positives? Well, we should see international tourism continue to do quite well, on the China reopening and China’s arrival was worth 15–20 per cent of new arrivals before the pandemic, so the tourism industry is likely to benefit from that.
There are always going to be pockets of strength in different sectors. But we have to think about it from a macro point of view because that’s our role. And from a macro point of view, the unemployment rate is likely to rise this year because the economy is being tightened by rising interest rates. So, the point of increasing interest rates is to see a slowdown in economic growth to get inflation down. And with that unfortunately comes a result of higher employment.
But we’ve had a very good run for the past two years – the unemployment rate has been near a 48-year low although it is starting to rise, so expect that the unemployment rate will get to above four per cent this year.
How might an economic downturn impact women, and those with various overlapping social identities?
Recessions or downturns don’t discriminate against people. I think it’s difficult to say that a recession hurts women, or intersectional identities more than it hurts men, inherently. Instead, it depends on the kind of downturn that you experience. If you get a downturn that’s driven by a cyclical manufacturing and industrial production downturn, well, you could say that that might affect men more because they tend to hold more of the jobs in that heavy machinery, industrial manufacturing type of slowed down.
But I think that this slowdown will be broader based this year, it will occur in services, and in the industrial sector. Women hold a larger share of jobs in services that are necessary for an economy even in downturns. We’re talking about things like health care, and education. And that personal care type of role. I don’t really see a significant impact one way or the other.
The biggest risk that I see is what happens to women who do hold a large share of part-time jobs in the economy. And sometimes when you get downturns, part-time employment tends to be affected more because it’s easier. It could either be to reduce hours to an extremely low amount or to get rid of those part-time workers.
What about the economy and its impacts in the next five years?
Well, hopefully, Australia will still come out the other end of this cyclical downswing and that we’re likely to have still in reasonably decent shape. And hopefully, we will avoid a recession because if we do get a recession, it will take some time for the economy to recover back to its pre-recessionary-like levels.
And that’s obviously not positive from an employment point of view. But there are still a lot of positives, I think. If we think about the Australian economy, it is huge. There’s still going to be a lot of demand coming from China because China is still transitioning to a high-income economy. And that comes with more demand for things like Australian commodities, Australian services, and Australian agriculture as well.
And the relationship between Australia and China is getting better in terms of the political tensions that we’ve had over the past few years. We should start to see some of those exports that had some types of bans on them or restrictions, they should start to ease up as well.
We are transitioning to a more services, intensive economy, and manufacturing will continue to decline as a share of the economy. And hopefully, we can get some more of that growth in those highly skilled science and engineering types of roles and that sector becomes a larger share of the economy because really, that would be a particularly good driver of long-term growth, especially in the technology sector.
So: trying to drive educational outcomes toward science, engineering, and technology, I think is especially important. And Australia is probably lagging from that perspective at the moment.
What concrete steps can your industry take to embrace equity?
Even compared to when I was a graduate, I think that there’s a huge focus on trying to lift the seniority of women in corporate Australia, which is great; trying to push more females through graduate programmes that are traditionally more male-intensive.
The investment management industries are very male-intensive at the top end. But it’s not only that women aren’t promoted that’s not the issue, it’s that female graduates don’t apply for the types of male-dominated roles, like investments or portfolio management. There are just not as many applicants. I mean, I’ve been part of the graduate process for a few years at AMP. I was a graduate myself at Commonwealth Bank.
There’s a long-running list of reasons why that could be happening, and it comes down to the education sector, in some ways. The types of promotional activities that are going on at universities for careers fairs and types of jobs that females think that they can get. But there is a big push to try and get more females in, which I think is great. And it’s becoming much more common now compared to a few years ago.
If you could click your fingers and change one thing about your industry to make it more gender inclusive, what would it be?
Men taking leave. My husband took six months off with both of our kids, and so did I, and his business supported him 100 per cent which is fantastic. If you can take leave, you get paid to take leave to be with your kids, and it allows your partner to go back into the workforce; I mean, why wouldn’t you do it?
The government also needs to play a bigger role in this, if you look at the experience from overseas, a lot of the Scandinavian countries have government-sponsored leave programmes for both partners. It probably does need to be a more centralised programme rather than leaving it up to the corporates.
Then the ultimate question is down to funding, how that’d be funded. Well, maybe the corporate and business tax rates need to go up a little bit to fund those types of programmes, but then that would mean that businesses don’t have to fund it themselves. We have to think about where the money comes from. Nothing’s for free.