Australia’s resource and energy export earnings are forecast to hit a record of $425 billion in 2021–22. While new waves of COVID-19 cases and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are likely to have checked the global economic recovery (and hence commodity demand), Australian resource and energy export earnings are likely to be lifted by surging energy prices.
While this financial year’s result will represent a big increase on 2020–21, exports are expected to ease to around $370 billion in 2022–23, with further falls (in both real and nominal terms) out to 2027. Driving the fall will be a retreat of bulk commodity prices from current historical highs towards more typical levels.
A number of significant events have affected the global resources and energy sector since the publication of the December 2021 edition of the Resources and Energy Quarterly, with the most significant being the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Global commodity markets are likely to be affected not just by war itself, but by the expanding array of sanctions now being applied to Russia. It is too early to tell how broad and long-lasting these sanctions will be, but it does appear that world trade and investment flows will become more bifurcated in line with geopolitical alliances over the outlook period. Commodity supply chains will be forced to adjust.
China has relaxed macroeconomic policies in recent months, in an attempt to boost economic growth following last year’s slowdown. In January 2022, the IMF forecast China’s GDP growth to be 4.8% in 2022 and 5.2% in 2023 — a cut from prior forecasts, and one with significant implications for resource and energy commodity demand. Rising gas and coal prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine will also affect China, given its high sensitivity to energy prices. China has also been forced to manage renewed outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in the March quarter 2022, with recent lockdowns affecting tens of millions of people.
Over the last few months, a new (Omicron) variant of the COVID-19 virus has swept the world, and severe weather conditions have disrupted the output and export of bulk commodities. However, the La Niña weather pattern appears set to end in mid-2022, removing some threat to the supply of resource and energy commodities.
Inflation has picked up in most major economies, and many major central banks have begun tightening monetary policy. With global energy prices at record levels, and energy inventories in the Northern Hemisphere well below normal, prices (and thus inflation) will face more upward pressure in the near term.
Risks to forecast export earnings in 2021–22 and 2022–23 exist in both directions. A severe disruption to commodity supply emanating from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could push prices up further. There is potential for a (related) further rise in global inflation, and a risk of tighter monetary policy in response. New, vaccine-resistant COVID-19 strains could emerge. In the latter half of the outlook period, global efforts to build energy and transport systems based on low emission sources may help to offset the impact of energy exports coming off their peak.