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Joe Hockey must be careful not to push his luck

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Hockey welcomes 'positive signs' on economy

Treasurer Joe Hockey has cautiously welcomed higher than expected growth figures in the latest national accounts, but says 'we need to do better'.

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Joe Hockey knows not to push his luck. Business investment is collapsing and the plans for the year are even worse. Planned mining investment is down 25 per cent, and manufacturing investment is down 20 per cent.

But as luck would have it the record high investment of the past few years is paying off.

Export volumes are climbing (although lower prices mean export income is climbing more slowly) and households are cautiously reopening their wallets, spending an extra 2.6 per cent in the past year after adjusting for inflation.

But they are not doing it because they have more money to spend. Incomes climbed just 0.1 per cent after inflation, meaning households financed most of the extra spending by saving less.

It's to be welcomed. But at more than 10 per cent the household saving rate was too high. It means the boost in spending is inherently unstable. An unpopular budget or a scare about unemployment could see it vanish.

The Treasurer needs an unpopular budget if he is to bring down the deficit. But actually delivering one could see the economic growth rate slip rather than climb and, it needs to climb sharply to stop unemployment rising.

Mr Hockey, and most of the other ministers who attended last week's G20 meeting in Sydney, has committed himself to higher growth. His solution will be to use the May budget to announce cuts that will provide a ''credible path back to surplus" but won't deliver the surplus for a long time.

If he pulls it off he'll give a double boost to consumer and business confidence. We will like the credible path, but we won't be frightened. Snapping his wallet shut just as we are starting to dip into ours would be pushing his luck.

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