Research Discussion Paper – RDP 2005-07 The Australian Business Cycle: A Coincident Indicator Approach Abstract

This paper constructs coincident indices of Australian economic activity using techniques for estimating approximate factor models with many series, using data that begin in the early 1960s. The resulting monthly and quarterly indices both provide plausible measures of the Australian business cycle. The indices are quite robust to the selection of variables used in their construction, the sample period used in estimation, and the number of factors included. Notably, only a small number of factors is needed to adequately capture the business cycle.

The coincident indices provide a much smoother representation of the cycle in economic activity than do standard national accounts measures, especially in the period prior to the early 1980s. Accordingly, they suggest that the marked decline in volatility evident in quarterly Australian GDP growth that occurred up to the 1980s may overstate the reduction in the volatility of economic activity and may at least partially reflect improvements in the measurement of GDP. Because the coincident indices present a smoother perspective of the business cycle in the 1960s and 1970s, they identify fewer recessions in this period than does GDP. Over the past 45 years, the coincident indices locate three recessions – periods when there was a widespread downturn in economic activity; in 1974–1975, 1982–1983 and 1990–1991.

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