Something's off in the Land Down Under.
In spite of a cheery recent assessment from the country's central bankers that led projections of 2012 GDP growth to be raised -- to 3.5 percent -- while views on inflation were lowered, recent days have seen growing signs of economic distress emanating from Australia.
On Thursday, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said the natural resource boom that has been driving the economy for the past few years has run its course.
"You've got to understand, the resources boom is over," Ferguson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, "It has got tougher in the last six to 12 months."
The comments came a day after mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. announced it was scrapping the expansion of a project that had been estimated at $34.7 billion. The company, the world's largest miner, also said it doesn't plan to approve any major projects during the remainder of the fiscal year, which runs until June 2013. Also Wednesday, a proposed $15 billion expansion of a project in Western Australia by Woodside Petroleum Ltd. was put on hold.
"There's no doubt that it's a more cautious time; particularly the short-term outlook is indeed more cautious," Lance Hockridge, chief executive officer of QR National Ltd., Australia's biggest rail freight operator, told Bloomberg Television.
All that portends badly for Australia's economy, which has been riding a resource exploration boom, driven by Chinese demand for iron ore, coal, and natural gas, that has set it apart from other industrialized nations during the global slowdown.
It also goes against recent assesments by the Reserve Bank of Australia, which sees the boom going into 2014.
It's not just Australian elected officials -- who, as a Bloomberg News article explains, have their own political reasons for sounding gloomy, who see clouds in the horizon, however.
Deutsche Bank economist Adam Boyton recently penned a note explaining how a massive trade slowdown, expected later this year, could be a big blow to the Australian economy, given that other historically similar slowdowns have thrown the country into recession.
"While there may be reasons as to why this time is different -- the energy (i.e. LNG)- intensive nature of the forward investment pipeline and the still-high level of the terms of trade stand as cases in point -- history would counsel some caution on the investment outlook. Indeed, an average response to a circa 15 percent decline in the terms of trade would see business investment falling in year over year terms by early 2013," Boyton wrote.