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Edition 1 - Article 3

The accidental economist

Born in the Soviet Union and influenced by a stint at Louis Vuitton, Senior Economist Diana Mousina has followed an unusual path.

Diana Mousina orders green tea and a Nutella muffin. We have met in the café at the bottom of the AMP building in Sydney’s Circular Quay, and the senior economist at AMP Capital has just finished a client presentation.

“I’m hungry. Do you mind if I get a muffin?” she asks.

The combination of green tea, known for its health benefits, doesn’t seem to sit well with the large, sugar-laced muffin that arrives on the table. But this sort of incongruity isn’t unusual when you spend time with the 30-year old.

“I was actually born in Uzbekistan. My parents were from Russia,” she says in perfect Queen’s English. “I still talk to mum and dad in Russian.”

Housing is fundamental to everything in the economy”

Her journey to work alongside (probably) Australia’s best-known private sector economist, Shane Oliver, is also atypical.

Her mother is from Siberia and her father is a Tartar, a collective of peoples who live mostly in west-central Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Diana’s parents decided to move to provide opportunity for their two children. They applied for the United States and Australia, and the latter responded first. In 1994 they picked up the family and moved to Sydney.

Their five-year old daughter Diana (pronounced Dee-ana) soon started school in the Harbour City’s eastern suburbs, speaking in a foreign language, without friends.

Her lineage has a distinct academic bent – both parents hold PhDs and her sister is a surgeon.

“I always found I had a natural ability to understand economics at school. It was logical to me and I’ve always liked the maths. Also, my sister told me to do commerce at university because it was only 12 hours class time a week!”

Mousina went to the University of New South Wales to do her undergraduate degree, completing it in four years. The lack of class hours didn’t mean she wasn’t working hard. Throughout her studies she held jobs in retail (Best&Less, David Jones, Industrie), at a small equities fund and as a tutor. But the job that had most impact on her was at luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

“It was a great job to get while at uni. I was never into brand names. But the ability of that company to convince its customers and its staff of the benefits of Louis Vuitton was incredible.

“I really did believe in the value of the brand. They could increase prices because people wanted to buy the brand.”

It was a great lesson in real world economics.

After graduating, Mousina started at Commonwealth Bank where she stayed for five years. It was a beneficial experience: “I really learnt that I wanted to be an economist and I understood how to be an economist.”

Mousina realised that understanding the intricacies of data and trends in an economy was critical to being successful. A job came up at AMP Capital. She wasn’t looking but applied anyway. Her first interview was with AMP Capital’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, who turned up in a yellow shirt.

“It’s what I remember about the interview. Shane’s shirt and his injured foot.”

She got the job. For Mousina, it was an opportunity to think about both the economy and financial markets and how the two work together. It also led her to undertake a Masters of Finance.

That was in 2016 and Oliver and Mousina have forged a dynamic partnership ever since. Perhaps it’s because of the enthusiasm they share for their jobs, an enthusiasm which belies the dismal science moniker of their peers.

“The economy is a really interesting thing,” Mousina says. “It is a very important thing. It drives how people function. It drives how business works and how the world goes around. It’s fundamental to living standards and that’s incredibly important.”

So, what about the outlook for the Australian economy?

“Housing is fundamental to everything in the Australian economy,” Mousina says. “Everyone has a bias to it in their investment portfolios. Australians have an obsession with property and I don’t see that changing. I watch the housing market trends very closely.

“The other big one is the labour market. Particularly important is what jobs are created and what jobs are lost. That has a lot of bearing on what drives productivity growth and what drives wages growth.

“If Australia is to get out of its growth funk, it has to be the housing market that drags it through. Interest rate cuts won’t stimulate other parts of the economy. I do think we will get there.”

Mousina’s heritage is never far from the surface. She thinks of herself as “Australian but not an Aussie”. She is close to her family and reminders of her birthplace, Uzbekistan, come through in everyday life.

“I love Eastern European cooking. Before children – BC – we used to spend time eating at Eastern European restaurants and cooking the food. I love that my daughter likes the Russian pancakes that I make her.”

Important Notes

While every care has been taken in the preparation of these articles, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in them including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Performance goals are merely goals. There is no guarantee that the strategy will achieve that level of performance. The information in this document contains statements that are the author’s beliefs and/or opinions. Any beliefs and/or opinions shared are as at the date shown and are subject to change without notice. These articles have been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. They should not be construed as investment advice or investment recommendations. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.

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