I am Leon Gettler. My job is to review and monitor the week’s news in business, finance, and economics. I bring it all to you, every week.
This is episode number fourty one in our series for 2019 and today’s date is Friday November 8.
First I talk to Michael OHannesian, the CEO of Praemium, a leading provider of scalable managed accounts technology, portfolio administration and financial planning tools for the wealth management industry.
And I’ll be talking to RMIT economist Jonathan Boymal about whether Australia is headed for another debt-fuelled property boom.
But first, let’s talk to Michael OHannesian.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed optimism the U.S. would reach a “Phase One” trade deal with China this month and said licenses would be coming “very shortly” for American companies to sell components to Huawei Technologies Co. But China is setting its price for signing an interim trade deal with the United States: drop the tariffs.
The question is whether President Donald Trump will pay it. Trump on Sunday told reporters at the White House that a trade agreement if one is completed would be signed somewhere in the U.S. The US is reportedly considering removing some tariffs on Chinese goods in order to help seal a partial trade deal this month. According to a report in the Financial Times, officials are debating whether to drop levies on $US112 billion worth of Chinese imports including clothing, appliances and flat-screen monitors. The tariffs were introduced at a rate of 15% on September 1.
Leaders of 15 Asia-Pacific nations have agreed to terms on the world’s largest trade deal, pressing ahead with the pact even though India waivered in joining. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership covers about 29% of global economic production The pact formalises trade rules across the 15 countries and gives Australia better access to those markets The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was to be a deal with the 10 South-East Asian members of the ASEAN alliance, and Japan, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India. India declined to join the pact, amid concerns it would undermine the nation’s already-faltering economy.
Australia already has individual trade agreements with ASEAN and a number of other countries in the deal, but this pact formalises trade rules across the 15 countries and gives better access to those markets beyond what the original deals allow. Australia’s services industries will be one of the main beneficiaries of the deal, with professional bodies able to open talks on mutual recognition of qualifications, licences and registration with benefits for players in legal, architectural, engineering, accounting and auditing services, education, healthcare, real estate, advertising, research and development, recruitment and management consulting.
As expected, the Reserve Bank of Australia board kept the cash rate on hold at 0.75%. Financial markets had priced in a 5% chance of a 0.25 percentage point rate cut. They did not have a full rate cut priced in for the next six months, despite the big four banks expecting one by February or earlier.
The RBA decision comes in the face of the ANZ Australian Job Ads falling 1% in October following a gain of 0.3% in September. Job Ads are now 11.4% lower than a year ago. In trend terms, Job Ads were down 0.3% for the month and 10.9% for the year.
And it coincides with retail sales in the month of September rising 0.2% in seasonally adjusted terms, less than half the rate economists had expected, falling to their lowest level in 28 years since the early 1990s when Australia had its last recession.
Tax cuts, three interest rate cuts and employment growth of 2.5% were still not enough to lift consumer spending as strongly as the government would have hoped. Spending on discretionary items, such as household goods, remains quite weak reflecting tight budgets and cautious households. Households are dialing back on what they don’t necessarily need – at least not now – so that they can maintain their spending on necessities, such as food and clothing. Not since our last recession have we had a retail sector that has struggled so much to get products out the door.
Slumping numbers of new apartments in marketing mean the country faces a shortage of apartments in about 18 months’ time when the current new supply and the outstanding stock has been absorbed and there is yet no pipeline churning out new dwellings, JLL says. The total number of new apartments currently being marketed has dropped 72% from the national peak of 34,488 in the third quarter of 2017 to just 9565, the commercial real estate agency’s 3Q 2019 Apartment Market Reports show.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has eased pressure on the Reserve Bank to make further interest rate cuts by allowing it more time to get inflation back within its 2-3% target, declaring there will be no change to the official agreement on monetary policy in light of global uncertainties. Mr. Frydenberg said that while underlying inflation had been below the target for 15 quarters he still expected it would return to its target over the ‘medium-term’. He also ruled out forcing the RBA governor to explain any undershooting or overshooting of the inflation target in a letter to the Treasurer, as is required of the governor of the Bank of England,
Westpac has reported a 15% fall in its cash profit to $6.849 billion, cut its second-half dividend to 80¢ and will raise $2.5 billion in the capital. Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer said the $2.5 billion capital raising would provide the bank with a buffer over and above the prudential regulator’s requirements which start on January 1.
Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s fortune swelled $2.1 billion after her closely held company reported improved financial results on the back of higher iron ore sales. Hancock Prospecting Pty’s revenue rose 39% for the year to June 30. Earnings also improved at the Perth-based group with a 90% increase in net profit to $2.6 billion.
But this has seen Gina Rinehart’s battle with her children over the management of a multibillion-dollar family trust holding up dividend payments that will be worth $2 billion by the end of this year, according to Mrs. Rinehart’s flagship company Hancock Prospecting. Following the release of the mining group’s financial accounts for the year ending June 30, 2019, the company said $1.85 billion of dividends had yet to be paid to Mrs. Rinehart’s children as of September 30. This is due to a family dispute over the Hope Margaret Hancock Trust.
The company said this provision for dividends would be closer to $2 billion by the end of the year as earnings ramp up at the company’s mines, which includes the Hope Downs project. The results lifted Rinehart’s wealth to $17.9 billion on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a $3.7 billion increase since the beginning of the year. The latest jump puts Rinehart back among the world’s 10 richest women. Gina Rinehart is the second-richest woman in the Asia Pacific region after Chinese real estate titan Yang Huiyan, who’s worth $24.1 billion. Rinehart tops Bloomberg’s list of the richest Australians.
The Morrison government and big banks will jointly invest equity into fast-growing small firms after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg convinced bank bosses to improve their community reputations by joining a $500 million public-private business growth fund. The government and big four domestic banks are expected to chip in about $100 million each as seed capital to secure a board seat at the new small and medium enterprise fund, with HSBC injecting a smaller amount. The planned fund will provide long-term equity capital to 30-50 firms a year with annual turnovers between $2 million and $50 million, which are typically beyond the start-up stage and must have a successful business record of at least three years.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is in advanced stages of preparing evidence to launch legal action related to the demise of former mobile advertising technology high-flyer Unlockd, which crashed into administration shortly before an initial public offering in 2018. The move would thrust the ACCC into the huge global battle between Google and regulators – particularly in the US, where 50 states and territories have begun investigating potential monopolistc behaviour Since 2010, Google has also faced a number of European Union antitrust actions, which have seen it fined more than €8 billion ($12.9 billion.)
Unlockd blamed its inability to list, and ultimately continue operations, on Google’s autocratic decision to ban Unlockd apps from Google platforms. The company’s co-founder and former chief executive Matt Berriman has claimed this was a bid to crush its potential for competing for mobile advertising revenue. The ACCC will kick off its Unlockd-related legal case in early 2020, and has begun getting affidavits from witnesses; it has spoken to over 30 people with knowledge of the case and reviewed more than 10,000 documents. The case will be based around whether Google breached section 46 of competition law, whereby a firm with a substantial degree of market power is prohibited from engaging in conduct that has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially reducing competition in a market.
QSuper and Sunsuper have confirmed they are in discussions about a merger to create what would be Australia’s largest superannuation fund at about $182 billion. In a joint statement. , QSuper chairman Karl Morris and Sunsuper chairman Andrew Fraser said merger talks were in the early stages.
Woolworths faces a possible protest vote against its remuneration report at the annual meeting next month as the fallout spreads from its $300 million wages underpayment scandal. Representatives from the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA) plan to grill Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns this week about when the company first became aware of the scale of the underpayments. The ASA also wants to know when millions of dollars in bonuses were issued to senior executives, including chief executive Brad Banducci and managing director of supermarkets, Claire Peters.
The economy could see more businesses becoming insolvent with the value of insurance claims submitted by Australian businesses to cover bad debts from their suppliers soaring to an all-time record level, according to the latest NCI Trade Credit Risk Index. As the nation’s leading forecaster of future company insolvencies, the NCI Trade Credit Risk Index reports there were 460 trade credit insurance claims lodged by businesses during the third quarter of 2019, with a total value of $49.9 million. It is the highest claims amount since NCI’s Trade Credit Risk Index commenced in 2012, easily surpassing the previous high of $44.5 million recorded in Q3 of 2014. Remarkably, the total claims received value is 46% higher than the previous quarter (Q2 2019; $30.69 million) and well over double the total claims amount from the corresponding period last year (Q3 2018; $22.85 million).
The Matildas have reportedly secured a ground-breaking deal to earn the same pay as the Socceroos. Football Federation Australia and the Professional Footballers Association union will announce the world-first deal which would see Australia’s women’s senior international team earn as much as their male counterparts. The Matildas and the Socceroos will reportedly share 40% of commercial revenue and prize money evenly in a landmark agreement, with the player’s total share of revenue in the game also set to rise from 30% to 40%. Historically the Socceroos have been allocated a greater share of commercial revenues and been paid more to play. According to the report, both the men’s and women’s players were committed to changing the pay structure, with officials from FFA and the players union negotiating for months to alter the pay agreement.
The move by Bega to temporarily rebrand Vegemite after local tennis champ Ashleigh Barty is “a case of impeccable timing”. Marketing experts say the venerable Aussie spread should enjoy a significant sales jump in the wake of the move, which coincides with Barty winning the biggest cash prize in tennis history in China over the weekend. It’s only the second time in the product’s history it has been rebranded. Bega will manufacture more than one million “Bartymite” jars for sale.
Australia’s biggest brickmaker Brickworks has made its third United States acquisition in a year with the $US48 million ($70 million) purchase of Redland Brick Inc based in Maryland. The acquisition brings four brick-making sites into the fold. They have a combined output of 80 million bricks per annum from two plants in Maryland, and one each in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Brickworks Ltd, the dominant player in Australia brick-making has pursued an offshore expansion to give itself a new growth avenue and because of frustration about high energy prices in Australia.
Building products group Boral has warned that profits from both its North American and Australian operations in the September quarter have fallen below the same period last year because of softer housing markets. Boral chief executive Mike Kane said a cost-cutting program has been stepped up to offset the downturn and the company still expects to meet its full-year profit forecast for 2019-2020, which had already been lowered in August. But he expects Boral’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation for the first half of 2019-2020 to be about 5% lower than the previous year. Mr. Kane said on Wednesday that Boral’s concrete volumes in Australia were down 8% in the three months to the end of September compared with a year ago, because of the weaker housing market and delays in infrastructure projects. Asphalt volumes were broadly flat.
And that’s it for this week. And next week I talk to Andrew Maclellan, the CEO of Bluechiip which has a technology that wirelessly tracks the identification and temperature of valuable samples – such as tissue, blood, serum, and plasma – which are stored in harsh and aggressive environments like liquid nitrogen. The Bluechiip technology centres on a miniature chip with 52 mechanical beams of different lengths; all responding at different frequencies. And I’ll be talking to CommSec chief economist Craig James about the week ahead in the markets.
And of course, I’ll be bringing you all the week’s news. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at talkingbizz, on Facebook and on LinkedIn. And if you want, leave a comment. Have a great week, take care, be good and looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.