The tech sector’s engagement with the federal government to nosedive thanks to the former Attorney-General Christian Porter’s appointment to the portfolio.
Talking Business: April 9 2021
Welcome to Talking Business, a podcast produced in Melbourne Australia. The podcast is available on the Acast app, the Apple Podcast store or wherever you go to get your podcasts. Or you can get it at the Business Acumen website at www.businessacumen.biz.
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 10 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday April 9.
First, I’ll be talking to Adam Rein, President & COO of CapShift, a US impact investing firm that empowers philanthropic and financial institutions, along with their clients, to mobilize capital for social and environmental change. And I’ll be talking to RMIT economist Jonathan Boymal about Australia’s booming housing market,
But now, let’s talk to Adam Rein.
The world’s top economic officials focussed at a virtual meeting this week on the prospect of new Covid-19 variants and shutdowns undermining the global rebound, while weighing measures to prevent lasting damage to the poorest and most vulnerable populations. The international economy is recovering faster than many economists projected just weeks ago, powered by growth in the U.S. and China and by the accelerating pace of vaccinations in many rich countries. Yet a new wave of lockdowns—from Europe to Canada—is threatening that growth, as many low- and middle-income nations with limited resources lag behind. The annual spring meeting of the IMF and the World Bank held virtually between April 5 and 11, brought together policy makers from the Group of 20 nations and others. The pandemic response, including vaccine distribution and aid to struggling nations, dominated the conversations this year. Officials also discussed ways to rebuild the global economy, with a particular focus on strengthening the resilience against climate change.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen outlined the case for a harmonized corporate tax rate across the world’s major economies, part of an effort to restore global leadership and credibility with U.S. allies following the unilateralist approach of the Trump era. In her first major speech on international economic policy, Yellen marked an American return to the “global stage.” This means Tech giants like Facebook and Google will find it even harder to book their profits in low tax “havens”, now that the Biden administration is supporting a global minimum tax. Yellen singled out China, saying the U.S. needs a “strong presence in global markets” to level the playing field. The Biden administration tax proposal also marks a U.S. return to years-long talks — led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with about 140 countries — to develop a global agreement on minimum levies. But participants haven’t yet reached a deal, and while most involved support the idea of a global minimum tax, the negotiations also include a potential accord on digital taxation that has been blocked by long-standing disagreements over how to approach the issue. The new multilateral approach begins with the U.S. taking a leading role in working globally to find an appropriate minimum corporate tax, one of the revenue-raising proposals in President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion package of infrastructure and other spending released last week. Yellen wants to halt what she described as an international “race to the bottom” by countries competing to lure corporations with lower taxes.
Australian job advertisements surged to their highest in 12 years in March, a promising sign the labour market’s blistering recovery can withstand the removal of some of the government’s emergency support programs. Tuesday’s figures from Australia and New Zealand Banking Group showed total job ads grew 7.4% in March from February, when they jumped an upwardly revised 8.8%.
The Reserve Bank has kept the official cash rate on hold at 0.1% at its April meeting on Tuesday, the fifth meeting where the rate has been cut to or held at the record low. The RBA moved to the current rate in November with a 15 basis point cut to help boost the nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and support job creation.
The Reserve Bank, its operations and its key policy objective of holding inflation between 2 and 3% would be the focus of a review under a Labor government amid warnings the institution is being left behind by overseas central banks. Labor argues the RBA needs to acknowledge its contribution towards low wages, underemployment and weak investment. Critics often call for reviews of particular policies, but demanding a review of a cornerstone of economic policy such as the Reserve Bank is highly unusual. But in a sign of how much economic policy is in flux in the wake of both the global financial crisis and the coronavirus recession, the step by Labor to promise its own review of the bank is one that has some support within the government and the broader economic community. Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the bank should acknowledge its contribution towards the persistent weakness in the economy between the end of the global financial crisis and the coronavirus recession. A review would also look at how monetary and fiscal policy were working together.
The Australian economy is pole vaulting back from the doldrums of coronavirus, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting 4.5% growth this year. But the financial institution, headquartered in Washington D.C, projects growth will slow to 2.8% in 2022. The IMF also expects unemployment will drop to 6% this year and 5.5% in 2022. The economy contracted by 2.4% in 2020 as the border slammed shut and strict coronavirus restrictions were enforced.
The tech sector’s engagement with the federal government may nosedive thanks to former Attorney-General Christian Porter’s appointment to the portfolio, with industry leaders saying they believe he would be unwelcome by some at events, particularly women, and organisations would have to “bargain” with themselves about accepting government funding. Mr Porter was moved to the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio as part of a cabinet reshuffle. Peter Dutton has picked up the Defence Ministry and Karen Andrews has moved from the technology portfolio to home affairs. Mr Porter has been accused of raping a young woman 33 years ago when they were teenagers, which he denies. Beyond the allegations surrounding Mr Porter, which are now the subject of a defamation action against the ABC, the industry has also been critical of his lack of experience in the sector, saying it demonstrates the low priority the Coalition puts on industry, science and technology. And Mr Porter would be pre-occupied with other things. Like the defamation action against the ABC, the likelihood that he will lose his seat of Pearce in light of the latest news poll, what he will do after he quits politics and the decision as to when he will quit.
Sanjeev Gupta’s Whyalla Steelworks could be sold off or forced to seek a government bailout to avoid closure if new court action instigated by Switzerland’s Credit Suisse to wind up the 56-year old South Australian manufacturing plant is successful. Citibank’s London branch filed an application on Tuesday for “winding up in insolvency” in the NSW Supreme Court against GFG Alliance’s OneSteel Manufacturing, which operates the Whyalla Steelworks, and GFG’s Tahmoor Coal. Citibank acts as trustee for some GFG invoices that were packaged into bonds by the collapsed firm Greensill Capital and held in four supply-chain funds managed by Credit Suisse, which is trying to recover billions of dollars for more than 1000 investors who sank money into them. The aggressive move by Credit Suisse, which has taken similar legal action against GFG’s Liberty Commodities business in Britain, underlines the increasingly precarious financial footing of Mr Gupta’s GFG as it desperately races to try to refinance about $6 billion worth of funding that had previously been sourced from Greensill. GFG entities are coming under legal attack around the world as Credit Suisse launches wind-up motions in several countries to try to seize assets and resurrect its reputation following its association with two collapsed entities: Greensill and the US hedge fund Archegos, which had $13 billion of assets under management.
Consumers have been warned to brace for higher prices on products ranging from imported food to clothing, footwear, furniture, hardware and toys as a surge in shipping costs adds to pressure on commodity prices. Retailers said shipping costs had tripled in 12 to 15 months while prices for commodities and materials ranging from palm oil and PVC to timber, steel and aluminium had soared due to strong global demand, container shortages and logjams in ports.
Technology staff at Nine Entertainment worked through the Easter weekend to bring the company back online after a serious cyber attack, but it will still be weeks before computer systems are fully restored, a spokesman said. A week after Nine was hit by what its chief information and technology officer, Damian Cronan, called a “significant, sophisticated and complex” cyber attack, IT staff spent the long weekend going through the broadcaster’s systems one by one and checking for back doors before bringing them back online, the spokesman said. The attack on Nine’s North Sydney headquarters in the early hours of March 28 initially crippled some IT systems, and led to some television programs not airing that morning.
Swisse, the second-biggest player in the Australian vitamins market, expects its sales to begin stabilising in calendar 2021 as it shifts its focus to reinvigorating its local e-commerce sales after a horror 2020 and it thinks vaccinations in pharmacies will be a plus. Revenues from the Swisse Australian business slumped 32% to $260 million in calendar 2020 after the disappearance of corporate daigou traders, who had previously been an engine room as they bought up huge volumes of products and shipped them to China for sale on e-commerce sites. Not even the star power of a cavalcade of celebrity actors Swisse uses to promote its products, including Nicole Kidman, Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky, have been able to reverse the slide. Swisse is owned by Hong Kong-listed Health & Happiness, which acquired the business in 2015 and 2016 in two parts for a monster price of $1.7 billion when Australian vitamin demand in China was growing at its fastest rate. Health & Happiness global chief executive Laetitia Garnier expects there to be some levelling out in 2021 in Australia and New Zealand after what she described as a “weak performance” in the retail channel in that market for the 12 months ended December 2020. The company believes many people who simply have not been visiting pharmacies will make a return in the flesh for a vaccination, and the extra foot traffic is likely to be a plus on a range of levels.
Prices for Australian carbon credits have surged more than 10% since January and may more than double by the end of the decade as companies leave the federal government in their wake and implement net zero emissions targets. An expected ramp-up of Canberra’s ambitions towards net zero, potentially as early as this month at US President Joe Biden’s leaders summit on climate, would only add extra momentum, according to Hugh Grossman, executive director at carbon consultancy RepuTex. Analysis to be released by RepuTex on Wednesday finds prices reached $18.40 per tonne of CO2 at the end of March, up 11% since January 1 including a jump in February. Prices could increase to between $20 and $45 a tonne by 2030, it said.
Australia’s iconic Sydney Opera House is poised to enter the Netflix era with a new streaming service, launching on Tuesday, that will feature a library of content including archived performances and live-streamed shows. The service, to be called simply “Stream”, has been built by New York-headquartered video software company Vimeo under the direction of the Opera House’s head of digital programming, Stuart Buchanan. To promote the Opera House’s new service, four free live streams will be available on April 9, 10 and 11 of a culturally diverse music collective Barrabuwari (“tomorrow” in the Gadigal language), Australian singer-songwriter Jack River and classical music whiz kids behind the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Pay-per-view will ultimately range from $10 to $35. Stream will also kick off with a library of over 30 hours of programming across more than 45 films and other events. Digital attendees will be able to select from a mixture of free and pay-per-view options that will correspond with the Opera House’s in-house and new online-only programming. Stream will also collaborate with international arts centres around the world to stream overseas shows for Australian audiences.
The chief executive of the $140bn Aware Super fund, Deanne Stewart, has called on the federal government to deliver a “pink budget” in May which would deliver more economic benefits for women including a better deal on superannuation and more affordable childcare. She said last year’s budget was seen as delivering benefits for men including more funds for apprenticeships and the construction industry. The May budget should deliver more economic benefits for women, she said, including a better deal on super, and more financial assistance for childcare as well as more funding for affordable housing.\ Ms Stewart welcomed last week’s appointment of Superannuation and Financial Services Minister Jane Hume, as the minister in charge of improving women’s economic security. Some 70% of Aware Super’s 1.1 million members are women, including nurses, medical workers, police, social workers and other public servants.
Investors who lost millions of dollars in an unlicensed investment scheme run by accused fraudster Melissa Caddick may have “substantial claims” against accountants who audited their self-managed superannuation funds, according to provisional liquidators. Future public examinations of those accountants have been foreshadowed by the court-appointed provisional liquidators Bruce Gleeson and Daniel Soire. However, the move to hold public examinations will be delayed as the corporate regulator ASIC has been granted an adjournment in its civil case in the Federal Court against Ms Caddick and her company Maliver. Due to the complexity of the matter, the two-day hearing which was due to commence on April 7 has been pushed back until June. Investors were hoping that the hearing would clear the way for Ms Caddick’s assets to be sold to recoup some of the $23 million stolen by Ms Caddick. In a lengthy report completed in February and provided to the more than 60 victims of Ms Caddick, Mr Gleeson and Mr Soire identified $29.461 million from investors which moved through Ms Caddick’s accounts. A further $688,198 is likely to be investors’ funds but further investigations are continuing. More than $7.3 million was repaid to her clients but the bulk of the money was squandered on Ms Caddick’s profligate lifestyle. According to the report to investors, before she went missing in November 2020 that year Ms Caddick raked in $5.4 million from clients who thought they were investing in shares. In 2019 she took $4.13 million but her most successful year was 2015 when she reeled in $6.279 million. Ms Caddick, 49, is presumed dead after human remains which were identified as belonging to the missing Dover Heights woman were found on a remote beach on the South Coast of NSW in late February. A death certificate is unlikely to be issued until the matter comes before the NSW Coroner later this year. The NSW Police have indicated their brief of evidence for the Coroner is likely to be finished in mid-June.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Dale Garvie, managing director of FirmDecisions, the largest independent global marketing contract compliance specialist, providing advertisers with transparency into their marketing and media agencies, incorporating creative, media, digital, events, point of sale, or direct marketing BTL agencies. And I’ll be talking to AMP chief economist Shane Oliver about how the market has performed in the first quarter.
In the meantime you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you want leave a comment. Wishing you all a safe and healthy week. And looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.