625 of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers (including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Jeep, Wells Fargo and Merck) had stopped ads on the platform by late January, according to Pathmatics.

Welcome to Talking Business, a podcast produced in Melbourne Australia. The podcast is available on the Acast site, my own website, 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 or at Banking Day.

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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 02 in our series for 2023 and today’s date is Friday February 10.

First, I’ll be talking to Scott Agnew, the CEO and Operating Partner at Keller Williams Realty in Utah and KPMG economist Sarah Hunter about the RBA raising interest rates again and its implications for the economy.

But now, let’s talk to Scott Agnew

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So what’s happening in the news?

The US consumer price index rose at a rate of 6.4% in January compared with a year earlier, a smaller decline than expected, in data that will still heighten concerns about the persistence of high inflation in the US economy.

More than half of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers in September were no longer spending on the platform in the first weeks of January, according to data provided to CNN by digital marketing analysis firm Pathmatics, in a striking sign of how far reaching the advertiser exodus has been following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company.  Some 625 of the top 1,000 Twitter advertisers, including major brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Jeep, Wells Fargo and Merck, had pulled their ad dollars as of January, according to estimates from Pathmatics, based on data running through January 25. As a result of the pullback, monthly revenue from Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers plummeted by more than 60% from October through January 25, from around $127 million to just over $48 million, according to the data.  The data demonstrate the sharp decline of what was once a $US4.5 billion advertising business for Twitter. After Musk completed his takeover of the company in late October, advertisers began to worry about the safety and stability of the platform given his plans to cut staff and relax content moderation policies. In early November, Musk said Twitter had seen a “massive revenue drop.”  Although Twitter’s ad business was always much smaller than that of competitors Facebook and Google, it was still responsible for the vast majority of the company’s revenue. Musk must now fill in that gap as he stares down interest payments for the debt he took on to buy Twitter for $44 billion.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has ducked questions about whether Phil Lowe is doing his job properly, while confirming a decision on the Reserve Bank governor’s future will be made by mid-year.  Six Labor MPs last week had taken the unusual step of questioning Lowe’s performance as governor following the Reserve Bank’s decision to impose a ninth consecutive interest rate rise, with some of those MPs suggesting his seven-year term should not be extended beyond September. Most of the country’s business leaders had already concluded that Lowe had zero chance of being asked to stay on for a further period of time when his seven-year term expires on September 17. Indeed, the smart money is betting that next governor of the Reserve Bank will be a senior female Canberra mandarin, with a strong Treasury pedigree. Names being bandied about include Jenny Wilkinson, a former Treasury deputy secretary who is now secretary of the Department of Finance, and Meghan Quinn, another former Treasury deputy secretary who now heads the Department of Industry, Science and Resources. Last November, Lowe apologised for suggesting the central bank’s cash rate would remain at 0.1% until 2024. The RBA instead started lifting rates in May last year and the rate, which determines mortgage rates for households, now sits at 3.35% and is expected to be raised further. Chalmers was asked three times on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday whether Lowe was doing his job properly, but the Treasurer stopped short of endorsing the independent central bank governor. Chalmers said the federal government would deliver an initial response to a sweeping review of the Reserve Bank, which will be handed to the Treasurer by March 31, before the federal budget is handed down in May and a decision on whether to extend Lowe’s term would then be made by mid-year. The review of Australia’s central bank is the first in 40 years and is examining the bank’s structure, culture, accountability, board member appointments and the bank’s 2 to 3% inflation target.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers will channel “most” of the temporary windfall from soaring commodities prices into repairing the federal budget’s bottom line, ruling out a return a surplus over the forward estimates on Sunday. After moving to dampen expectations of his May budget last week, Dr Chalmers criticised the Coalition for squandering extra revenue from elevated global coal, natural gas and iron ore prices before the election. Citing the cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, defence and Labor’s generous childcare policies, the treasurer said he was not expecting a surplus in any of the four forward estimates years. He said the government would bank the majority of the commodities’ windfall. Analysis of the budget’s reconciliation and underlying cash balance estimates Labor actually banked about 81% of the windfall between March and October last year. Dr Chalmers said the budget – Labor’s second since its May 2022 election win and due to be handed down on May 9 – would focus on cost-of-living relief, economic growth and address supply chain pressures.

Consumer sentiment has fallen back into deep pessimism, according to Westpac. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index dived 6.9% in February as hopes of a break from cost-of-living pressures and rate hikes have been dashed. Sentiment is now back near historic lows – with a weaker read than was seen during the Global Financial Crisis.

 That was a consumer survey. But an NAB monthly business survey showed business conditions and confidence bounced in January after easing in late 2022, suggesting resilience in the economy amid inflation, and rising borrowing costs, returning to a very high level at +18 index points, after three months of soft conditions with all three subcomponents– trading conditions, profitability and employment well above average. It noted that sectors such as wholesale, construction, and manufacturing led the improvement. Confidence rose back to around average, continuing to rebound from negative reads two months ago.

NBN Co has told a late night Senate estimates hearing that it had lost 10,000 customers to low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite rivals like Starlink, Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s satellite internet service. These services, which include the Amazon-backed Kuiper and others, pose a growing threat to the NBN in regional areas, where they can often provide quicker speeds than the national networks Skymuster satellite system. NBN Co recognised the “increasing competition” in a pricing paper late last year. NBN Co chief development officer Gavin Williams told senate estimates on Tuesday night the company had lost 10,000 users to LEO operators. NBN chief executive Stephen Rue denied that Skymuster would eventually become obsolete. “Skymuster continues to provide many real benefits to people in regional Australia, and we continue to develop products,” he said. Mr Rue and Mr Williams said the services will be enhanced through a $480 million investment by the former Coalition government to upgrade its fixed wireless and satellite offerings in regional areas. The reason LEO operators like Starlink can provide faster speeds than NBN’s Skymuster service is because the constellations are at a lower orbit – signals simply have less distance to travel. Coalition Senator Sarah Henderson said: “There are so many farmers in regional areas that are struggling with Skymuster … for many people living in regional communities, Elon Musk is running rings around you,” she said.

Commonwealth Bank has broken ranks with its main rivals to pause regional branch closures while a parliamentary committee examines the reasons for closures and the community impact, after scores of branches disappeared in the past six months.  The issue of branch closures was referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee last week for an inquiry, and a report is scheduled to be completed by December. The committee is accepting submissions on the matter until March 31, in response to concerns about the impact the withdrawal of face-to-face banking services may have in some regional areas and towns. In a statement, the CBA said: ““Following consideration of a request from the Senate Committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the Inquiry is underway in 2023,” a spokesman for the bank said “As an additional sign of good faith, while the Inquiry is underway in 2023, CBA will postpone the closure of two branches already announced.” However, Westpac has announced it will shut 20 regional and suburban branches in four states despite a plea for banks to halt closures while the Senate inquiry examines the impacts on rural communities. It will shut branches in Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia this year.

Snowy Hydro’s new chief executive Dennis Barnes has confirmed 12-month delays in the start-up of both the $5.9 billion Snowy 2.0 project and the Kurri Kurri power plant in NSW, with no guarantee against further hold-ups and cost increases. Mr Barnes told Senate estimates that Snowy had advised the Australian Energy Market Operator of the revised timelines for the two projects, which have both been hit by construction delays due to bad weather and other factors. Snowy 2.0 is now anticipated to be completed at the end of 2027, while the 750-megawatt Kurri Kurri plant near Newcastle is now anticipated to only be fully online in December 2024, although initial power production is expected in May of that year, he said. The new timelines raise more question marks over the smoothness of the transition in the National Electricity Market given accelerating closure dates being announced for coal power plants. The cost of Snowy 2.0 was raised last year to $5.9 billion, while the cost of the Kurri Kurri plant, originally put at $600 million, is subject to a review that is under way. An additional investment of up to $700 million is envisaged by Snowy’s owner, the Commonwealth government as part of its pre-election pledge to have the generator run on 30% green hydrogen at the outset. However, running the plant on 30% green hydrogen – which is not currently available at the site at any cost – is subject to a business case still being worked up by Snowy Hydro that is due to go to government before the 2024 federal budget.

And the profit reporting season continues. CBA has announced a record half-year cash profit up 9% to $5.2 billion. Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group has reported a net profit down 15% to $2.4 billion on sales 4% lower to $7.8 billion. Auckland-based hotels and casino group SkyCity has posted a net profit up 167.8% to $NZ22.8 million on sales up 59.6% to $NZ462.6 million for the six months to December 31. Vicinity Centres’ statutory net profit after tax fell to $176.3 million in the first half of the 2023 financial year, from $650.2 million in the prior corresponding period. Treasury Wine Estates’s sales revenue increased 1.4% to $1.3 billion in the half year ended December 31. The company’s profit after tax jumped 72.5% to $188.2 million.  Star Entertainment Group now expects to report underlying EBITDA of $330 million to $360 million for the year ending June 30. Lendlease reported a statutory loss after tax of $141 million for the half year to December 3, Redbubble reported marketplace revenue (MPR) of $289.3 million in the half year ended December 31, in line with the prior corresponding period (pcp). Corporate Travel Management reported first-half EBITDA of $51.3 million on its preferred underlying measure. The group also forecast underlying profit before tax of $120 million to $140 million. Hearing aid manufacturer Cochlear has posted an underlying net profit down 10% to $141.6 million Carsales pro-forma EBITDA rose 17% to $211 million. Beach Energy’s underlying EBITDA fell 4% to $491 million. JB Hi  Fi’s earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) were up 14% to $479.2 million. Insurance Australia Group’s cash earnings jumped 26.7% to $223 million, while its underlying insurance margin fell by 440 basis points to 10.7%. Aurizon reported EBITDA of $673 million for the half year ended December 31, down 7% against the prior comparable period. Fletcher Building’s interim net profit fell 46% to $NZ92 million ($83.6 million), which included $NZ150 million flagged construction provisions. Audinate revenue increased 39.3% to $US20.6 million, while EBITDA was up 109% to $4.3 million. Endeavour Group EBIT rose 15.8% to $644 million, and net profit after tax jumped 17% to $364 million. Ansell sales dropped 17.2% in the first half of 2023 financial year to $835.3 million, EBIT fell 17.6% to $91.54 million on a reported-basis due to the exit from Russia in 2022 and unfavourable FX changes. Challenger first-half pre-tax profit was $250 million, up 5%, or $123 million after tax, down 56% because of investment market movements. Breville EBITDA jumped 13.1% to $141.9 million, from the same period a year ago. CSL posted $US1.6 billion in net profit after tax for the first half of 2023 financial year.  Temple & Webster first-half revenue was $207.1 million, down 12%, and net profit fell 46.7% to $3.9 million. Seven West Media earnings for the group fell 4.8% in the first half of 2023 financial year to $205 million. Seven Group Holdings forecast “low to mid-teen per cent EBIT growth” for the full-year after reporting first-half earnings before interest and tax growth of 16% to $595 million. James Hardie Industries global net sales fell to $US861 million in the third quarter, taking net income to $129 million or 16% lower. Scrap metal recycling company Sims has reported a 60% decline in statutory profit amid challenging market conditions with a statutory NPAT in HY23 of $101 million compared to $253 million in HY22. Statutory NPAT in HY23 was $101 million compared to $253 million in HY22. Dexus’ funds from operations (FFO) slipped 7% to $379 million in the first half of 2023 financial year. Fleet management company SG Fleet reported first-half net profit of $41.9 million, up 41.1%. Netwealth reported record underling EBITDA, excluding on-cash share-based payments, of $47.4 million in the first half of FY23, up 8.1% on the prior corresponding period (pcp). Pact Group’s revenue grew by 8% in the first half to $998 million. Underlying EBIT fell 8% to $75 million. Medical software business Pro Medicus has posted a net profit up 31.5% to $27.2 million on sales up 28.3% for the half-year to December 31.

And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Michael Chetner, Head of Zoom Australia & New Zealand, about the new Zoom Virtual Agent, an intelligent Conversational AI and chatbot solution, to help businesses connect and communicate with their customers at scale in a more efficient way. And I’ll be talking to Indeed economist Callam Pickering about the latest unemployment figures.

This show was brought to you by Multi-Award Winning Law firm McDonald Legal, experts in the areas of Dispute Resolution and Commercial and Property Law. For a free consultation on your legal matter, McDonald Legal can be reached on 03 9070 1107 or by visiting the website www.mcdonaldlegal.com.au.

In the meantime you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. And if you want leave a comment. For the most exclusive access to leading economists and business leaders from around the world, subscribe to Talking Business on the Apple podcast store or on my website leongettler.com.   

Wishing you all a safe and healthy week. And looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.