Talking Business June 25 2021
The resurrection of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister and his opposition to Australia signing on to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 risks mining and farming exports being hit by European carbon tariffs,
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 21 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday June 25.
First, I’ll be talking to Jo Asquith, CEO of Catalyst Education, the country’s leading training provider for aged care, early childhood, etc – two of the country’s most booming sectors where jobs are in demand and they desperately need quality workers – particularly in the face of the outcomes of the aged care royal commission. And I’ll be talking to Indeed economist Callam Pickering about the latest unemployment figures.
But now, let’s talk to Jo Asquith.
Black Swan author Nassim Taleb has doubled down on his criticism against bitcoin– this time saying the cryptocurrency is worth exactly zero, and that there is no evidence that blockchain is a useful technology. In a recent six-page draft paper titled “Bitcoin, Currencies, and Bubbles”, Mr Taleb laid out four key arguments against the cryptocurrency, which he then published on his website and promoted to his 743,000 Twitter followers. First, the author said that in spite of the hype, bitcoin failed to satisfy the notion of “currency without government”. In fact, he said, bitcoin proved to not even be a currency at all. Mr Taleb’s second criticism is that bitcoin can neither be a short nor long-term store of value. He used the famous juxtaposition of gold versus bitcoin – which he said was a poor comparison – to illustrate his point. His final two points were that bitcoin is not a reliable inflation hedge, contrary to some analysts’ views and is not a safe haven for investments – whether meant to protect against government tyranny or other catastrophes.
Australia is taking its trade fight with China up a notch. The country this weekend said it is lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Beijing’s decision to slap massive duties on Australian wine. While Australia’s trade and agriculture ministers said the country “remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve this issue,” they added in a Saturday statement that the government would “continue to vigorously defend the interests of Australian wine makers.” It’s not really clear that the complaint will get Australia what it wants. Such disputes can take months to resolve, and prior WTO rulings have often been difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
The resurrection of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister and his opposition to Australia signing on to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 risks mining and farming exports being hit by European carbon tariffs, international climate change experts warn. As well as expressing scepticism about climate change, the returned Nationals leader has been a repeated critic of China and its foreign investment in local agriculture. Mr Joyce has been a strong backer of coal, including a potential government-financed coal-fired power station in central Queensland, advocated by one of his supporters, Senator Matt Canavan. Major business groups including the Nationals Farmers’ Federation and Business Council of Australia support Australia signing on to the net zero 2050 emissions target at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland in November. Under the European Union climate change proposal, exporters in countries that fail to adequately price carbon would face a levy on their emission-intensive goods shipped to the EU, equal to the carbon price imposed on EU producers. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been inching towards getting the Liberal-Nationals Coalition party room to agree to a net zero position ahead of the November conference. Asked about his threat as a backbencher to cross the floor of Parliament to vote against a net zero 2050 target, Mr Joyce said he would seek the “best deal for regional” local jobs and industry “as opposed to a Danish one or a German one”. Australian National University professor and a vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Mark Howden said if Australia does not commit to net zero emissions, exports could be penalised.
Resources industry giants have started lobbying the Morrison government for a special visa that will allow them to bring tens of thousands of overseas workers into Western Australia, as happened during the state’s last mining boom. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA (CMEWA), whose members include Rio Tinto, BHP, Fortescue Metals Group, Chevron and Woodside Petroleum, has been in Canberra pushing for the special visa in anticipation of international border restrictions remaining in place beyond 2021. The resources sector in WA estimates it will need 40,000 new workers by mid-2023 and could be left 33,000 short without access to a vast overseas skills and labour pool. Unions and the resources sector are on a collision course over the plan to look overseas for workers for high-paying jobs in mining and oil and gas. The powerful CFMEU said the resources industry was just being lazy in wanting to fly in overseas workers instead of employing or training Australians.
More than 3 million Australian adults could soon be millionaires, according to a new report by Credit Suisse, while Australian adults, with a net wealth of $US238,000, are the richest in the world. Favourable conditions in global markets helped 392,000 Australians join the ranks of Australia’s 1.8 million-strong cohort of US-dollar millionaires last year, according to Credit Suisse, representing about one in 10 adults. Rock-bottom interest rates are expected to pave the way for an asset price boom that is expected to cause a dramatic increase in household wealth over the next five years. Credit Suisse Australia head of private banking Michael Marr expects the number of US-dollar millionaires in Australia to increase “dramatically” by 70% over the next five years to 3.1 million, based on trends identified in the bank’s annual global wealth report.
Australian power giant Origin Energy has called for governments to provide incentives for electric car smart chargers in garages to prevent motorists plugging in en masse during the peak evening demand period from overloading the grid. As Victoria and NSW embark on ambitious plans to accelerate electric vehicle uptake, an Australian-first trial conducted by Origin has found that when EVs are adopted more widely charging times will need to be managed to minimise risks of blackouts and price spikes. The trial has so far installed smart chargers for 70 residential electric vehicle owners and 33 businesses and obtained their baseline charging data. Smart chargers co-ordinate recharging times with periods of surplus solar-power supply, such the middle of the day, and avoid adding strain to peak demand periods on the grid from 5-6pm onwards. Chau Le, Origin’s head of e-mobility, said more than 60% of participants prior to the trial had been plugging their car batteries into standard sockets in their garages, usually during the evenings. With smart-charging devices, most charging still occurred in the evening, but the consumption could be spaced out to ease the load on the grid, she said.
Major telco companies are slapping Australians with higher fees and plans, with some providers pushing the price up by nearly $40 a month. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has unveiled new research indicating Telstra, Vodafone and Optus have all inflated the cost of plans since July last year. All three providers make up the bulk of Australia’s retail mobile phone market. ACCC chair Rod Sims said the price hike showed providers held no concern of losing customers to rivals due to the lack of competition within the market. In the past 12 months, Telstra has increased its postpaid phone plane between $5 and $15 a month, while prepaid services offered by the telco have jumped by up to 50%. All Optus postpaid plans over the period have been increased by $6, and plans offered by Vodafone have gone up between $5 and $40 a month. Vodafone’s price jump comes after its merger with TPG that was originally opposed by the ACCC over fears it would tighten the telecommunications market and lead to poorer outcomes for customers in the form of higher fees.
Famous sporting moments featuring football stars Eddie Betts and John Aloisi will spearhead the release of what are believed to be among the first Australian non-fungible tokens to be launched locally. Aloisi’s famous penalty for the Socceroos to beat Uruguay in 2005 and qualify for the World Cup the following year will feature, along with AFL star Betts, a spectacular goalscorer for Carlton and Adelaide Crows, in the Australian section of a marketplace led by global blockchain and cryptocurrency infrastructure provider Binance. NFTs such as digital art and collectibles surged in popularity earlier this year. The items often are traded using cryptocurrency. Verification via blockchain makes digital goods unique and provides proof of authenticity, which makes them attractive to buyers. Among the biggest deals were an NFT by digital artist Beeple which earlier this year sold at a Christie’s auction for $US69m ($92m), and Twitter boss Jack Dorsey has sold his first tweet for more than $US2.9m. Meanwhile, World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee is selling the original code used to make the internet as an NFT. Binance’s 100 Creators campaign will be launched via auction this week, including eight Australians across sport, photography, art and other unique content.
After extracting $2 billion in fines from Australia’s big banks for breaching anti-money-laundering laws, the financial intelligence regulator describes the banks as valuable partners in the fight against financial crime as it shifts the heat on to casinos. AUSTRAC is looking to put its combative history with the banks behind it and leverage the improved relationship. The regulator and the financial sector came together to provide support to a high profile sting run by the Australian Federal Police and the FBI which was revealed two weeks ago. CEO Nicole Rose said banks played an important role as service providers to other AUSTRAC-regulated entities and were able to provide “insight into other sectors” and “add value” to its operations. The nimble but feared regulator is now shifting its attention from the banks to the embattled casino sector. Two weeks ago Australia’s peak financial intelligence unit was revealed to be conducting simultaneous enforcement investigations of Crown Casino, The Star Entertainment Group and SkyCity Entertainment. The probes were launched following a compliance exercise codenamed Operation Slalom that found the anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism (AML-CTF) programs of Australian casinos and their identification and treatment of politically exposed persons were not up to scratch. Ms Rose said the termination of high-roller gambling junkets would reduce the risk casinos were being exploited by money launderers, but this was no silver bullet because there was a lack of visibility across the casino industry’s cash operations.
Tritium, the Australian electric vehicle fast-charging station company which is the world’s second largest, expects a flood of buyers from Victoria and Queensland to head to NSW to purchase electric vehicles after a policy shake-up by the NSW government. Tritium chief executive Jane Hunter said on Sunday the NSW overhaul would deliver a substantial stimulus to electric vehicle uptake and put pressure on other states. She said the price of electric vehicles was the biggest barrier to motorists, not the range of vehicles available. The NSW government will scrap stamp duty on electric vehicles priced up to $78,000 from September 1, and all electric vehicles regardless of price tag from July 1, 2027. A $3000 rebate will apply to the first 25,000 vehicles sold in NSW to private buyers for less than $68,000 under the scheme. $151 million in charging infrastructure in metropolitan and regional areas under the plans, have been included in the NSW state budget on June 22. But electric vehicle owners will pay a road-user charge of 2.5¢ a kilometre by 2027, or once electric vehicles make up 30% of new car sales, depending on which milestone is reached first.
Challenger lender Judo Bank has completed a quick-fire $124 million equity raising to help it pursue aggressive growth in the fiercely-contested small business finance market, as it continues to mull a potential float. The latest raising means Judo now has an implied valuation of $1.9 billion, and co-founder David Hornery said it was well placed to deal with the growing competition from the big four banks in its core market. Ahead of a mooted ASX float, Judo has raised another $175 million of capital in its fifth funding round, including an inaugural issuance of Tier 2 debt, at a post-money valuation of $1.9 billion. Its pipeline of lending opportunities has swollen to $2.5 billion as more companies consider alternatives to the big four. Judo’s loan book is more than $3.3 billion, which has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. Over the year to March, its $1.4 billion of new business loans was only beaten by Commonwealth Bank and Macquarie.
Vocus shareholders have overwhelmingly voted in favour of selling the telco to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Management (MIRA) and Aware Super for $3.5 billion, chairman Bob Mansfield said. In a 15-minute investor meeting on Tuesday, Mansfield said more than 99% of proxy votes cast on the deal were in favour. This represented more than 85% of shareholders, leaving little to no chance that any outstanding votes may torpedo the acquisition.
Boral’s $US2.15bn ($2.9bn) sale of its US building products business has ratcheted up tensions with its biggest shareholder after Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group said the unit had been sold for a loss and rushed through amid its takeover offer. The division was sold to Houston-based manufacturer Westlake Chemical Corporation on Monday after several bids were reviewed over the weekend with Boral noting the price outstripped a $US1.8bn-$US2bn valuation range detailed in an independent expert‘s report by Grant Samuel. But Seven, which launched a low-ball $6.50 a share bid for Boral on May 10, said it was disappointed with the sale. It claimed the construction materials giant should have received a bigger payday given strong US trading conditions.
One in five Australians have fibbed to the bank when applying for a loan in order to avoid being knocked back by the lender, raising concerns about the return of liar loans in a surging housing market. Slightly more than 40% of lies when applying for home loans involved understating living costs, says a new survey by Experian, the world’s largest consumer credit reporting agency. This month’s survey of 1000 Australians also found almost a third of consumers who lied understated their living costs when applying for a loan (28% of fibs), while 21% of untruths involved overestimating income. Almost one in five lies involved hiding a pregnancy, while a quarter of applicants who misled the bank did so by withholding information about an upcoming change of job. The survey also indicated that popular Buy Now, Pay Later services and credit card applications were highly vulnerable to inaccurate information.
Commonwealth Bank agreed to sell its Australian general insurance business to the Hollard Group in a complex deal that could be worth $1 billion as it continues to simplify the bank and exit capital intensive non-core businesses.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Scott Huntsman, founder and CEO of ALL-CAST PPE Supplies – one of the country’s largest PPE suppliers. He says that 80% of the masks available are not registered with the TGA and therefore are not identified as being able to stop the transmission of COVID. And I’ll be talking to CommSec chief economist Craig James about what’s ahead in the market in the week ahead.
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.