Talking Business March 12 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 6 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday March 12.
First, I’ll be talking to Australian-based Verus Global Founder, Jackson Meyer. In its first year of operation, Verus Global has skyrocketed to global success, already generating a revenue of $30million. An award-winning entrepreneur, Meyer, established Verus Global to bridge the gap between global giants and local small enterprises in Australian logistics. And I’ll be talking to CommSec chief economist Craig James about what investors can expect in the market in the week ahead.
And now, let’s talk to Jackson Meyer.
Joe Biden’s $1.9tn US stimulus programme will boost the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic around the world, the OECD said on Tuesday, as it upgraded its outlook for global growth. The Paris-based international organisation said it expected a stronger rebound from last year’s historic recession than it forecast in November, mainly because of the rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccination programmes in many countries and the increase in US stimulus spending. The scale of the Biden plan will add about 1 percentage point to global economic growth in 2021, Laurence Boone, the OECD’s chief economist, told the Financial Times. As a result, the global economy will expand by 5.6% this year, the OECD forecast on Tuesday, an upgrade of 1.4 percentage points from its November forecast. The stimulus bill — known as the American Rescue Plan — is one of the largest US government interventions in the economy of the post-second world war era.
Australia’s exports to China hit a record high in January and February as the elevated iron ore price continued to undermine Beijing’s sweeping trade retaliation campaign. The total value of China’s imports from Australia rose 8.2% in the first two months of the year to $26.6 bn ($US20.5bn), according to data released by China’s customs agency. That was up from $24.5bn ($US18.9bn) in the first two months of 2020, the previous record. The elevated price of iron ore and liquefied natural gas — Australia’s two biggest exports to China — more than compensated for crippling strikes on wine, lobster, timber, barley, beef and even coal, Australia’s third biggest export to China.
Australian business confidence has risen to its highest level since early 2010, driven by an improvement in business conditions as companies begin to hire and invest in new capacity. NAB’s monthly business survey showed business confidence ticked 4 points higher to 16 index points in February while business conditions returned to a multi-year high of 15 index points after slipping in January. The increase in confidence was broad based, with all states and industries reporting gains, except for retail.
The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment increased by 2.6% to 111.8 in March from 109.1 in February. The Index is now just 0.2 points below the December level which was a ten-year high. The main factors driving the Index are improving economic conditions and prospects, both domestically and abroad, particularly as they relate to our labour market. Australia’s success in containing COVID-19, the promise of vaccine rollouts bringing an end to the pandemic, and support from stimulatory government policies have all contributed to the sustained lift.
EnergyAustralia has confirmed the early closure of its Yallourn coal power plant in Victoria’s LaTrobe Valley by mid-2028. “While the announcement may have surprised some of our people, its context did not,” EnergyAustralia chief executive Catherine Tanna told media on Wednesday. A multi million dollar support package will be offered to the plant’s 500 workers and the company will build a utility scale battery facility by the end of 2026. The new 350 megawatt battery will ease some of the stress on the power grid, although will only be a fraction of the 1480MW capacity of the coal plant. The 1480 megawatt Yallourn station in the Latrobe Valley supplies 22% of Victoria’s electricity and 8% of the national market, but has been under pressure for several years as Australia’s national power grid accelerates a transition to renewable energy.
Scott Morrison will tip another $1.2 billion into wage subsidies for apprentices and flag migration changes to fill areas of workforce shortage, focusing on growing the economy as it emerges from the recession Employers will be given at least $1.2 billion to hire 70,000 apprentices in the next year in an uncapped job-creation plan the Morrison government hopes will avoid a youth unemployment crisis from the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 100,000 apprentices have been employed through the existing wage subsidy scheme, which was announced just five months ago in October. More than 30,000 new apprentices have been hired in NSW, and almost 24,000 in Victoria, under the initial phase of the program that subsidised apprenticeships in a bid to stem an anticipated tide of job-shedding.
Low-interest loans and cash grants targeted directly at tourism-related businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic will feature in a sector rescue package to be unveiled by the Morrison government within days. Ahead of the end of the $90 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program in three weeks’ time, the government has almost finalised elements of a special package that will include support for airlines, mum-and-dad tourist service operators and accommodation outlets. The package, which is being driven by new Tourism Minister Dan Tehan and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, is being pulled together because the sector has so badly affected by the pandemic. There has been a drop of 41 million domestic passenger airline flights over the past 12 months with tourist operators hard hit by rolling state border closures. The closure of the international border has also affected parts of the country heavily dependent on overseas visitors.
Macquarie Real Assets and Infrastructure Management and Aware Super signed a $3.5 billion takeover deal for telecom company Vocus Group following four weeks of due diligence. Vocus chairman Bob Mansfield said the board unanimously recommended that investors back the deal, which was in the best interest of the company and stood up against other alternatives.
Micro-apprenticeships in digital skills such as cyber security and web development would help bridge the growing gap between demand for expertise in new technologies and the lack of workers with relevant technical qualifications. The micro-apprenticeships would combine work experience with short online courses in specific digital skills that could be tailored to the needs of both learners and their employer, according to a new report from the Business Council of Australia. Governments, training providers and industry partners could develop a series of digital micro-apprenticeships that could immediately address current chronic skill shortages and lay the groundwork for a more modular and flexible skills system in the future. The proposal forms part of a package of reforms to the vocational education and training sector that the BCA argues is needed for a rapid and sustainable economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19. In its report, Skills for Change, the BCA is also calling for the introduction of a national digital skills passport that documents education and training from high school to retirement. The skills passport, based on blockchain, would keep track of formal and informal learning, including micro-credentials and short courses. Micro-credentials, which are also called nano-degrees, teach a specific skill. Each credential can then be accumulated or stacked into larger qualifications and skill sets which are recognised by employers. A recent report by RMIT Online estimated that Australia needs 156,000 new technology workers by 2025 to ensure economic growth in the wake of COVID-19 is not stymied by a lack of relevant skills.
A government pledge of close to half a billion dollars to launch an overhaul of the aged care sector has failed to rally the share prices of ASX-listed operators, with analysts warning future funding remains murky after the royal commission revelations. Shares in Japara Healthcare, Estia Health and Regis Health Care all slid last week after the aged care royal commission’s final 2000 page report was released. The three companies opened lower on Monday before recovering slightly as the broader market rallied. Japara finished the session down 3.9% to 74¢, while Estia gained 1.5% to $1.99 and Regis was up 3.3% to $2.02. Shares in Japara are down 75% over the past five years, while Regis and Estia have both dropped more than 60% since 2016. The listed providers had told investors at their half-year results in February they were eagerly awaiting the final report of the royal commission into aged care and the government’s response to it, hoping its contents would help overhaul funding and focus on the viability of the sector. The 148 recommendations include sweeping reforms including a new aged care act, the introduction of a star rating system for facilities and a possible aged care levy for the funding of the system. The government has made an initial pledge of $452 million in additional funding.
The Financy Women’s Index fell by 2.3 points (-3%) to 74 points in the December quarter, reflecting the worst performing quarter since March 2013, as women experienced a slower employment recovery than men. The timeframe for achieving equality increased to 101 years, from a revised 100 years in the September quarter based on the worst performing sub-index (unpaid work) of the Women’s Index. A stronger year for the appointment of women to ASX200 board positions, up 6 percentage points to 32.6% and the best improvement in the gender pay gap (13.4%) since June 2018, helped drive the Index higher and cushion the December quarter employment growth shortfall. The Women’s Index also shows it’s expected to take 21 years to achieve equality in the national gender pay gap, 33 years in employment, 18 years in underemployment, 7 years for women on boards and 38 years to close the gender gap in superannuation savings.
Women account for just over a third of all managers in major companies, barely changed over 12 months, raising fears that “gender fatigue” is setting in among the top echelons of corporate Australia. The paucity of women in leadership roles is also likely to limit the number of women promoted to chief executive in the coming years and hinder company performance, experts said. Among the top 20 companies, 36.1% of all managers, including CEOs, key management personnel, general managers, senior managers and “other managers”, were women in 2020, up from 35.6% the year before, data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows. In 2014 the proportion was 29.7%. Last year only four companies in the ASX20 – insurer Suncorp, bank Westpac, pharmaceutical giant CSL and shopping centre operator Scentre Group – had close to half their managerial positions filled by women.
Two weeks after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg changed concessions granted to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on the federal government’s media bargaining code that helped restore the social media giant’s services in Australia, major news publishers Nine and News Corp are struggling to get Zuckerberg and his Facebook friends to pick up the phone to negotiate commercial deals. Nine is the publisher of The Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, while News Corp publishes The Australian, The Wall Street Journal and state-based tabloids such as Melbourne’s The Herald-Sun and Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph. There is growing frustration and cynicism among local news media executives about the willingness of Facebook to bargain in good faith. Formal revenue-payment deals with Google are within reach, Facebook appears a long way from agreeing to terms. Senior news media executives say commercial negotiations are further behind than before Facebook brazenly shut down news, medical, government and other community online pages in response to Australia’s unique media bargaining code.
Former Domain boss Antony Catalono has taken a controlling stake in Prime Media Group. . The deal will result in Mr Catalano and business partner Alex Waislitz owning nearly 20% of the company however the deal will be subject to review by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. If approved, the deal will give Mr Catalano, who is the chief executive of Australian Community Media, a controlling stake in the company, bringing to an end a stalemate between shareholders Bruce Gordon and Kerry Stokes over the company. Mr Catalano and Mr Waislitz’ WA Chess Investments will pay $4,245,109.65 for Mr Gordon’s Prime shares.
The world’s largest fund manager BlackRock has incorporated climate change assumptions into its share trading strategy for the first time as it ratchets up action to confront global warming, in a move set to weigh on companies without a clear path to net zero emissions. The influential US asset manager headed by Larry Fink has started to change its long-term forecasts of risk and return, known as capital markets assumptions, to reflect its view that climate change will become the biggest driver of valuations for assets such as shares. Energy and utility stocks are seen most at risk due to the greater climate focus, with tech and healthcare among the winners, in a move likely to ricochet through the fund manager’s $US8.7 trillion investment pool. BlackRock plans to focus on boosting its exposure to shares in developed markets over high-yield and emerging debt markets where the energy and utility sectors face structural challenges. The move is expected to be felt across the ASX, which has a heavy exposure to mining and energy stocks and extend to some financial stocks.
Metals and mining magnate Sanjeev Gupta faces a desperate race to refinance $US5bn ($6.5bn) and save 7000 Australian jobs, including workers at Whyalla steelworks, after his main financier, headed by one-time Bundaberg billionaire Lex Greensill, plunged into administration. The businessman is under mounting pressure to find a new lender for the towering debt pile owed to Greensill to keep his companies trading after he stopped payments to the financial high-flyer in recent days. Behind the scenes, Mr Gupta’s GFG Alliance was seeking a temporary repayment standstill with Greensill aimed at preventing its debts being called in, a move that could trigger the collapse of his global empire. Greensill formally appointed Grant Thornton as administrators to its Australian and UK arms over the past 24 hours, admitting the loss of insurance coverage — and the consequent decision by banking giant Credit Suisse to wind down $US10bn worth of funds associated with its financing activities — had placed it in “severe” financial distress.
Qantas is going to court to try to stop a former executive from starting a new job at rival Virgin Australia until September. Former Jetstar Japan chief executive Nick Rohrlach was recently named as Virgin’s new Velocity CEO, with a May commencement date. Qantas’s concern about his career change stemmed from the fact he was in line for a senior role at Qantas’s own frequent-flyer business, and was privy to sensitive information. This included details of future expansion plans for Qantas Loyalty, its strategy towards competitors and detail on commercial terms with program partners. The legal action in the NSW Supreme Court aimed to force Mr Rohrlach to honour a non-compete restraint period of six months, on top of three months notice.
And that’s it for this week. And next week I’ll be talking to entertainment entrepreneur and public speaker Darryl Lovegrove about how his business is managing in the pandemic. And I’ll be talking to IFM Investors economist Alex Joiner about how the economy is travelling.
In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at talkingbizz, on Facebook and on 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.