After three decades of mostly fast-paced growth, the World Bank warns the global economy may finally be in for a big slowdown.
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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 09 in our series for 2023 and today’s date is Friday March 31.
First, I’ll be talking to Dr Vincent Candrawinata, health expert & founder of Renovatio Bioscience, one of the country’s fastest growing health and wellness brands, renovatio.com.au. Dr Vincent is a food scientist, clinical nutritionist, researcher and health and wellness expert. And I’ll be talking to Rabobank economist Michael Every about how the Chinese economy is going with the re-opening.
But now, let’s talk to Dr Vincent Candrawinata
Need legal information or legal advice? Today’s podcast is 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
So what’s happening in the news?
World Bank research has warned that the global economy is in danger of suffering a lost decade of growth. That would be even more severe if the current financial turmoil sparked a global recession. The international organisation has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were set to create lasting damage to economic performance. This would undermine efforts to improve global living standards, reduce poverty and address climate change. World Bank research showed that recent setbacks to the world economy have had more lasting effects and would reduce growth rates this decade by a third, compared with the first 10 years of this century. Indermit Gill, the World Bank’s chief economist, said the fall in the level of sustainable growth was caused by “less work, less investment and less trade” than in the more rapid periods of growth and development in the 1990s and 2000s. The bank forecast that the growth rate the global economy could sustain this decade would be only 2.2% a year for the rest of this decade, down from annual rates of 2.6% between 2011 and 2021 and 3.5% in the first decade of this century. The research showed that the pandemic created huge uncertainties for companies and lowered investment growth rates in the world to an annual rate of 3.5%, half the level of the past two decades. It also harmed children’s education, which in turn hit workplace skills and led to fewer people working than had been expected, across a large number of countries. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased uncertainties and reduced investment further, especially in Europe, the World Bank said. Geopolitical tension since 2010 had left global trade barely growing as fast as the world economy.
Elon Musk’s very public $US44 billion ($A66 billion) takeover of Twitter prompted major advertisers to abandon the platform in droves, with new figures showing a 46% drop in Australian ad revenue in the final quarter of 2022 compared to the previous year. Data from Standard Media Index, which measures how much media agencies are spending with different platforms, reveals Twitter’s ad revenue in Australia fell from $7.3 million in the last three months of 2021 to $3.9 million over the same period in 2022. Mr Musk became owner and chief executive of the social platform in October. This fall was despite the “social media” category – the broader market including Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, for example – rising 4%
Australian retail sales were subdued in February, adding to evidence that household spending is beginning to slow in response to higher interest rates and cost of living pressures. Sales advanced 0.2% from a month earlier, matching forecasts, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed Tuesday. The result points to a leveling out of spending after a 1.8% surge in January and 3.9% plunge in December.
An American company paid controversial consulting firm Synergy 360 to gain behind-the-scenes support from Liberal MP Stuart Robert to lobby a parliamentary committee that oversees a key anti-corruption agency in the hope it would back the US firm’s technology. Leaked emails reveal that Unisys paid Synergy 360 – owned by Robert’s close friends David Milo and political fundraiser John Margerison – in return for Robert helping the US firm pitch its LineSight border security program to the federal MPs and senators. The new details come after Government Services Minister Bill Shorten challenged Robert in parliament on Monday to explain potential conflicts of interest in federal contracts linked to Synergy 360 and worth $374 million. Robert hit back by saying the claims against him were “egregiously” wrong and that a new report into the deals had found there was no “clear misconduct” in any of the federal contracts. The government is seeking a further investigation into 19 deals that raised particular concerns. The reports made public last Friday did not have the scope to consider the behaviour of ministers or their advisers. The emails uncovered by this masthead shed new light on the work done by Milo and Synergy 360 to seek help from Robert on behalf of Unisys in 2017, when Robert was a Liberal backbencher. The help offered to Unisys preceded many of the Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency contracts awarded to companies linked to Synergy 360 that were examined in the government reports published on Friday. Robert returned to the federal ministry in August 2018 and was promoted to the cabinet and the government services portfolio in May 2019. Unisys pitched its LineSight technology to the joint committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) in November 2017 after Robert, a member of the committee, proposed that the group of MPs and senators hear from the company.
The Reserve Bank of Australia review is poised to recommend shaking up the board and that the governor devolve powers to other RBA directors, who would formally take on more responsibilities beyond setting interest rates. The three reviewers are due to hand their report by this Friday to Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who will release the findings and an initial government response before the federal budget on May 9. In July, Dr Chalmers commissioned the first independent review of the bank since its arrangements were instituted in the early 1990s, including looking into the inflation target, monetary tools, board structure, accountability, public communications and culture. He has discussed with the three reviewers can improve publicly examining interest rate decisions after its errant guidance that interest rates were unlikely to rise before 2024, raising the possibility of the central bank scheduling regular news conferences or speeches after monthly meetings. The review has publicly and privately canvassed two options for the future board structure. One option is a specialist monetary policy board of economic experts, complemented by a separate governance board overseeing operational matters such as the bank’s internal finance, risk management, technology and human resource functions. The Bank of Canada and Bank of England have similar dual boards. The other option, which could be easier to secure bipartisan support for and not require major legislation, is a more formal selection process of members to the existing RBA board to ensure it has the best mix of skills across economics, financial markets and labour markets. Under either potential board model, the governor’s powers would be diluted to share responsibility with board members for oversight of the RBA’s operations beyond setting interest rates monthly, sources familiar with the review said. The Reserve Bank Act says that the governor manages the bank and the board is responsible for the bank’s policies. In practice, board members have typically taken a narrow view of their duties and have mainly focused on setting interest rates, plus approving the bank’s financial accounts and limited oversight of work health and safety (WHS) reports. Currently, seven of the nine RBA board members – outside of the governor and deputy governor – have little involvement in the bank’s budget, projects, risk management and technology systems. The governor of the day, currently Philip Lowe, typically manages these areas with the close support of the deputy governor who is heavily involved in the day-to-day internal operations of the bank in a role similar to a chief operating officer at a big company.
On-demand food deliverer Menulog will push for the federal government’s upcoming gig economy laws to give couriers a viable path to employment, with the Transport Workers Union committing to ensure the option is flexible enough to compete with independent contracting. Menulog and the TWU have signed a charter of principles that supports giving the Fair Work Commission powers to set standards for delivery contractors while committing to good faith talks to reach consensus on a “sustainable” employment offer for the industry.
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott has warned households and businesses will have to pay more to access bank credit, as a perfect storm of higher interest rates and overseas banking turmoil hits money markets. And the turbulence that toppled Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse had further to play out, he said. “It’s clearly not over,” Mr Elliot said. “I don’t think you can sit here and say, ‘Well, that’s all done, Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse and, you know, life will go back to normal’. “These things tend to roll through over a long period of time … history says it’ll take many, many months, if not a year, for these things to roll through the economy.” The chief executive’s comments were made as a slide in Deutsche Bank’s share price on Friday night forced German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to reject suggestions the solvency of the country’s biggest bank was at risk. Deutsche shares closed down 8.5% at €8.54, after falling 14% during the day, in its third day of sharp losses. The cost to insure against its default using credit default swaps soared to the highest levels since 2020. The ripples spread through European banking stocks,reigniting fears about the potential for a widening banking crisis. Mr Elliott said while the crises that hit SVB, Signature Bank and Credit Suisse were a shock, “we shouldn’t be surprised”. “It’s too early to call it – I mean, it’s a crisis for some, obviously – but is it a financial crisis? Who knows,” he told ANZ’s bluenotes. “Does it have the potential to be one? Yes, it does have the potential to be one.”
Criminals are turning to artificial intelligence, machine learning and chatbots as they ramp up scam and fraudulent activity against consumers and bank customers, with unprecedented speed, volume and methods of attack. That’s the view of BioCatch’s Asia Pacific sales vice president Richard Booth, who has observed scam and fraud threats towards bank customers reaching “a new level”. “The ingenuity, the creativity to try and scam people out of their money I think is unprecedented and the velocity, the speed at which the fraud is taking place,” he said. “It’s definitely a bigger problem than I’ve ever seen the industry have to tackle.” BioCatch is a behavioural biometrics firm founded in 2011 that analyses physical and digital behaviour to identify and prevent fraud, and potential scam-related activities. It counts 11 Australian banks as customers, including Suncorp, ANZ and National Australia Bank. Mr Booth’s comments come as trust in banks has been dented by a handful of collapses offshore this month. They also align with a sharp increase in scams reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, banks and the government in the past two years. The competition regulator has said there were $2bn in combined losses reported to Scamwatch, the government and the financial sector in 2021. In November, it estimated 2022’s combined losses could swell to $4bn, given the increased prevalence in scams through last year.
The March cyberattack on Latitude Financial was at least 42 times bigger than initially reported, and is now one of the largest reported data breaches in Australian history. The lender said Monday it had now established that 7.9 million driver licence numbers of Australian and New Zealand customers and applicants had been stolen in the attack, 3.2 million of which were supplied in the last decade. An additional 53,000 passport numbers were stolen, and fewer than 100 customers had a monthly financial statement stolen, Latitude said in a statement on Monday. Latitude said another 6.1 million records were stolen in the attack, most of which were more than a decade old. Those records included the name, address, telephone number and date of birth of customers, but none included all of those details. The size of the data breach now eclipses that of the Medibank Private breach in October, when the insurer failed to secure the personal information belonging to 9.7 million current and former customers.
Crown has been hit with a ransom demand by a Russian cyber gang that claims to have hacked the Australian gambling giant. The company has confirmed it is investigating a potential data breach after the ransomware gang Cl0p posted on the dark web that it had accessed the company’s data. The University of Melbourne also confirmed it may have fallen victim to the gang, although any data lost was limited to cost codes, which track expenditure, and did not contain any personal or sensitive data The companies appears to be one of at least 130 firms compromised by Cl0p, which exploited a weakness in the third party GoAnywhere file transfer software a number of large companies use. The mass data breach occurred in late January and affected companies including Rio Tinto in Australia and global conglomerate Proctor & Gamble.
Origin Energy has signed a $18.7bn takeover deal with suitors Brookfield Asset Management and MidOcean Energy after months of talks and pledged to build a giant 14 gigawatts of new renewable and storage generation in Australia over the next decade. The Australian power and gas giant said it had entered into a binding scheme implementation deed with investors to receive $8.912 a share, split between $5.78 a share and $US2.19 a share.. The deal, the fourth offer by the consortium since talks started in August, includes a plan for Brookfield to invest an extra $20bn in Origin through to 2030 to build up to 14 GW of new renewable generation and storage facilities in Australia. The proposed investment in new-build renewables represents one-fifth of the total utility-scale renewable capacity required to be developed across the national electricity market through to 2030. “As the energy transition gathers pace, what’s needed is increasingly clear: faster deployment of large-scale renewables, the accelerated, responsible retirement of coal generation, and an interim, supportive role for gas as the dependable back-up fuel,” Brookfield Asseet Management chair Mark Carney said. “Brookfield is determined that the new Origin energy markets will lead the way in all respects at this critical moment for the Australian economy.” The consortium said the level of spending was “expected to enable the retirement of one of Australia’s largest coal-fired power generation plants, Eraring, and will be undertaken with the highest regard for network reliability and security.” Companies including Origin face a thorny task as they work to wind down giant coal-fired generation plants and accelerate a switch to clean energy amid historically high wholesale electricity prices. The incoming Minns government in NSW has already signalled it will begin urgent negotiations with Origin to keep the Eraring power station open past its scheduled close date in August 2025. NSW premier-designate Christopher Minns has acknowledged that the government might have to buy back Eraring, saying taxpayers had been “fleeced” by its sale.
New forecasts show the rapidly expanding NDIS is poised to blow a $5.7 billion hole in Jim Chalmers’ second budget, with almost 200 Australians joining the program each day and participant numbers outstripping projections released only months ago. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is one of the largest sources of pressure on the federal government’s bottom line. The October budget revealed the scheme’s cost is growing at a faster rate than any other area of spending outside of interest on the national debt. Federal and state governments will spend $35.5 billion on the NDIS in 2022-23, which includes $34 billion in participant costs and additional expenses associated with the administration of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), making the decade-old scheme more expensive than Medicare. About 585,500 Australians are NDIS participants, including 10% of boys aged between five and seven. About 6000 people are joining the scheme every month. Monthly spending data released late last week, covering the period up to February 2023, show the cost of the NDIS is on track to again exceed its budget. Hassan Noura, a former official with the NDIA, said the monthly figures compiled by the agency suggest the program could exceed its $34 billion participant support budget by $0.7 billion in the 2022-23 financial year. Since higher spending carries into future years, he projects spending has blown out by $3.2 billion over the four-year forward estimates, relative to the October budget. The forecast is an average of a linear and logarithmic extrapolation of spending data.
Woolworths has axed 51 local jobs in its exports business which is expected to be closed by June 30 after difficulties regaining momentum following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The nation’s largest supermarket retailer was shipping own-brand products, some fresh food items and small volumes of meat to wholesale partners in key markets of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. It also sells in other countries. Woolworths International is part of B2B Food, a division of Woolworths’ Australian B2B business. A Woolworths spokesman confirmed the closure and said it was flagged internally to the team in February. The closure is expected to be complete by June 30. “While we have built a business partnering with major retailers and distributors in overseas markets, ongoing geopolitical issues, COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions materially impacted [the business],” he said. The closure of Woolworths International means 51 staff will go, predominantly in Australia, and staff have already been offered jobs in other areas or redundancies. Woolworths’ stand-alone red meat wholesale business, known as GreenStock, remains in place and still operates within the B2B Food unit. The export business is challenged in the wider grocery sector. After a decade, British retailer Tesco abandoned its own-brand exports in 2021 due to poor performance, lack of stock availability and compromised supply chain. Sainsbury’s followed last year.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking Telstra’s Cyber Security Expert Darren Pauli on how Australians can protect themselves from cybercrime And I’ll be talking to CommSec economist Craig James about what’s to expect in the market next week.
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.