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 thirity in our series for 2019 and today’s date is Friday August 23.

First I’ll be talking to James Cooper–Jones, the CEO of exciting New Zealand-born global digital ag-tech company  CropLogic, looking at its operations spanning Australia and the Pacific North West region of the US.

And then I’ll be talking to economist Nicholas Gruen about his proposals for an Evaluator Genera.

But first, let’s talk to James Cooper–Jones

Listen to the full podcast here:

Donald Trump has dramatically escalated his demands for Fed policy easing, calling on crisis-era sized rate cuts and a return to quantitative easing. As a report emerged that the White House has started discussing a temporary payroll tax cut to halt slowing economic growth, Mr. Trump lashed out at a “horrendous lack of vision” by Fed chairman Jay Powell. Lamenting the strong US dollar, Mr. Trump said on Monday the Fed funds rate “over a fairly short period of time” should be cut by 100 basis points to between 1% and 1.25%, “with perhaps some quantitative easing as well”.

“If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced – good for everyone!,” he wrote on Twitter. The latest attack on the Fed threatens to worsen the messaging coming out of the administration, which has shown signs of being rattled by last week’s financial market meltdown, Officials and the President insist there is no risk of recession while simultaneously demanding the kind of ultra-stimulative monetary policy settings that were used to counter the global financial crisis 12 years ago.

However, signs continue to emerge that the administration is increasingly worried about growing recession warnings. The Washington Post said several senior White House officials have started early-stage talks on whether to push Congress to pass payroll tax relief. The White House later denied any such move was under “consideration”. Despite the administration’s assurances that there is no danger of a significant downturn in the economy, some 74% of US business economists believe the risks emerging from Mr. Trump’s economic policies mean there will be a recession by the end of 2021.

Australian consumer confidence slumped to a five-month low last week, driven by increased pessimism towards the outlook for the domestic economy. The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence Index fell 2.3% to 112.8, leaving it at the lowest level since late March.

Spending across the Australian economy fell for a second consecutive month in July, according to new data released by the Commonwealth Bank. The bank’s Business Sales Indicator (BSI) – a measure that tracks the value of electronic transactions processed through its merchant facilities – fell by 0.1% last month in trend terms after declining by a similar margin in June.

ASIC is planning a litigation blitz in coming months as it puts up to 50 matters into the courts, many of them arising from the Hayne Royal Commission. ASIC deputy chairman (enforcement) Daniel Crennan QC says that on top of the 13 referrals from the commission, the regulator was looking at “three times as many” case studies with a view to legal proceedings. A slew of cases is expected to be underway before Senate estimates hearings in late October, at which ASIC will be asked to explain the results of a dramatic boost in funding – up 25% in the May budget to $400 million over the next four years – and the progress of its new “why not litigate?” approach to enforcement. It could mean direction hearings, which can allocate hearing dates, being held before the end of the year.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has made it clear it will not take a backward step after challenging bankers from NAB and ANZ over their lending standards just days after an embarrassing set back in the Federal Court. ASIC deputy chairman Karen Chester and commissioner Sean Hughes presented a united front as they grilled bankers, mortgage brokers, and aggregators in the second day of two public hearings into responsible lending. The hearings held by the corporate regulator are a means of holding the banks’ “feet to the fire” and testing claims that tightening existing guidelines could restrict, raise the cost of or even cut off credit to specific sectors.

The corporate regulator’s flexing follows a humiliating defeat in the Federal Court after Justice Nye Perram threw out its case that Westpac broke responsible lending laws more than a quarter of a million times after approving home loans using automated processes. Commissioner Hughes said the corporate regulator “factually and fundamentally” did not accept many of the positions being advanced by lenders as he opened proceedings at the Melbourne leg of the hearings.

Australia’s four major banks will appear before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics at public hearings in Canberra on 8 and 15 November 2019.

More than half of Australia’s population has lost money due to misconduct or inappropriate actions by financial services institutions such as banks, a University of Melbourne study has found. The cost over the past five years alone has been extrapolated to an eye-watering $201 billion. The figure far exceeds the estimates of compensation due to customers from recent scandals. Many of those examples were uncovered in last year’s banking royal commissions, which analysts estimate as floating towards $10 billion. The survey of 1,029 consumers found a trust deficit between consumers and institutions.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has abandoned a potential carbon price in its future modeling for the electricity grid. In an admission that has implications for how Australia will reach its international carbon reduction targets, AEMO said it would change its scenario modeling to reflect the fact the Coalition and Labor had shown no inclination to revive a market-based mechanism that was introduced in 2012 and repealed in 2014. “Since that time, neither major political party has committed to an explicit carbon price as part of their policy settings,” AEMO said in its latest report. “In addition, renewable generation technologies are becoming cost-competitive with conventional new generation even without subsidies.

As such, AEMO does not apply a price-based mechanism to achieve decarbonisation. Rather, AEMO’s approach may apply a volume-based carbon budget to suit each scenario’s level of decarbonisation ambition, and the modeling does not, and does not need to, stipulate the actual mechanism for achieving this outcome.” The consultation paper provides an insight into how the energy market operator is grappling to deal with the fast-changing energy grid – which has been swamped by an influx of renewable energy hat has challenged reliability – when there is no clear climate policy from the federal government. It also shows the challenges of negotiating with big energy companies on modeling for its Integrated Systems Plan for the National Electricity Market over the next 20 years.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has revealed an “implementation road map” around the 54 recommendations from the financial services royal commission that called for Government action.  The final report from commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations, 54 of which were directed at the Government, which has been accused of dragging its feet in response to the commission. In what is described as a “full implementation road map”, Mr. Frydenberg said more than a third of the Government’s commitments in response to the final report will have been implemented or will have legislation before Parliament by the end of this year.

He said more than 50 commitments of the 54 will have been implemented or be subject to legislation by the middle of next year. The government’s strategy is that the remaining four recommendations needing legislation will have been introduced by the end of 2020. The remaining 22 recommendations from the royal commission were aimed at regulators and the finance industry. The release of the timetable comes with a commitment to independently review the impact of the changes in three years’ time. There is no reference to what independent expert or body would conduct the review.

The chief executive of Australia’s largest job-hunting website, SEEK, has warned that current strong job numbers are hiding the full effects of automation in the workplace, saying any economic downturn will lead to thousands of “mid-level” jobs going and not returning. While some labour economists argue the fear surrounding automation and jobs is overhyped in the context of high current levels of employment. Andrew Bassat said he had already observed a “hollowing out” of middle-management jobs on SEEK’s website.

Supermarket owner Coles and grinding materials supplier Molycop have inked separate long-term contracts to buy renewable energy driven by high electricity bills and the desire to shrink their environmental footprint. The deals will support several new solar and wind farms in regional NSW and represent an acceleration of corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) for clean energy after a lull earlier this year around the federal election. The 10-year deal by Coles, the first to be signed by a major Australian retailer, will underpin the construction of three new solar farms near Wagga Wagga, Corowa and Junee and will provide the equivalent of 10% of Coles’ national electricity usage.

Online retailer Kogan has already diversified into insurance, mobile phones, and travel. Now it wants to manage your retirement savings. Kogan Super, launched in partnership with Mercer, bills itself as one of the lowest-fee funds on the market because it relies heavily on index investing.

Australia’s booming coal industry has made the nation the world’s third-biggest exporter of potential carbon dioxide emissions locked in fossil fuels, placing it only behind oil giants Russia and Saudi Arabia. Australia makes up 7% of all global fossil fuel exports by carbon dioxide potential, as it accounts for almost one-third of the world coal trade, according to a report from The Australia Institute, which has been critical of the federal government’s efforts to combat global climate change.

While China and the U.S. are the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters in absolute terms, the report highlights the role of relatively smaller polluters play in selling fossil fuels to other nations. Australia, which is also one of the biggest gas exporters, supplies economies throughout Asia, including Japan, China and South Korea. Exports of fossil fuels and supply infrastructure play a crucial role in locking in increased emissions, and their impact is often ignored in climate change policy, The AI said in the report.

And the profit reporting season continues. BHP has posted its best profit in five years and paid its biggest-ever dividend, but the $US9.4 billion underlying profit was significantly lower than most analysts had expected.

Beacon Lighting posted an 18.1% fall in net profit to $16 million in the 53 weeks ending June 30.

Kogan.com returned to profit growth in the June-half and deliver a 22% increase in net profit to $17.2 million for the year.

Crown Resorts posted normalised net profit after tax of $368.8 million, 4.7% on last year. But the result was below market consensus for earnings of $371.4 million. Significant items for 2018-19 totalled $573.6 million, largely from impairments to Seven West Media’s TV licences and print mastheads, sending the company to a loss of $444.5 million for the financial year.

East coast gas producer Senex posted a modest net profit for the full year, of $3.3 million, a turnaround from the $94 million loss of 2018-19.

Sonic Healthcare recorded a jump in net profit of 15.6%  to $550 million for the year to June 30. Engineering group Monadelphous reported a 29% drop in annual net profits to $50.5 million.

SEEK reported a full-year net profit of $180.3 million, up 245% from last year, primarily due to impairments in the previous financial year. Underlying profit, excluding significant items, was up marginally to $229 million.

Oil Search net profit jumped to $US161.9 million in the six months ending June 30, from $US79.2 million in the year-earlier half, which was hit by the impact of a major earthquake in PNG.

Four-Wheel drive accessories group ARB Corporation’s net profit climbed by 12.1% to $57.1 million in 2018-19.

Health insurer NIB posted an annual profit of $149.3 million, up 13% on the previous year. Revenue was up 8. 3% to $2.4 billion, while earnings were up 9.2% to $201.8 million.

Beach Energy’s profit for the year ending June 30 surged to $577.3 million, up 190% from the previous year which was impacted by acquisition costs and an asset write-down. Revenues jumped 64% to $2.08 billion due to a 55% increase in output as well as higher oil and gas prices.

Sydney-based Lendlease said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation dropped 30% to $1.25 billion last year and after-tax profit slumped 41% t to $467 million.

BlueScope produced a full-year net profit of $1.02 billion.

Netwealth has reported a full-year net profit after tax of $36 million, a 24%  increase over the year, as its funds under administration continued to increase. Saracen Mineral Holdings reported a 22% rise in profits to $92.5 million.

Toilet and tap maker GWA unveiled a jump in full-year profits, heavily fuelled by the sale of its locks and doors division, of $95 million compared to $54 million.

Reproductive technology company Virtus Health’s net profit was down 7.8% to $28.4 million from $30.8 million.

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises missed earnings guidance, with underlying earnings before interest and tax rising 7.2% to $220.8 million, well below the guidance of $227 million to $247 million and consensus of $226.7 million.

The A2 Milk Company’s earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) was up 46.1% to $NZ413.6 million,  Gas pipeline owner APA Group has posted an 8.8% increase in net profit for the full year of $288 million in the 12 months ending June 30, from $264.8 million a year earlier.

Diversified developer Stockland’s profit was down 69.6% to $311 million.

Global engineering group Worley’s annual net profits more than doubled to $151.9 million on the back of a $4.6 billion US acquisition.

Logistics software group Wisetech’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 39% to $108.1 million for the year ending June 30.

Amcor announced net income of $US430.2 million, down from $US575.2 million.

Online car classifieds group carsales.com posted a net profit down 53.8% on the prior year to $85.27 million.

McMillan Shakespeare Group reported its profit in fiscal 2019 rose 26.6% to $63.6 million.  

And that’s it for this week. And next week I’ll be talking to Dan Springer, the CEO of DocuSign and the company’s eSignature business. While environmental benefits are part and parcel with DocuSign’s product offering, Dan’s personal interest in and commitment to philanthropy in the area of environmental causes pushes him to take the company’s corporate social responsibility pursuits to the next level. And I’ll be talking to AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver reviewing the profit reporting season.

And of course, I’ll be bringing you all the week’s news. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at talkingbizz, on Facebook and on LinkedIn. And if you want, leave a comment. Have a great week, take care, be good and looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.