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 twenty three in our series for 2019 and today’s date is Friday July 05.
First I talk to Professor Jason Potts, a director of the Blockchain Innovation hub at RMIT, who looks at how Facebook is changing the banking system with its cryptocurrency model. And he says, it will be followed by others, like Apple and Microsoft. So banks should watch out.
And then I’ll talk to RMIT economist Jonathan Boymal looking at what’s ahead in the Australian property market with the RBA cutting interest rates.
But first, let’s talk toProfessor Jason Potts.
Wall Street analysts and economists are skeptical that the truce the US and China reached over the weekend will lead to lasting relief from the trade war. Markets rallied Monday after President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a trade truce at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan over the weekend. The S&P 500 climbed to a new intraday record while safe-haven assets slipped.
But a number of analysts think the rally will be short-lived, and that further tariffs could be coming. Pauses on raising tariffs haven’t led to much success in the past. Last year at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a trade truce only lasted about six months before the US went ahead with raising tariffs on $US200 billion of Chinese imports to 25% from 10%.
While it’s positive that the US and China have agreed to reopen negotiations, there is no proof that this will lead to a resolution. So far, no proposals have been able to address the concerns that both sides bring to the table, leading analysts to believe that further escalation of tariffs and retaliatory measures will be on the horizon at some point. In addition, the global economy is still dealing with the damage that the current tariffs have caused, wrote Craig Johnson of Piper Jaffray. The current round of tariffs will likely continue to drag down global growth, a negative going forward.
Christine Lagarde, who knows a thing or two about economic rescue, particularly when it comes to the vulnerable Eurozone and who was part of the troika that bailed out Greece and eventually steered the eurozone off the rocks, is set to swap the helm of the International Monetary Fund for that of the European Central Bank, becoming the first woman to run euro-area monetary policy just as the bloc’s economy looks in need of fresh stimulus. Lagarde was nominated to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the ECB when his eight-year term ends on Oct. 31. European leaders turned to the 63-year old onetime lawyer and former French finance minister on Tuesday after hours of horse-trading in Brussels over a package of top EU jobs which included handing the presidency of the European Commission to German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
The future of the Coalition’s $158 billion dollar income tax cut package now rests in the hands of the Senate, having sailed through the House of Representatives without objection from Labor. The Government’s three-stage plan passed the Lower House late on Tuesday night. Labor did not vote against the package, believing it had a better chance of amending the bill in the Senate.
The Opposition supports the first two stages of the plan which includes tax cuts for low and middle-income earners but has refused to support the third stage, which involves long-term structural tax change. Labor also wants the second stage — which addresses bracket creep — delivered earlier than planned. It moved to introduce amendments to the bill to address those issues, with Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers telling Parliament the proposed changes would see millions of Australians get immediate tax relief and Labor’s position is “based on a reasonable, rational, hard-headed assessment of the economic and budgetary conditions under this third term government.” The Coalition rejected all of the Opposition’s amendments, telling Parliament the public wanted the entire package, as it was promised.
The Senate will consider the bill on Thursday, with condolences for former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke the sole item of business on Wednesday. Without Labor or the Greens’ support in the Senate, the Coalition needs four of the six crossbench votes. Earlier in the day, returning Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie — who is likely to be a deciding vote — said she needed more time to determine whether she would back the income tax cut package in full. Independent Senator Cory Bernadi will support the bill, while One Nation leader Pauline Hanson — who controls two votes on the Senate crossbench — has said she will not support the full tax cut package. Centre Alliance holds two crossbench votes and has indicated it is likely to support the plan in full. The Government is threatening to sit late on Thursday to deal with the bill, in order to pass it this sitting week.
The RBA has once again cut rates in July to an even 1%. That was in line with the majority consensus from Australian economists, including all four of the major banks. It’s also what RBA Governor Philip Lowe suggested when he spoke about the last cut. The last two cuts could give the average Australian mortgage holder with a $545,000 home loan an approximate saving of $220 per month if lenders pass on the cuts in full. Markets are convinced that another cut will occur before the end of the year. A second cut was always on the cards, particularly given that the RBA’s existing economic forecasts, which painted a rather depressing view of the Australian economy, were based on a two cut scenario.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has ramped up pressure on governments to compensate for weakening monetary policy effectiveness by increasing fiscal expenditure. In a speech on Tuesday in Darwin following the first board meeting in that city since 1968, Dr. Lowe said such spending on infrastructure would add to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects were selected – it would also add to the country’s productive capacity. He said the Australian government can borrow for 10 years at around 1.3%, the lowest rate it has faced since Federation in 1901.
Building approvals fell another 0.5% in May on a trend basis and are now 21% lower over the year. Approvals are almost 28% below their peak three years ago
And concerns are growing that Scott Morrison will need to do much more to turn the economy around — and that his current policy agenda has insufficient firepower. Australia is on track to record its weakest fiscal year since the last recession in 1991, dragged down by record household debt, stagnant wages, under-employment and a falling property market.
While Morrison is seeking to legislate $158 billion in income-tax relief — the biggest tax cuts in more than 10 years — most wouldn’t take effect until the middle of the next decade. And after steering the budget back to a forecast surplus after a decade of deficits, the political imperative of sticking with that path means the prime minister is unlikely to fund stimulus measures through taking on more debt.
Beyond the tax cuts and additional infrastructure spending, critics say measures to boost growth and productivity look thin. The government now has 77 seats in the 151-member lower house — a slim majority, yet an improvement on its minority position before the election. While six independent and minor party lawmakers still collectively hold the balance of power in the Senate, the government now only needs to win the support of four of them to pass legislation.
By the end of the last parliament, it had to court eight of the 10 so-called crossbenchers. A more manageable parliament means little without a clear vision and a strong policy agenda. Ian Chubb, who served as Australia’s chief scientist for five years until 2016, is equally pessimistic and cites the government winding back tax incentives for research and development that could uncover new growth drivers. The election, he said, showed voters didn’t want a “contest of ideas” and were prepared to elect a government campaigning on “a few cliches.”
Sydney property prices rose for the first time in almost two years in June, adding to signs Australia’s housing slump is nearing an end. House values in the nation’s biggest city gained 0.1% last month, CoreLogic Inc. data released Monday showed. However, prices across the combined state and territory capitals fell 0.1%, the data showed. A triple dose of positive news is flowing through to the property market: the central bank has cut interest rates again, the banking regulator has proposed easing mortgage-serviceability rules, and the opposition Labor Party’s surprise election loss killed off plans to wind back tax breaks for property investors.
In other signs sentiment is improving, auction clearance rates are holding above 60% in Sydney and Melbourne, realtors are reporting bigger crowds inspecting properties and lenders are getting more inquiries from borrowers, CoreLogic’s head of research Tim Lawless said. However, a rapid recovery isn’t on the cards. The economy is struggling outside the commercial hubs of Sydney and Melbourne (where home prices rose 0.2% last month), lenders are still taking a tough stance on approving loans, and there’s a glut of apartments hitting the market.
Paladin’s refugee services contract on Manus Island has been extended by six months in a deal that could be worth around $100 million to the controversial security company. Managing director David Saul wrote to employees and sub-contractors on Saturday informing them of the extension and saying it “recognises the professionalism of Paladin”.
The extension until December 31 is to allow sufficient time for the new government in Papua New Guinea to take over the contract and run an open tender process, at which point the current Paladin agreement will be terminated. The terms of Paladin’s new agreement and its value have not been published by the government on its AusTender website. The company’s previous contracts with Home Affairs have been worth around $20 million a month.
Paladin has been heavily criticised by the Labor opposition, the subject of intense questioning during Senate Estimates and is being investigated by the Auditor-General and by internal auditors for Home Affairs. Prior to the renewal, Paladin had been awarded contracts worth $423 million by Home Affairs without an open tender process. The contract was previously renewed in January for $109 million despite Paladin founder Craig Thrupp being blocked from entering PNG,
Documents lodged last week with the corporate regulator show German supermarket giant Kaufland has been on an Australian hiring blitz. The launch of its first Australian store is still more than a year away, but it had 123 local staff by the time its fiscal year ended in February. It has hired key supermarket executives, store managers, and other administrative staff. This comes as retailers such as Kaufland’s rival Aldi have put increasing pressure on Coles and Woolworths.
Australia’s big banks have pushed back against a responsible lending plan which was proposed by regulator ASIC to protect consumers from borrowing too much with low-interest rates. All four major banks raised concerns in submissions published by ASIC, which wants them to stop using a metric known as the household expenditure measure. It has been criticised for underestimating borrowers’ expenses. The banks think the proposals could restrict access to credit. ASIC will hold public hearings on the issue later this year.
The latest research from an anti-fossil fuel advocacy group has identified LNG as no better, and potentially worse, than coal in contributing to climate change and casts more doubt on investor support for the next wave of oil and gas projects in Australia. A Global Energy Monitor report warned a planned tripling of LNG capacity would lock in decades of high emissions and have an impact on global warming as large or larger than the growth in coal-fired power stations. The researchers behind the report said LNG was potentially worse than coal because of hard-to-monitor methane emissions at all stages of the gas extraction and supply cycle.
Woolworths plans to combine its drinks and pubs businesses, Endeavour Drinks, and ALH Group, and spin them off through a demerger or trade sale. Woolworths has been under pressure for years to distance itself from the pubs business, which is Australia’s largest poker machine operator and which has come under scrutiny from liquor licensing authorities over breaches of licensing laws. Endeavor Drinks owns big-box liquor chain Dan Murphys and BWS.
Disaffected workers who want to be their own boss are turning to trades in increasing numbers, according to new research. Almost half of the more than 600 trades professionals surveyed for The St George Tradie Economy report said they had previously spent time in a different role, often in IT or hospitality. And while 40% of the tradies surveyed currently work for a larger company, 75% hope to launch their own businesses in their fields in the next 12-18 months.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Dan Ternes, the CTO APJ for Blue Prism, and we’ll be talking about robots taking over your workplace and their impact on industry and society.
And I’ll be talking to Indeed economist Callum Pickering about the RBA’s decision to cut interest rates to a new record low and what it means for the Australian economy.
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.