Thursday, 13 July 2017 07:16

Platinum Quarterly Report - a great read

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Platinum Asset Management's quarterly report is always full of insightful information about the world economies and financial markets.

The most recent quarter considers the imbalance of investment capital around the world, comparing the economies of US, UK and Australia who all are spending above their income levels (running deficits) versus economies in Europe and Asia who are spending less than their income.  It is indeed thought provoking from the perspective of an Australian investor.

While quite a detailed read, we thoroughly recommend investors take the time to run through this excellent document that is put together by the professional investors who manage the money at Platinum rather than marketing spin doctors.

You can download your copy of the report by clicking on the image below.

 

The Spanish property market was materially over valued and fell spectacularly following the GFC, causing significant damage to the Spanish economy.

We recently spoke with Clay Smolinski about the similarities of the Spanish Property to the current state of the Australian property market, to determine whether investors can learn anything from the lessons of history.

 

 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 21:09

Australian economy hits rough patch

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Despite numerous forecasts for an “unavoidable” recession following the end of the mining boom early this decade, the Australian economy has continued to defy the doomsters and keep growing. However, recently it seems to have hit a bit of a rough patch. After contracting in the September quarter, the economy bounced back in the December quarter only to falter again in the March quarter. While there was relief that we didn’t see another contraction, as had been feared, and the economy has now had 103 quarters without a recession, it would be wrong to get too excited. March quarter growth was just 0.3% quarter on quarter and annual growth slowed to 1.7% year on year, its slowest since the global financial crisis (GFC).


Source: ABS, AMP Capital

Bad weather and bad wages growth – the negatives

Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath disrupted housing construction & trade in the March quarter and this will pass. But before it does, the weather impact on trade will worsen in the current quarter – as indicated by a 45% collapse in coal exports in April, which is unlikely to be made up for in May and June – resulting in another quarter of poor growth. More fundamentally though:

  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">Consumer spending is heavily constrained by record low wages growth and high levels of underemployment resulting in real household disposable income growth of just 0.4% over the last 12 months. While real consumer spending grew more strongly than income at 2.3% over the last year, this was only possible because of a fall in the household savings rate to 4.7% from 6.9% a year ago. Rapid increases in the cost of electricity, talk of an increase in the Medicare levy and high debt levels are probably also not helping. All of which is showing up in relatively low levels of consumer confidence.
  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">The housing cycle is starting to slow. Falling building approvals point to a downtrend in housing construction activity (see next chart). Similarly, the wealth effects from home price gains are likely to slow if, as we expect, Sydney and Melbourne property price growth has now peaked under the weight of bank rate hikes, tighter lending standards, rising supply and poor affordability.


Source: ABS, AMP Capital

The impact of the housing cycle on the Australian economy is regularly exaggerated. Last year it contributed around 0.3% directly to GDP growth (via housing construction) and indirect effects look unlikely to have been more than another 0.3%. In other words, not a huge amount. But nevertheless it will be a drag on growth when it slows.

Offsetting positives

However, while the consumer and the housing cycle look like becoming a drag on Australian growth in the year or two ahead, several considerations will provide an offset:

  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">The big drag on growth from falling mining investment is nearly over.Mining investment peaked at nearly 7% of GDP four years ago and has been falling at around 30% per annum, knocking around 1.5% pa from GDP growth (and a lot more in Western Australia). While it’s still falling rapidly, at around 2% of GDP now, its weight in the economy has collapsed reducing its drag on growth to around 0.5% for the year ahead and it’s getting close to the bottom.


Source: ABS, AMP Capital

  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">Secondly, public infrastructure investment is rising strongly, up 9.5% over the last year, in response to state infrastructure spending much of which is financed from the privatisation of existing public assets.
  • http://www.ampcapital.com.au/custom/reskin/images/bg-bullet-dot.png); padding-left: 11px; margin-bottom: 5px; background-position: 0px 8px; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;">Finally, net exports or trade is likely to return to contributing to growth as the impact of Cyclone Debbie fades, resource projects including for gas complete and services exports continue to strengthen.


Source: ABS, AMP Capital

Recession avoided, but growth to remain subdued

These considerations should ensure that the Australian economy continues to grow and avoids recession. However, the drag from soft consumer spending and an end to the east coast housing boom will likely leave growth stuck around 2 to 2.5%. This is below Government and RBA expectations for a return to 3%, posing downside risks to the inflation outlook.

In an ideal world and given the declining potency of monetary policy (and the fear of reigniting home prices gains), this would be the time to consider income tax cuts (or “cheques in the mail”) to help shore up consumer spending. The Government could consider financing this by dropping/delaying the cuts to corporate tax for large companies that are stalled in the Senate. However, since the corporate tax cuts were due to kick in much later, the budget deficit would still blow out in the short term and it’s doubtful the Government would want to allow this given the risk of a ratings downgrade.

As a result, the pressure to do something if growth remains sub-par and underlying inflation stays below target will fall back to the RBA. As such our view is that the chance of an interest rate hike in the next 12 months is very low and the probability of another rate cut has pushed up to around 40-50% (well above the probability implied by the money market of 11%). Yes, the RBA remains reluctant to cut rates again and showed no signs of an easing bias in its June post-meeting statement, but then again it’s been a reluctant rate cutter all the way down since 2011. Key things to watch for another rate cut are: a softening in jobs data; continued weak consumer spending; another downwards revision in RBA growth and inflation forecasts; significant cooling in the Sydney and Melbourne property markets; and the Australian dollar remaining relatively resilient.

Implications for investors

There are two major implications for Australian based investors. First, continue to favour global over Australian shares. While US and global share indices are hitting new record highs, Australian shares remain well below their pre-GFC peak. In fact, Australian shares have been underperforming global shares since October 2009. See the next chart. This reflects relatively tighter monetary policy in Australia (the US had money printing and zero rates and Australia had neither), the commodity slump, the lagged impact of the rise in the $A above parity in 2010 and a mean reversion of the 2000 to 2009 outperformance by Australian shares. While the underperformance has reversed half of the 2000 to 2009 outperformance, it looks like it has further to go reflecting weaker growth prospects in Australia. We see the ASX 200 higher by year end, but global shares are likely to do better.


Source: Thomson Reuters, AMP Capital

Secondly, maintain a decent exposure to foreign currency. A simple way to do this is to leave a proportion of global shares unhedged. Historically the $A has tended to fall against the $US when the level of interest rates in Australia relative to the US is falling. See the next chart. With the Fed likely to continue (gradually) raising rates and the RBA on hold or potentially cutting rates again, the risk for the $A remains down.


Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

 

Article by Shane Oliver - Chief Economist AMP

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 06:01

SA Bank Levy - Fact or Crap

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With SA Treasurer, Tom Koutsantonis announcing in the budget recently, a state based bank levy, we examine his assertions in a game of "Fact or Crap"

1. Tom Koutsantonis asserts that a new tax on the banking sector will ensure 'the sector contributes their fair share'.  

The fact of the matter is that last year alone, the banking industry paid over $14bn in tax.  In terms of tax paid, it is banks first, daylight second.  Banks make the highest contribution by far to help governments at all levels fund essential public services such as hospitals, schools and roads, and income support for those in need.  In fact, banks paid 55.3% of all tax paid by Australia's top 200 listed companies.  Food and Staples retailing paid 5.4% and the Metals and Mining industry paid 3.8%.  Source of this information is special report published by Australian Bankers Association.

Therefore we declare Tom Koutsantonis' first assertion is CRAP.

 

 

2. Tom Koutsantonis asserts that banks are earning super profits and therefore should pay more tax.

 

If banks in Australia truly were earning 'super profits' investors would clearly be able to see a material increase in financial ratios such as bank margins, and return on equity.  The first chart shows return on equity over the past 30+ years.  If banks were earning super profits this graph would show an increased return on equity, whereas the fact of the matter is that return on equity has been relatively stable over the past 30 years.  And while Australia's banks are profitable, this is something that Australians actually benefit from not only in their superannuation fund investment returns, but also having access to credit from a stable financial system to purchase houses, cars, businesses etc.   

The second chart shows the journey of bank interest margins over the last 20 years.  If banks were making super profits, margins would not be decreasing which is clearly what the chart demonstrates.

Tom Koutsantonis' second assertion is also CRAP.

 

3. Tom Koutsantonis asserts that banks should pay extra tax as they have closed branches.

We sourced information from the IMF Financial Access Survey (2015) which outlined the number of Commercial Bank branches per 100,000 adults and some of the key results are as follows:

 

Australia 28.7 branches per 100,000 adults

Canada 23.6

Germany 14.1

Greece 26.8

Netherlands 13.9

Norway 7.7

North America 28.2

OECD Average 23.6

 

Arguing an organisation which rationalises its physical locations should pay higher tax liabilities would result in some interesting tax outcomes for the likes of Book stores, Record/CD shops and of course Video rental shops that have all changed materially at the hands of technology.

Australia has one of the highest rates of bank branches to populations in the world, and it is with this in mind that we declare that Tom Koutsantonis' third assertion is also CRAP.

 

And for further interest from the same IMF report, Australia has 164 ATM's per 100,000 adults, providing ease of access to cash.  This compares to OECD average of 75.9 ATM's per 100,000 adults, further demonstrating that banks provide an above average service to Australians.

 

GEM Capital believes it is poor policy to single out an industry and impose a specific levy in a particular geographic location.  This is likely to distort the integrity of the tax system in Australia and lead to poor economic outcomes for South Australia.

 

We conclude this article by quoting some interesting sources who have shown their concern about the proposal to introduce a state based levy in South Australia on the banks:

 

"My concern is that it will damage investment.  It's quite a different set of circumstances from the federal tax".  "A state based levy could make the region uncompetitive" - Nick Xenophon, who is opposing the SA Bank Levy.

"There is no justification for this state tax other than a grab for revenue.  It is clearly open season for governments attacking big banks, but it is their shareholders who will bear these added taxes"  Ross Barker - Australian Foundation Investment Company

"In the case of South Australia the tax is avoidable by not doing business there and that's a very bad outcome for bank customers of that state" - David Murray former CEO of Commonwealth Bank

 "Koutsantonis shows his lack of understanding of the profitability of the banks relative to their capital by quoting the annual profits number..... and he might get a shock when they start shutting down local operations in Adelaide in response to the tax, which woul be a rational response"  Tony Boyd Australian Financial Review

"Australia is becoming a laughing stock of global investment circles as erratic governments - state, territory and federal - carelessly undermine confidence by chop and changing the rules of doing business" Jennifer Westacott - Business Council of Australia

 

GEM Capital is concerned at the anti-business messages the SA Government is promoting in this levy and believes it is highly likely to result in reduced investment in South Australia which is likely to result in reduced employment over time.  From an investment perspective, actions of Australian Governments like this are materially increasing "Sovereign Risk" of investing in Australia which is also likely to negatively impact the Australian economy over time.  It very much validates our view to look to continue to invest outside of Australia in search of investment returns.

 

These opinions are my personal views and not necessarily those of the Dealer Group we are licensed through.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Draper and Shannon Corcoran (GEM Capital) recently met with Clay Smolinski to discuss the frail Italian Banking system, and to determine whether it will be at the epicentre of the next crisis.

 

 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 22:07

Is Telstra good value after the dip?

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Written by Tim Kelley - Montgomery Investment Management

 

Telstra (TLS) is not high on the list of businesses we would most like to own. Having said that, it is not a terrible business, and at the right price it makes sense to own it, particularly given its steady dividend stream. So, with TLS’s share price down around 20 percent over the past year, we decided to assess its value.

One of the appealing features of TLS is its stability. Over many years, the company has delivered consistent revenues at consistent margins for consistent earnings. On the face of it, this should allow us to value the company fairly readily.

However, for several reasons the future for TLS looks different to the past: Firstly, migration to the NBN will take a large bite out of TLS’s fixed-line business, offset somewhat by a series of one-off and recurring payments it will receive from NBN Co. for handing over its copper and HFC networks. Secondly, there is the matter of TPG Telecom (TPM) planning to become Australia’s fourth mobile network operator.

Given this, we think it makes sense to split the valuation into four components:

A “business-as-usual” valuation of TLS based on historical financial metrics; A valuation of the earnings “hole” left by the migration to NBN; The present value of payments TLS will receive from NBN Co; and An adjustment for the impact of increasing competition in mobile.

We consider each of these in turn.

“Business-as-usual”

As noted above, TLS has historically been a very stable business, and the “business-as-usual” valuation is a relatively straightforward extrapolation of historical financials. Using an 8% cost of capital and a 1.5% p.a. growth rate, we arrive at an estimated value of just under $50 billion for the equity in TLS, or around $4.20 per share.

NBN earnings hole 

We then come to the NBN earnings hole. TLS has provided guidance as to the EBITDA impact it expects when the migration is complete, and our “business-as-usual” valuation gives us an implied EBITDA multiple with which we can capitalise this impact. We estimate that this amounts to a fairly meaningful $17.4 billion of equity value, equivalent to around $1.46 per share.

Payments from NBN Co.

Happily, this earnings hole is largely compensated for by one-off and recurring payments it expects to receive from NBN Co. TLS has provided estimates of the value of these payments, but we believe the discount rate applied to these payments should be lower than the one TLS has used (which is generally 10%). We have evaluated TLS on the basis of an 8% WACC, and we see these payments as having somewhat lower risk than the overall TLS business, and so we apply a 7% discount rate. On this basis, we estimate the value of payments yet to be received from NBN Co at around $16.9 billion after tax – a larger figure than quoted by TLS, and one that substantially makes up for the value lost from TLS’s fixed line business.

Increasing competition

Finally, we consider the impact of TPM’s entry into the mobile market. As a point of reference, we note the impact of the 2012 entry into the French market by low-cost operator, Free mobile. In that example, ARPUs for the leading player, Orange, declined by 10-15% over several years, as the new entrant moved to take market share of 15%.

This sort of outcome would imply a very material loss of value for TLS. However, for a range of reasons, we expect TLS to experience a less dire outcome. These reasons include:

Free benefitted from a roaming agreement with Orange. However, the ACCC has indicated it does not support roaming in Australia. This is an important constraint on TPM which plans to spend relatively little on its network build and will achieve relatively limited population coverage; Approximately 53% of TLS mobile subscribers are outside the major cities, and therefore less vulnerable to competition, as TPM focuses its network spend on the major cities; A large part of TLS’s mobile revenues are derived from business subscribers, who would also be less susceptible to a TPM offering; and Across its entire customer base, TLS maintains a price premium position in the Australian market due to perceptions of coverage and quality. TPM’s low-cost offering will more directly impact Optus and Vodafone (and is thought to potentially be a strategy to pressure Vodafone into a consolidation).

Our valuation of Telstra

Taking these factors into account, we anticipate a couple of percentage points of lost market share for TLS, and perhaps a 5% decline to ARPUs. On this basis, we estimate that the value of TLS falls by around $4.3 billion, or around $0.36 per share – still a material impact.

We then assemble the different valuation components into an overall picture, as follows, to arrive at an estimated value for TLS equity of around $44.8 billion, which equates to around $3.77 per share.

Against today’s share price of $4.42, this makes TLS look around 15% expensive, although it should be noted that we consider large sections of the Australian equity market to be expensive, so this conclusion perhaps comes as no surprise. It is also worth noting that different judgements around discount rates might lead other analysts to a different conclusion.

The Montgomery Alpha Plus Fund – which is fully-invested and uses a machine learning model analysing many different variables to drive investment decisions – holds a modest position in TLS in its long portfolio. For the Montgomery Fund, however, we are particular about valuation and are happy to hold cash when value is scarce. Accordingly, TLS does not find its way into our long-only funds at the current price, regardless of its dividend-yielding appeal.

Written by Richard Watt - Fidelity Investments
 
Political risks subside 
Perceived political risks in Europe have detracted from European equity performance over the past year, with around US$100bn flowing out of European markets in 2016. With the election of Emmanuel Macron as the next French President, much of that risk has been reduced and investors may now focus on the performance of European companies.
 
Here we look at the key benefits that the Macron win may bring to the European economy and its equity markets.
 
Pro-reform, pro-integration 
Macron is a reformist and pro-European. He is in favour of greater integration in Europe, the strengthening of European institutions and a common Eurozone budget that would protect from future economic shocks. He has campaigned on reforms of the labour market in France, reforms of the tax system and tax cuts, and raising the retirement age, which is currently one of the lowest in Europe. 
 
Along with this, he plans to invest EUR50bn into the French economy. This would be funded by reducing the size of the French state - by far the largest of any European country.
 
All of this would be hugely beneficial to what is a relatively uncompetitive French economy, and to the future strength and stability of the Eurozone.
 
Political risks diminishing 
Sentiment towards Europe has been particularly strong since the first round of voting in France two weeks ago, seeing European and French markets up 7-8%. With either the upcoming UK or German elections representing an existential risk to Europe, much of the political risk is behind us. Investors will likely focus on corporate fundamentals and earnings. 
 
Earnings turn
Since the financial crisis, while US companies have seen margins and earnings recover, European earnings are still below their peak. The underperformance of European stocks relative to US stocks has been exclusively driven by the lack of earnings delivery of European companies. 

European earnings revisions turning positive 

Source: Fidelity, Datastream, Morgan Stanley , data as of 6 Apr 2017. N12M ERR (%) = 12-month earnings revision ratio. 3MA = 3-month moving average.

What we are now seeing is a strong recovery in European stocks, with earnings starting to come through. Margins are recovering and the most recent earnings season in Europe has been the strongest in more than 10 years. 

Particularly compelling for European equities is their valuation. As they have been out of favour for much of last year they are trading at a multi-year discount relative to the US on a price-to-book basis. And today, record high numbers of European companies have a dividend yield that exceeds their bond yield.

European P/B vs US P/B

Source: Datastream, GS Research, data as of 31 March 2017. 

Percentage of stocks with dividend yield > bond yield

Source: Datastream, Goldman Sachs Global ECS Research, December 2016. Stoxx Europe 600.  

Conclusion
Europe has been significantly out of favour for some time due to political risk. The French result today puts much of this behind us and European equities are looking attractive compared to the US and other markets and asset classes. We are now starting to see companies deliver strongly on earnings, removing another key detractor from investor sentiment. 
 
This document is issued by FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009, AFSL No. 409340 (“Fidelity Australia”).  Fidelity Australia is a member of the FIL Limited group of companies commonly known as Fidelity International.

Investments in overseas markets can be affected by currency exchange and this may affect the value of your investment. Investments in small and emerging markets can be more volatile than investments in developed markets. 


This document is intended for use by advisers and wholesale investors. Retail investors should not rely on any information in this document without first seeking advice from their financial adviser.  You should consider these matters before acting on the information.  You should also consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statements (“PDS”) for any Fidelity Australia product mentioned in this document before making any decision about whether to acquire the product. The PDS can be obtained by contacting Fidelity Australia on 1800 119 270 or by downloading it from our website at www.fidelity.com.au. This document may include general commentary on market activity, sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions that should not be taken as investment advice. Information stated herein about specific securities is subject to change. Any reference to specific securities should not be taken as a recommendation to buy, sell or hold these securities. While the information contained in this document has been prepared with reasonable care, no responsibility or liability is accepted for any errors or omissions or misstatements however caused. This document is intended as general information only. The document may not be reproduced or transmitted without prior written permission of Fidelity Australia. The issuer of Fidelity’s managed investment schemes is FIL Responsible Entity (Australia) Limited ABN 33 148 059 009. Reference to ($) are in Australian dollars unless stated otherwise. 

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 11:25

Budget 2017 at a glance

Written by
Jenni Henderson, The Conversation and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

The Conversation








Jenni Henderson, Editor, Business and Economy, The Conversation and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Alan Duncan, Curtin University and Rebecca Cassells, Curtin University

Successive Australian governments are usually judged on how they balance the budget and spend taxpayers’ dollars. The stereotypes are that Liberal governments keep a tight hold on the purse strings, while Labor governments are spendthrifts. The Conversation

While total government spending has increased from around A$240 billion in 1998-99 to a predicted A$451 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, it’s also accompanied by an increase in revenue from around A$250 billion to A$417 billion over the same period.

But the pressure on the budget under a Turnbull government is more acute now than ever before, because spending is outpacing revenue. It’s now at an estimated 26.6% of GDP in 2016-17, higher than at any point since before the start of the millennium.

When you look at the mix of government spending over the past fifteen years, you start to see some of the drivers of the growth.

To compare spending over time, we have adjusted for the effect of inflation by using real measures.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Social security continues to dominate government spending at A$161.4 billion, constituting around 35% of all government outlays on latest figures. This has fallen from a high of 39% during the Rudd government stimulus package in 2009-10 and is similar to levels at the beginning of the millennium.

In the graph below “other” spending includes the distribution of GST revenues to states and territories as well as spending in areas such as job seekers assistance, industrial relations, vocational training, tourism and immigration. This constitutes the second highest share of government spending, at 18% (A$83.4 billion) of the total spend. General revenue assistance to states and territories accounts for two thirds of spending in this category.

Governments spend almost as much on defence and public safety (around A$32.6 billion) as they do on education (A$34.3 billion), although the states ultimately pick up most of the education bill.

The global financial crisis saw a temporary blip in the mix of general government spending. Social security spending rose by 22% in the year to June 2009, and education expenditure jumped 60% a year later as a result of Rudd’s economic stimulus package.

Government spending on public debt interest has more than tripled in real terms to A$15.4 billion since the start of the global financial crisis, and now accounts for 3.7% of all government spending.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Many of the changes in real government spending between 2008 and 2010 were driven by the impact of the global financial crisis, which resulted in a slowdown in economic growth, rising unemployment and a negative hit on the sharemarket.

The Rudd government response was a stimulus package. The main spending increases came from a combination of accelerating public debt interest, increased payments to assist the unemployed, but mainly the government’s stimulus measures channelled through increased spending on education, housing and cash payments to families.

If a spending measure is truly temporary, a rise in real spending should be followed by an equivalent fall in subsequent years when the spending runs out or the program ends. This is evident to some degree for the social security and welfare and fuel and energy portfolios, but less so in other areas.

For example, the 45% rise in fuel and energy spending in 2008-09 was primarily driven by the introduction of the Energy Efficient Homes package within the Rudd stimulus suite. The scheme ended in February 2010, resulting in a 33% drop in spending.

On the other hand, spending on education rose by A$16 billion as part of the Rudd stimulus package, but remained A$10 billion higher than pre-global financial crisis levels in subsequent years.

Overall government spending has continued to grow since 2010-11, but less dramatically than during the heart of the global financial crisis, by around 8% in real terms over the five years to 2015-16.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam

Social security and welfare spending constitutes the largest spending commitment of any government budget. It has risen by 70% in real terms over the past fifteen years, from A$91 billion at the turn of the millennium in 1999-00 to A$155 billion in 2015-16.

The biggest welfare spending is for assistance to the aged, families with children and people with a disability. Together, these three items make up almost 85% of all welfare spending.

The 2008-09 Rudd stimulus package had a substantial yet temporary effect on welfare spend, with “bonus” cash payments to families in the 2009 calendar year increasing assistance to families by around A$10 billion. Additional cash payments were also made to students, pensioners and farmers under the stimulus program. And 8.7 million Australian workers earning $100,000 or less also received a cash payment.

Australia’s ageing population and increases in both disability prevalence and disability support are the main driving forces behind welfare spending growth. These factors will continue to exert pressure on future government budgets, especially with the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

More than 40% of the government’s 2015-16 health budget of around A$71.2 billion was committed to community health services spending. At A$28.7 billion, spending in this sector has nearly doubled since the start of the millennium and by a quarter since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008-09.

This stems from the need to deliver medical services to a growing – and ageing – population, and the increased prevalence of chronic disease. In this respect, Australia is little different to most countries around the world.

Specific measures contributing to this growth included the expansion of health infrastructure, the costs of enhanced primary care attracting higher Medicare rebates, and indexation of health related payments to states and territories. Pharmaceutical spending increased by 12%, from A$1.4 billion year-on-year to A$12.1 billion in 2015-16.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Education spending rose dramatically during the global financial crisis, with spending on primary and secondary education increasing 81% to A$24.7 billion in the year to 2009-10 as part of the economic stimulus package.

Rudd’s “education revolution” led to a 12% growth in education spending in the 2008-09 budget, quickly followed by a further 61% spending increase in 2009-10 as part of the economic stimulus package. Spending in the following year fell as the temporary stimulus measures came to an end, but overall, education spending has remained significantly higher in real terms than pre-global financial crisis levels.

Spending on the university sector rose to around A$10.9 billion over the same period, but has remained relatively stable since.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Federal government money given to the states and territories

The federal government committed A$60.8 billion in general revenue assistance to states and territories in 2015-16, almost all of which came through the distribution of GST revenue. General revenue assistance spending rose A$3.8 billion in real terms in 2014-15, up 7% on the previous year, but has since stabilised.

Spending on superannuation interest has grown by a quarter since the end of the Howard years, reflecting the increase in the government’s superannuation liability. Lower public sector wages and employment have led to superannuation interest payments stabilising over the last two budgets to around A$9.4 billion in 2015-16.

Immigration spending rose between the Gillard and Abbott governments to a peak of A$4.7 billion in 2013-14, but has since fallen back to around A$3.8billion in 2016 dollars.

Much of the growth in immigration spending occurred during the Rudd and Gillard governments, by an average of 23% annually. This compares to an average of 7% during the previous Howard years. Additional government spending on detention facilities for irregular arrivals was the principal reason for this spending growth.

Natural disaster relief spending spiked between 2009 and 20-11 to assist with the damage and recovery costs from the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, and the 2010 Queensland floods.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Government approaches to supporting various industries has typically been applied on an ad hoc basis. Budget spending on specific industries has risen from A$3.2 to A$5.6 billion in real terms. Agriculture, forestry and fishing typically received a greater share of industry spending during the Howard budgets, reaching a high of A$4.8 billion in Swan’s final 2007-08 budget.

Growth in industry spend slowed during the Rudd years, picking up again with the Gillard and Abbott governments, with a greater preference towards spending in mining, manufacturing and construction projects.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Spending on housing and community amenities has increased from A$2.7 billion to A$7.6 billion, reaching a high of almost A$12 billion in the Rudd years. Spending in this portfolio increased with the Rudd stimulus package, incorporating a number of housing affordability measures including the First Home Buyers Grant Scheme and a boost in investment in social housing.

Spending on sanitation and protection of the environment also expanded rapidly during the Rudd/Gillard government, relative to the Howard years. The establishment of the Climate Change Action fund introduced by Rudd in 2009-10 and the Clean Energy Futures package in 2010-11 have been the main drivers behind this increase. Spending in each has been pared back since the Liberals came to power with Abbott at the helm.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

Commonwealth spending on transport and communications projects has more than doubled from A$3.1 to A$7.5 billion over the last 15 years. Spending remained relatively stable under Howard’s government, and then got a further injection on roads in the last two Swan budgets. The Rudd government continued this trend, with Gillard following suit with increases in both road and rail projects.

Spending in this portfolio has been clawed back since the Abbott government, falling from A$9.2 billion to A$7.8 billion between the final Labor government budget (2013-14 financial year) and the first Liberal government budget (2014-15 financial year). The most recent Turnbull/Morrison budget has reaffirmed spending commitments under this portfolio, committing to more than A$11 billion in 2016-17.

The Conversation/Emil Jeyaratnam, CC BY-ND

The Howard/Costello years were characterised by good economic times, with an extended period of strong revenue growth, yet this prosperity wasn’t matched with any significant spending growth. In fact, overall government spending fell as a share of GDP – from 25.7% in 2000 to 23.6% in 2006-07 – the lowest share since the start of the millennium. And the combination of strong revenue and limited spending commitments under Howard drove down public debt, and public debt interest payments.

We saw some pretty dramatic increases in real spending when Rudd came into power in December 2007. Rudd’s first budget in 2008-09 saw some substantial spending commitments in the area of education but nothing exorbitant.

However, the major turning point in government spending has been driven by the response to the global financial crisis. There were significant spending commitments over the course of the crisis, some of which are still present.

Spending on public debt interest has increased to A$15.4 billion since the global financial crisis - more than the spending on transport and housing combined. And it’s projected to increase further to A$18.7 billion by 2019-20. This just emphasises how high the stakes are for Scott Morrison in delivering a credible budget repair strategy.

The spending of incumbent governments inevitably draw from the commitments of previous administrations, especially for those programs – in infrastructure, education or housing - that involve medium-term funding commitments.

The growth in real spending in areas that directly affect households – social security, NDIS, health or pensions - is an issue that no government can ignore. NDIS costs have been hugely underestimated already, and social security and health spending will inevitably increase with the ageing population.

Set against this context, it’s clear that a piecemeal approach to budget repair is unsustainable. A drop in revenue has ramped up budget pressures, and highlights the compelling need to return to a sustainable spending path and a credible budget repair strategy.

The Turnbull government cannot shy away from making the big decisions that secure a sustainable future for Australia. And the roadmap towards a sustainable future has to include revenue as well as spending as part of the recovery narrative.


The graphs in this article were created by The Conversation’s Multimedia Editor Emil Jerayatnam

Alan Duncan, Director, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and Bankwest Research Chair in Economic Policy, Curtin University and Rebecca Cassells, Associate Professor, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 02 May 2017 23:06

French election in 3 charts

Written by

The final phase of election for President of France comes to a close on May 7th. After the first round of voting, voters are left to choose between Marine Le Pen (hard right) and Emmanuel Macron (Centre). We know that Marine Le Pen stands for France leaving the EU, which would be particularly problematic given France was a founding member of the EU.

The issue of leaving the Euro currency would be complex. In our opinion this is the last of the key elections in Europe this year given that there seems to be high quality candidates from both sides in the German elections later this year. The financial markets were relieved to see the final two candidates of Macron and Le Pen, as it was earlier feared the 'Hard Left' may get through to the final round against the 'Hard Right'. The French share market rose by over 4% the day following the election result.

That said, the final election result is still yet to be decided, so we thought it timely to bring you the latest thinking in this important election. The first round voting was close but Macron was the ultimate winner securing 24% of the vote, with Le Pen in second place.

 

There are some similarities to the Trump election in the composition of voting, where Le Pen is appealing to the 'rust belt' in France, gaining support from those negatively impacted by globalisation.

 

Finally, we finish on the voting intentions of French voters for the Final Round and note that unlike the US election and Brexit, the French polls have been very accurate.  The polls currently suggest a comfortable victory for Macron - but we are likely to be more comfortable once the final result is known.

 

 

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