Mark Draper

Mark Draper

Germany has taken in 1 million refugees in the last 12 months, and there are plenty of signs that the refugee crisis is taking its toll on social harmony in Europe.

A couple of months ago we spoke with Clay Smolinski on how the European refugee crisis is impacting investment decisions.

 

Here is a transcript of the video for those who prefer to read the interview.

 

Mark Draper: Here with Clay Smolinski from Platinum Asset Management and the Europeans have been through a lot really in the last decade and they’ve got plenty of coming up.

One of them has to do with the refugee crisis  there. So we just want to spend a couple of minutes looking at the investment aspects of the European refugee crisis. Can you just take us through your thinking on that?

Clay Smolinski: Yeah, absolutely. So the refugee crisis for me, the issue is – the risk of it is that it’s another challenge that the political will of the European Union needs to face.

For me the crisis alone probably wouldn’t be a huge deal for the union but the issue is that it comes on top of a lot of the problems, those individual – the union of countries has had to face over the last few years.

So we think about the union. Through the sovereign crisis, they got through the major battle, which was the economic battle needing to cut the budget deficits, needing to where – you know, that higher unemployment that that caused. From the economic perspective, we can fairly definitively point that that battle has been won. The economy is now recovering but that has left that political will far weaker.

Since then we’ve seen that in subsequent elections, more radical left or right wing parties have been voted in. Examples of this would be Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece. We now have major members like the UK going to referendum on deciding whether it’s an exit or not and now we have the refugee crisis and immigration is always a very politically-charged issue and it’s clear that the member countries have differed in their views on how to exit, on how to handle it. That just creates – it’s another issue. It’s another reason for people to get upset, the voting populous and maybe vote for an exit.

What is interesting for us as well and is a bit of mitigant to that is how Germany is – has behaved through this and certainly through the sovereign crisis, the response to that crisis was very much dictated by Germany and that has forced a lot of the other member countries to go through a lot of pain.

Now with the refugee crisis, they’ve really stepped to the fore and said, “We’re going to do more than our fair share to handle this. We’re going to take a lot of these people on to our soil. We’re going to provide additional funding to the others to work through this,” and I think it’s their way of standing up and saying, “Look, we know you’ve done your part and now it’s our time to really give back and to show solidarity in the union.”

Mark Draper: So a major risk here would seem political for that in terms of the uprising of hard left or hard right – well, probably hard right in this situation.

Clay Smolinski: It’s very hard to factor that back into a definitive investment decision but it’s certainly something that we need to keep in mind and often when you compare the European market to the US market, the European market does trade at a valuation discount. But I think at least some of that discount is warranted given the – I guess the more uncertain political outlook for that region.

Mark Draper: So be alert, but not alarmed at the moment. It’s a work in progress.

Clay Smolinski: That’s how we’re viewing it.

Mark Draper: Thanks for your time Clay.

Clay Smolinski: You’re welcome.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 01:07

Bull thesis on Woolworths

Woolworths is "long on assets and short on market capitalisation" says Vince Pezzullo, Portfolio Mananger, Perpetual Equity Investment Company.

Perpetual started accumulating shares late last year and picked up the buying following first half results. Pezzullo believes management have shifted their focus from sales growth to efficiencly, with sales per square metre now a key metric.

Despite widespread investor concerns about losing market share to Aldi, Aldi recently lost East Coast market share for the first time.  "Our view is that Coles is run particularly efficeintly, if Woolworths is run particularly efficiently, which we think they're on that journey it will be hard for Aldi to grow."

With loss making Masters now closing, and the possibility of a spin-off of ALF Pub Group, the situation is also improving for Woolworths non-core busineses.

"We still like Woolies, we think it's a $30+ stock at some point".

Here are Vince's views on Woolworths, presented in September 2016.

 

 

Thursday, 15 September 2016 10:24

Germany - Powerhouse or Powderkeg?

Despite signs of economic recovery, Europe, indeed the developed world, has been engulfed by a wave of anti-establishment movements over the past year. What is going on? And why?


Charles Weule's on-the-ground report from Germany, the heart of Europe's immigration crisis, may help shed some light.  Charles was a former analyst at Platinum Asset Management.  We have reproduced this article with permission from Platinum Asset Management.

Preface - by Kerr Neilson (CEO Platinum Asset Management)

The present decade has been a tumultuous one for Europe. More than a handful of countries in the European Union went through a sovereign debt crisis in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis and, at least for now, fiscal austerity and unprecedented monetary expansion continue to sit side by side as the twin pillars of economic policy.

A region that was already apprehensive from economic uncertainties was further shaken by the series of Islamic terrorist attacks and the influx of millions of immigrants and refugees en masse from the other end of the Mediterranean Sea and beyond.

The angst and frustration culminated in the vote of the British people on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU, but the chaos that ensued at Westminster suggests that ‘solutions’ and stability, if there were such a thing, are still some distance away.

Of these continual crises, last year’s refugee crisis has been one of the most trying on the cohesion and strength of the EU and was arguably a key factor that shaped the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

While politicians and bureaucrats wonder at the intensity and spread of anti-establishment sentiments and mainstream media busy themselves with denouncing the re-emergence of far-right nationalism, an on-the-ground, first-hand account of the daily interactions between the locals and the newly arrived immigrants may shed some light on the cause of the widespread discontentment and the breakdown of a precarious equilibrium and unity.

And so we present you with this special report from  Charles Weule. Charles is a former investment analyst at Platinum, who now lives and works in Germany. Equipped with a unique linguistic gift, Charles has travelled to and lived in many parts of the world. Having learned Japanese fluently, he went on to become totally proficient in Mandarin.  As with these two Asian languages, his use of German leaves him indistinguishable from a native.

Charles has been teaching languages in Berlin. In 2015 he joined the ranks of thousands of Germans to help – to work with – the one million refugees that have found their way to this new ‘Promised Land’. The seemingly trivial encounters relayed in Charles’ account paint quite a different picture to what one might hear from both Chancellor Merkel and her counterpart in the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party.

The picture is not one comprised only of lifeless children washed up on the shores of Greek islands and war-ravaged families marching through the perilous roads of the Balkans. Nor is it as simple as altruism versus xenophobia, good against evil, right versus wrong. Truth and reality is often drowned out by the voices from the two extremities of the spectrum.  

The multiple rounds of financial bail-outs extended to other EU nations did not much diminish the heroic status of Angela Merkel in the eyes of the German people. But when she decided to welcome the countless immigrants fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq (and whoever else that saw it desirous to join them on the journey) with open arms, many turned against her and sided with neighbouring governments with less magnanimous policies.

The lack of consultation with Germany’s own citizenry as well as other European countries, the lack of consideration given to both short- and long-term consequences, and the sheer unpreparedness for what was to follow – which was so atypical of Germans – annoyed, frustrated and enraged many.

When large numbers of foreigners with different religions, different values and different expectations are suddenly imposed on communities, at least some of their concerns and displeasure seem natural enough. The issue of immigration is much more than economics and politics. It impacts on the collective sense of security, identity and sovereignty of a population, and is emotive at an individual level.

While we may observe from afar the geopolitical crises playing out in Europe and analyse the economic impact of the ECB’s negative interest rates, Charles’ report brings a broader and closer view on the situation in the region and gives us a rare insight into the thinking of ordinary German citizens. He also provides us with a historical perspective. Viewed in the context of the country’s past woes and vicissitudes, the generosity of the German people shines through as all the more extraordinary and their fear and exasperation all the more understandable. It helps to understand how governments’ mismanagement of sensitive issues like mass immigration could lead to popular revolts and irrational outcomes like Brexit, and this may in turn help us prepare for what may be lying ahead.

 To download the full report - which is a fascinating read - click on the download link below.

 

Thursday, 15 September 2016 10:13

New Technological and Machine Age

Sir John Templeton famously said "The four most dangerous words in investing are 'this time it's different'."  As investors, we need to question whether we are entering a new technological and machine age over the next 10-25 years that could disrupt most businesses and possibly society as we know it.  In this regard, the new technological and machine age may be more important than The Industrial Revolution.  Quite possibly, this time it is different and whilst heeding Sir Templeton's advice, as prudent investors we believe it would be neglectful to ignore the technological developments that are almost certain to provide substantial threats and opportunities to business.

In a recent TED interview, Charlie Rose asked Larry Page (co-founder of Google) what is his most important lesson from business.  He said that he has studied why many large businesses fail and he concluded: "They missed the future".

According to Magellan Financial Group founder, Hamish Douglass, there is mounting evidence that we are approaching a tipping point of exponential technological advancement, particularly through accelerating improvements in artifical intelligence, 3D printing, genomics, computing power and robotics.

In his annual newsletter to investors he outlines what the future technological changes may look like and puts forward several challenges about how they may impact our lives, business and investment.

Click on the newsletter below to download your copy to read.

 

 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 05:33

Megatrends impacting investment markets

Key points

 

- Key megatrends relevant for investors are: slower growth in household debt; the backlash against economic rationalism &rise of populism; geopolitical tensions; aging and slowing populations; low commodity prices; technological innovation &automation; the Asian ascendancy &China's growing middle class; rising environmental awareness; and the energy revolution.  

 

- Most of these are constraining growth and hence investor returns. However, technological innovation remains positive for profits and some of these point to inflation bottoming.  

 
 
 

Introduction

Recent  developments – including the rise of populism, developments in the South China  Sea and around commodity prices along with relentless technological innovation  – have relevance for longer term trends likely to affect investors. So this  note updates our analysis on longer term themes that will likely impact  investment markets over the medium term, say the next 5-10 years. Being aware  of such megatrends is critical given the short term noise that surrounds  markets.

 

 

 

The super cycle slowdown in household debt

Household  debt to income ratios surged from the late 1980s fuelled by low starting point  debt levels, financial de-regulation and the shift from high to low interest  rates. But it's likely run its course as the GFC and constrained economic  growth have left consumers wary of adding to already high debt levels and banks'  lending standards are now tougher. This has seen growth in debt slow & households run higher savings rates.

 

Source:  OECD, RBA, AMP Capital

Implications – slower growth in household debt likely means slower growth in  consumer spending, lower interest rates and central banks having to ease more  to achieve a desired stimulus. Slower credit growth is also a drag for banks.

The backlash against economic rationalism

Its arguable that support for  economic rationalist policies (deregulation, privatisation and globalisation)  peaked over a decade ago. The corporate scandals that followed the tech wreck  and the financial scandals that came with the GFC have seen an increase in regulation, the Doha trade round has been stalled for years and now the combination of slow post GFC growth and rising inequality (see the next chart) in  the absence of the ability to take on more debt to maintain consumption growth are leading to growing populist angst. This is evident in the success of Donald  Trump, the Brexit vote and the recent Australian Federal election.  Of course this is just the way the secular  political pendulum swings - from favouring free markets in the 1920s to  regulation and big government into the 1970s, back to free markets in the 1980s  and 1990s and now back the other way with each swing ultimately sowing the  seeds for the next. But the risk is that the shift away from economic rationalist policies in favour of more populist policies will lead to slower productivity  growth and ultimately rising inflation as the supply side of economies are  damaged & easy fiscal policy is adopted.

 

Data  is after taxes and welfare transfers. Source: OECD, AMP Capital

Implications – populist polices could slow productivity and set the scene for the next  upswing in inflation.

Geopolitical tensions

The end of the cold war and the  stabilising influence of the US as the dominant global power in its aftermath  helped drive globalisation and the peace dividend post-1990. Now the relative  decline of the US, the rise of China, Russia's attempt to revisit its Soviet  past and efforts by other countries to fill the gap left by the US in various  parts of the world are creating geopolitical tensions – what some have called a  multi-polar world. This is evident in increasing tension in the Middle East between (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and (Shia) Iran; Russia's intervention in Ukraine;  and tensions in the South China Sea (which have recently been increased by a UN sponsored international court ruling in favour of The Philippines regarding  island disputes) and between China and Japan.

Implications –geopolitical tensions have the potential to disrupt investment markets at  times.
 
Aging and slowing populations

The  demographics of aging and slowing populations have long been talked about but  their impact is now upon us. We are living longer and healthier lives (eg,  average life expectancy in Australia is already around 83 years and is  projected to rise to 89 years by 2050) but falling fertility rates are leading  to lower population growth. The impact is more significant in some countries,  which are seeing their populations fall (eg, Japan, Italy and even China) than  others (eg, Australia, where immigration and higher fertility is providing an  offset) and others still where population growth remains rapid (eg, India,  Africa and the Middle East). 

Implications – at the macro  level this means: slowing labour force growth which weighs on potential  economic growth; increasing pressure on government budgets from health and  pension spending and a declining proportion of workers relative to retirees; a  "war for certain types of talent"; and pressure to work longer. At  the industry level it will support growth in industries like healthcare and leisure. At the investment level it will likely see an ongoing focus on strategies  generating income (yield) while at the same time providing for "more stable"  growth to cover longevity.
 
The commodity super cycle may be close to bottom

Since  around 2008 (for energy) and 2011 (for metals) the commodity super cycle has  been in decline as the supply of commodities rose in response to last decade's commodity  price boom combined with somewhat slower growth in China. However, after 50 to  80% peak to trough price declines and with supply starting to adjust for some  commodities (eg oil) it's quite likely that we have seen the worst (in the absence  of a 1930s style recession). This doesn't mean the next super cycle commodity upswing  is near – rather a long period of base building is likely as we saw in the  1980s and 90s.

 

Source: Global Financial Data, Bloomberg, AMP  Capital

Implications –  Low commodity prices will act as a constraint on inflation and interest rates but  the likelihood that we have seen the worst may also mean that the deflationary  threat will start to recede. In other words it adds to the case for a bottom in  global inflation. A range bound environment less clearly favours commodity user  countries over producers.  

Technological innovation & automation

The impact of technological  innovation is continuing to escalate as everything gets connected to the  internet. The work environment is being revolutionised enabling companies to increasingly  locate parts of their operation to wherever costs are lowest and increasingly  to automate and cut costs via automation, nanotechnology, 3D printing, etc. The  intensified focus on labour saving is likely good for productivity and profit margins  but ambiguous for consumer spending as it may constrain wages and worsen inequality and could ultimately hamper growth in emerging countries. There is  also the ongoing debate that with so many "free" apps and productivity  enhancements, growth in activity (GDP and hence productivity) is being underestimated/inflation  overestimated and consumers are doing a lot better than weak wages growth  implies. So fears around inequality and stagnant real incomes may be exaggerated. Time will tell.

Implications –  technological innovation remains a reason for inflation to stay low and profit  margins to remain high. But also a potential positive for growth.

Asian ascendancy & China's growing middle class

Low levels of urbanisation, income  and industrialisation continue to mean that the emerging world offers far more  growth potential than the developed world. While big parts of the emerging  world have dropped the ball (South America and Russia particularly), the reform  and growth story remains mostly alive in Asia – from China to India. Both China  and India are seeing a surging middle class, with China's growing from just 5  million people 15 years ago to now 225 million. This means rising demand for  services like healthcare, leisure & tourism.

Implications – favour non-Japan Asian shares (allowing of course for risk). Tourism and  services should benefit particularly from the rising middle class in China and  India.

The environment and social values

Concern about the environment is continuing  to grow and higher social standards are being demanded of governments and corporates. This reflects a range of developments including increasing evidence  of the impact of human activity on the environment, younger generations  demanding higher standards and social media that can destroy reputations in a  flash.

Implications – this will favour companies that adhere to high environmental, social and  governance standards.

The energy revolution

Renewables share of power production  will only grow as alternatives like solar continue to collapse in cost and  solar energy storage becomes mainstream. Likewise advances in battery  technology are seeing a massive expansion in the use of electric cars which  will feed on itself.

Implications – this has huge negative implications for oil and coal and along with the  impact of shale oil production will keep a ceiling on energy prices.

Implications

At  a general level there are several implications for investors

 
    • Firstly – several of these trends will help keep inflation  low, eg, slower growth in household debt, low commodity prices automation &  the energy revolution. By the same token if commodity prices have seen the  worst and government policy shifts towards stimulus we may have seen the worst  of deflationary and disinflationary pressures.
 
    • Secondly – several are also consistent with constrained  economic growth, notably aging and slowing populations, slower growth in debt,  the backlash against free markets and geopolitical tensions. This is not  universal though as increasing automation is positive for profits.
 
    • This is all still consistent with ongoing relatively low interest  rates (albeit we are likely around the bottom) and relatively constrained  medium term investment returns.
 
  • Several sectors stand out as winners including health care  and leisure but producers of energy from fossil fuels are potential losers.
Dr Shane Oliver 
Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist 
AMP Capital

Blockchain really only does one thing well

Stephen Wilson, UNSW Australia

No new technology since the dawn of the internet has captured the imagination like blockchain.

Designed to run unregulated electronic currency, the blockchain is promoted by many as having far broader potential in government, identity, voting, corporate administration and healthcare, to name just some of the proposed use cases. But these grand designs misunderstand what blockchain actually does.

Blockchain is certainly important and valuable, as an inspiration for brand new internet protocols and infrastructure. But it’s a lot like the Wright Brothers' Flyer, the first powered aeroplane. It’s wondrous but impractical.

Not quite eight years ago, in November 2008, a mysterious and still unknown developer going by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto launched bitcoin –- the first practical electronic cash that didn’t rely on a digital reserve bank. A decentralised crypto-currency scheme requires global consensus on when someone spends a virtual coin, so she cannot spend it again. Blockchain’s trick is to broadcast every single bitcoin transaction to the whole community, which then in effect votes on the order in which transactions appear. Any attempt to “double spend” (move the same bitcoin twice), or to introduce a counterfeit coin that hasn’t been seen on the network before, is detected and rejected.

With no umpire, the continuous arbitration of blockchain entries requires a massive peer-to-peer network in order to resist distortion or manipulation.

Anyone at all is free to join the blockchain network, as a holder and spender of currency, and/or as a node contributing to the consensus process. The incentive to participate comes in the form of a random reward paid whenever the ledger is settled, which is roughly every 10 minutes. The odds of a node winning the reward go up with the amount of computing power it adds to the network, and so running a node is dubbed bitcoin “mining”.

The only authoritative record of anyone’s bitcoin balance is held on the blockchain. Account holders operate a wallet application, which shows their balance and lets them spend it, moving bitcoin to other accounts. Counter-intuitively, these “wallets” hold no money; all they do is control account holders’ private keys, and provide a user interface to what’s in the blockchain.

In fact bitcoin is entirely ethereal, with not even virtual coins. The Blockchain only records the movement of bitcoin in and out of account holders’ wallets, and calculates virtual balances as the difference between what’s been spent and what’s been paid.

The only way to spend your balance is to use your private key, to digitally sign an instruction to the network, specifying the amount to move, and the address (that is, the public key) of where to move it to. If a private key is lost or destroyed, then the balance associated with that key is frozen forever and can never be spent. Ever.

There has been a string of notorious mishaps where computers or disk drives holding bitcoin wallets have been lost, together with millions of dollars of value they controlled. And predictably, numerous pieces of malicious software have been developed specifically to steal bitcoin private keys and balances.

The enthusiasm for crypto-currency innovation has proven infectious; the feeling is that if blockchain “squared the circle” in payments, then it must have untold powers in other domains.

In particular, many commentators have promoted blockchain for identity management.

The conspicuous thing about proposals to put “identity on the blockchain” is that they overwhelmingly come from blockchain advocates and not identity management experts. What’s missing in the great majority of blockchain-for-identity proposals – and indeed in most of the non-payments use cases – is a careful statement of the problem and proper analysis of why distributed consensus is important.

Blockchain has captured the imagination of people around the world. O'Reilly Conferences/Flickr, CC BY-NC

What the blockchain can’t do

Sadly, when you look closely, the blockchain just doesn’t do what most people seem to think it does. There is nothing “on” the blockchain. All it holds is a record of bitcoin movements and associated metadata. The metaphor of recording anything “on” it belies the need for additional technologies and processes over and above blockchain, to decide how to represent physical items in code and to oversee the assignment of those codes. These necessitate extra key management, registration of ownership, and governance.

Blockchain does nothing about these realities, neither does any other distributed ledger technology that has followed in bitcoin’s wake. Blockchain was expressly designed to manage crypto-currency without any key management or registration. No one is trusted in the naked bitcoin world. No administrator and no third party is needed to vouch for any wallet holder or network node. The lack of friction is great for the unbanked (as well as illicit users) and it also helps build the peer-to-peer network, which must be maintained at a huge scale in order to guard against those untrusted participants conspiring against the system.

And it’s best to remember that the incentive to run blockchain nodes comes from the mining reward. Take bitcoin away from non-payment use cases and it’s unclear who will pay for the infrastructure, and how. The original blockchain is not separable from bitcoin. Now, there is certainly plenty of fresh research and development being done on alternative consensus mechanisms and participation models. But nothing yet is up and running like the established public blockchain, and nothing else has yet been proven with blockchain’s security properties.

Blockchain does just one thing: it establishes the order of entries in a distributed ledger, so as to prevent double spend without an umpire. The truth of the contents of the ledger is an entirely different matter. Blockchain doesn’t magically make the entries themselves trustworthy, let alone the people that created them.

Despite the hype, blockchain is not a “trust protocol”; it’s actually the opposite. Just think about it: it’s not as though paying by bitcoin stops you from being ripped off. For anything of value other than bitcoin to be transacted via the blockchain requires additional layers of agents, third parties and auditors – things that just don’t square with the trust-free architecture.

Lofty claims are made for blockchain’s ability to decentralise all sorts of things. But in truth, blockchain only decentralises the adjudication of the order of entries in a ledger. It is not a general or native “Internet of Value” as claimed by authors like Don and Alex Tapscott. It was expressly designed for electronic cash; it has no native connection to real world assets.

Few businesses have escaped the call to evaluate blockchain technologies. If you’ve been persuaded to have a look, then as a first step, re-examine your security and record keeping needs. Take the time to understand what blockchain does, and all the things it leaves to be done by other systems. If your business is decentralised and your assets are purely digital, then blockchain has a lot to offer, but otherwise, it’s just another database.

The Conversation

Stephen Wilson, PhD Candidate, UNSW Australia

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

Roger Montgomery, Investment Manager and regular presenter on ABC, 2GB and Sky Business News produces a regular magazine.

We have been allowed to bring you access to this magazine's August 2016 edition.

In this edition, the team at Montgomery's cover the following:

Investment research- How Amazon is changing the way we shop

- How to pick the best growth stocks

- Why you should stick with quality

- Property can only produce modest returns from here

- Why the strong $AUD is an opportunity

- America's ageing population.

 

 

 

 09X0130APPLE has been forced to issue a global update of its mobile operating system after an established private cyberarms dealer found a way to hack every iPhone in the world.

The hackers from NSO Group developed a sophisticated piece of malware that exploited three previously unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS.

After learning of the hack, Apple developed a patch with its latest iOS update, which it is advising people to download immediately.

“We were made aware of this vulnerability and immediately fixed it with iOS 9.3.5. We advise all of our customers to always download the latest version of iOS to protect themselves against potential security exploits,” a spokesman told AP.

New joint reports from Citizen Lab and mobile security company Lookout said this was a world first for an attack of this kind in the wild.

Lookout vice president of research Mike Murray said the hack was essentially a remote jailbreak — the process of removing software restrictions imposed by iOS.

“We realised that we were looking at something that no one had ever seen in the wild before,” he toldMotherboard.

“Literally a click on a link to jailbreak an iPhone in one step. [It is] one of the most sophisticated pieces of cyberespionage software we’ve ever seen.”

Mr Murray said the malware, codenamed Pegasus, gave attackers full control of the smartphone.

“It basically steals all the information on your phone, it intercepts every call, it intercepts every text message, it steals all the emails, the contacts, the FaceTime calls,” he said.

“It also basically backdoors every communications mechanism you have on the phone,”

“It steals all the information in the Gmail app, all the Facebook messages, all the Facebook information, your Facebook contacts, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram — you name it.”

Since being established in 2010, NSO has become notorious for selling its sophisticated malware to governments.

However, the group largely works in stealth, operating without any web presence other than a LinkedIn profile, which says the company has been 201 and 500 employees.

Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak said breaking down the malicious program was compared to “defusing a bomb”.

“It is amazing the level they’ve gone through to avoid detection,” he said. “They have a hair-trigger self-destruct.”

Mr Murray said this is the first time anyone had ever been able to document tools used by NSO.

“This is the first time any security researchers, as far as any of us are aware, have ever gotten a copy of NSO Group’s spyware and been able to reverse engineer it,” he toldWired.

“They are a really sophisticated threat actor and the software they have reflects that. They are incredibly committed to stealth.”

The threat was initially found after human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor, received a text message offering “new secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons” with a link from an unknown number.

Having previously fallen victim to government hackers using commercial spyware products, Mr Mansoor flagged the message with Citizen Lab.

“As a human rights defender in a country that considers such a thing as a threat, an enemy or traitor, I have to be more careful than the average person,” he toldWired.

“Such content was enough to trigger all the red flags with me,”

While NSO Group won’t be able to use this particular attack anymore on updated iPhones, it’s likely another won’t be far behind.

To update your iPhone go to Settings>General>Software Update.

Friday, 29 July 2016 00:01

Get ready for the $AUD to fall

Richard Holden, UNSW Australia

Vital Signs is a weekly economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data impacting global economies.

This week: Australian inflation remains low, the Fed signals a rate rise, and the G20 misses its growth goal, by a lot.

A large chunk of data was released this week, with more to come next week. And while nothing was either shocking or terrible, there is mounting evidence the world’s economic growth problem is even more entrenched.

Australian inflation was keenly anticipated because of the surprising and concerning low figure last quarter. All groups CPI came with an increase of 0.4% for the quarter, compared to a fall of 0.2% in the prior quarter.

But that puts annual growth over the last 12 months at just 1.0%, well below the Reserve Bank’s target band of 2-3% year. The number was encouraging in part because of the bounce back, but distressing because it puts annual inflation even further away from the RBA target. That increases the already significant likelihood of an interest rate cut, or two, in coming months.

As expected, the US Federal Reserve remained cautious, not raising rates, but commenting that “near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished”. They will probably look to start a tightening cycle of interest rate rises in 25bp increments, perhaps at the next meeting. When the economy was looking stronger late last year, there was discussion of 300bp of increases over a 18-24 month period.

With Australia cutting and the US raising rates the Australian dollar looks likely to fall. The real question is just how much.

Also in the US, less good news was that durable goods orders fell by 4.0% for the month, compared to market expectations of a 1.4% decline. Possibly softening the blow was that a large chunk of the decline was caused by a decrease in aircraft orders, which are notoriously lumpy. For instance, Boeing received 12 aircraft orders in June, down from 125 in May.

Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a rise in the Producer Price Index of 0.5% for the June quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

Meanwhile, you might remember Joe Hockey’s admirable goal from the G20 meeting a couple of years ago of a US$2 trillion boost. The IMF instead released figures suggesting that will be missed by US$6 trillion.

To put that in perspective, Australia’s entire GDP was $1.56 trillion. So the G20 basically missed the target by four Australias. Ouch.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced plans for a 28 trillion yen (about US$265 billion) stimulus package. This was met with approval by markets, but shows the size of the economic challenges most advanced nations are facing as more and more evidence of secular stagnation mounts.

Over the weekend, US economic growth for the June quarter will be a key measure to watch out for, and will weigh heavily on future Fed rate decisions.

But it seems more likely than not that the Fed will raise rates cautiously, starting with a 25 basis points hike at their next meeting. Meanwhile, expect pressure for an RBA rate cut in Australia and a decline in the Australian dollar if that happens.

The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW Australia

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

Introduction

The past few weeks have been messy with Brexit, the Australian election, another terrorist attack in France and an attempted coup in Turkey. In fact, the last 12 months have been - starting with the latest Greek tantrum and China share market plunge a year ago. It’s almost as if someone has listened to Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” and decided to try and shake up investment markets. This has all seen a rough ride in investment markets with most share markets falling into bear market territory at some point over the last year and bond yields plunging to record lows. This note reviews the worry list from the last 12 months, the impact on returns and looks at the outlook going forward.

There’s been a long worry list

The past year has seen a long worry list with:

  • Another Greek tantrum in June-July last year;
  • A 49% plunge in Chinese shares with worries about debt, growth & capital outflows as the Renminbi was devalued;
  • An ongoing collapse in commodity prices;
  • Intensifying concerns about deflation;
  • Recession in Brazil and Russia and concerns about a new emerging market debt crisis;
  • Worries about energy producers defaulting on their loans;
  • Ongoing angst about the end of the mining boom and the risk of a property crash in Australia;
  • A slump in manufacturing globally led by the US & China;
  • Concerns that the Fed raising rates and causing a further surge in the $US would accentuate problems for China, the emerging world and commodity prices;
  • Another soft start to the year for US growth;
  • Falling profits in the US, Australia and most regions;
  • Numerous IS related terrorist attacks;
  • A “surprise” vote by the UK to Leave the European Union setting of a new round of fears that there will be a domino effect of countries seeking to leave the Eurozone;
  • A messy election result in Australia with likely an even more difficult Senate which will make it even harder for the Government to control spending and implement reforms;
  • An escalation of tensions in the South China Sea; and
  • An attempted coup in Turkey.

The success of Donald Trump in the US, the Brexit vote & the close election in Australia highlight a growing angst at rising inequality and a loss of support for the economic rationalist policies of globalisation, deregulation and privatisation. While understandable, the resultant populist policy push risks slower long term economic growth and lower investment returns.

Constrained and uneven returns

The turmoil over the last 12 months has shown up in very messy share markets (with most falling into bear market territory with 20% plus falls from last year’s highs to their lows early this year before a rebound) and a sharp decline in bond yields to record lows. However, unlisted assets like commercial property, infrastructure and listed yield-based plays like real estate investment trusts have done very well. Reflecting the constrained environment, balanced growth superannuation funds saw average returns of around 1-2%.

Source: Thomson Reuters, AMP Capital

Nine reasons why it’s not all that bad

But while super funds had soft returns over the last year they were not disastrous and moreover they averaged 8-9% over the last three years – which is not bad given how low inflation is. What’s more, while the worry list may seem high that has been the story of the last few years now. For example, 2014-15 saw worries about the end of the US Fed’s quantitative easing program, Ukraine, the IS terror threat, Ebola, deflation, a soft start to 2015 for US growth (we hear that one a lot!), worries about China, soft Eurozone growth and on-going noise about a property crash/ recession in Australia. So nothing new really! More fundamentally there are nine reasons for optimism.

First, global growth is okay – there has been no sign of the much feared global recession. Global business conditions surveys point to ongoing global growth of around 3%.

The shift to overvaluation more than a decade ago went hand in hand with a surge in the ratio of household debt to income, which took Australia’s debt to income ratio from the low end of OECD countries to now being around the top.

Source: Bloomberg, AMP Capital

In Australia, growth has in fact been particularly good at around 3%. The economy has rebalanced away from a reliance on mining and it has benefitted from the third and final phase of the mining boom which has seen surging resource export volumes.

Second, central banks have signalled easier monetary policy for longer post-Brexit which is likely to ensure that liquidity conditions remain favourable for growth assets.

Third, while the shift to the left by median voters in Anglo countries resulting in more populist policies is likely to harm long term growth potential, it could actually boost growth in the short term (including under Trump in the US) as it sees a relaxation of fiscal austerity.

Fourth, we may have seen the worst of the commodity bear market. After huge 50% plus falls some commodity markets are moving towards greater balance (notably oil and some metals).

Fifth, deflation risks look to be receding. Oil prices which played a huge role in driving deflation fears look to be trying to bottom and a shift towards more inflationary policies by governments and some central banks are likely to start shifting the risks towards inflation on a 2-5 year view.

Sixth, the profit slump may be close to over. US profits are showing signs of bottoming helped by a stabilisation in the $US and the oil price. Australian profits are likely to rise modestly in the year ahead as the commodity price driven plunge in resource profits runs its course.

Seventh, the latest falls in interest rates and bond yields have further improved the relative attractiveness of shares and may unleash yet another extension of the search for yield.

Eighth, investors have been more relaxed about the latest decline in the Chinese Renminbi - reflecting slowing capital outflows from China, reassurance from Chinese officials and a growing relaxation about fluctuations in the value of the RMB.

Finally, all the talk has been bearish lately – Brexit, Chinese debt, US slowing, messy Australian election – which provides an ideal springboard for better investment returns!

What about the return outlook?

The August–October period can often be rough for shares. But looking through short term uncertainties and given the considerations in the previous section, – it’s hard to see the outlook for investment markets differing radically from what we have seen over the last few years albeit stronger than over the last 12 months for shares. Growth is not flash but okay, inflation is low and monetary conditions overall are set to remain easy. For the main asset classes, this has the following implications:

  • Cash and term deposit returns to remain poor at around 2%. Investors remain under pressure to decide what they really want: if its capital stability then stick with cash; if its a decent stable income flow then consider the alternatives.

Source: RBA, AMP Capital

  • Ultra-low sovereign bond yields of around 2% or less, with a third of the global bond index in negative yield territory, indicate that the return potential from bonds is low.
  • Corporate debt should provide okay returns. A drift higher in bond yields is a mild drag but with continued modest global growth the risk of default should remain low.
  • Unlisted commercial property and infrastructure are likely to benefit from the ongoing “search for yield”.
  • Residential property returns are likely to be mixed with some cities continuing to see price falls and a further slowing in Sydney and Melbourne property prices. Very low rental yields are not good, particularly in oversupplied apartments.
  • The rising trend in shares is likely to continue as: shares are okay value, monetary conditions remain very easy and continuing moderate economic growth should help profits. Within shares, we favour European, Japanese and Chinese/Asian shares over US shares.
  • Finally, the downtrend in the $A is likely to resume enhancing the case for global shares (unhedged).

Things to keep an eye on

The key things to keep an eye on over the year ahead are:

  • Global business condition PMIs – these currently point to constrained but okay growth.
  • Signs of European countries seeking to leave the Eurozone and investors demanding higher borrowing rates to lend to countries like Italy, seen to be at risk of leaving. Italian banks are also a risk worth keeping an eye on.
  • When/if the Fed starts to raise rates again later this year and the impact on the US dollar.
  • Chinese economic growth readings.
  • Whether Australian non-mining activity keeps improving.

Concluding comments

The September quarter is historically a rough one for shares and the prospect of a Trump victory in the US and worries about Italian banks may cause some nervousness. But looking beyond near-term uncertainties, the mix of reasonable share valuations, continued albeit constrained global growth, easy monetary conditions and a lack of investor euphoria suggest returns are likely to improve from those seen over the last year.

 

Shane Oliver

Chief Economist AMP