Error
  • JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 565
  • JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 564
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 16:43

Consumer Sentiment rises slightly but remains weak

Written by

•The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment rose by 1.6% in September from 96.6 in August to 98.2 in September

This is the seventh consecutive month that the Index has been below 100. Apart from the 2008/09 period when the Index held below 100 for 16 consecutive months this represents the longest run of consecutive ‘sub 100’ prints since the early 1990s. Furthermore, there have only been two months in the last 15 when the Index has printed above 100.

The consumer is clearly stuck in an extended ‘cautiously pessimistic’ phase. In September last year the Index printed 96.9 so it has only increased by 1.3% over the whole year. That is despite 1.25% of rate cuts from the Reserve Bank; a more or less steady unemployment rate which is close to full employment; and some recent positive news around the threatening European situation.

This does not bode well for consumer spending and is consistent with the slowdown in consumer spending indicated by the June quarter national accounts. Although this followed a strong March quarter rise, the softening has come despite major policy boosts to household incomes including $1.9bn in fiscal handouts. With a sharp fall in July retail sales confirming this boost is now reversing, underlying momentum appears to be soft, in line with the consistently downbeat signal from the Consumer Sentiment Index.

Media coverage is often a major factor shaping respondents’ confidence including how they assess their own financial position and how they evaluate macro issues.

In the September report we receive an update on the news items which are capturing the attention of consumers and whether these were favourable or unfavourable. It shows the dominant news in September was around ‘economic conditions’ with 47% recalling news on this issue. Next was ‘budget and taxation’ (39.8% recall); international conditions (25.5% recall); and employment/wages (20.6% recall). Other topics registering lower recall include covered interest rates; inflation; politics and the Australian dollar.

Since June, the overall sentiment Index has increased by a modest 2.7%. Respondents generally recalled slightly less unfavourable news on international conditions although these items were still overwhelmingly negative. Other news was viewed as even more unfavourable than in June.

Four of the five components of the Index increased with the sub- indexes tracking views on “family finances compared to a year ago” up 0.3%; “family finances over the next 12 months” up 4.8%; “economic conditions over the next 12 months” up 0.6% and “economic conditions over the next 5 years” up 3.4%. The sub- index tracking views on “whether it is a good time to buy a major household item” fell by 0.4%.

By June this year we were particularly concerned by readings on “family finances over the next 12 months” which was printing at a level around the low-point of the 2008-09 period. Since thenwe have seen an encouraging improvement in this component which has increased by 11.4%. However it is still at a historically low level. For example the average print of that component during that 2008/09 period when the Index registered 16 consecutive months below 100 was 105.2 – today’s print of 96.2 is still well below that average. We can only conclude that respondents remain concerned about their finances despite the recent rally.

This survey also provides a quarterly update on respondents’ savings preferences. There was a sharp increase in the proportion of those respondents who assess bank deposits to be the wisest place for savings, with that proportion increasing from 32.6%

in June to 39.0% in September. That proportion is the highest proportion since December 1974 and comfortably exceeds the peak proportion during the 2008/09 period of 36.9%. For this survey the 6.4ppt increase in preference for bank deposits was at the expense of real estate which fell from 25.0% in June to 19.8% in September. The proportion of respondents favouring shares stayed near record lows at 5.5%, while the proportion opting for ‘pay down debt’ was steady at 20.4%.

If we compare the total proportion of respondents who prefer conservative savings options, covered by bank and other forms of deposits in conjunction with “pay down debt” the current proportion registers 63.5% of respondents. That compares with 64.2% in December 2008 when we were at the height of risk aversion during the Global Financial Crisis. In short, respondents are exhibiting a similar level of risk aversion in terms of their savings preferences as we saw in 2008.

The Reserve Bank Board next meets on October 2. Our forecast has been and remains that the Bank will decide to cut the official cash rate by 50bps over two meetings by year’s end. The case for lower rates is strong. Inflation remains well contained and the Bank’s own forecast has inflation remaining consistent with the target over the next one to two years. Interest rates are only slightly below neutral levels. The June quarter national accounts showed that consumer spending is slowing and investment in residential construction and plant and equipment has been contracting for the last few quarters. Despite a near 10% fall in the terms of trade the Australian dollar has failed to perform its usual ‘shock absorber’ role. Fiscal policy at both Federal and

state levels is tightening. Both consumer and business confidence are soft. From a domestic perspective only the fall in the unemployment rate and the ongoing surge in mining investment counter the case for lower rates. However, the fall in the unemployment rate has been due to discouraged workers leaving the workforce while the medium term outlook for the mining investment has recently been revised down by some mining companies.

In short, we think the case for lower rates has already been made and there must be a reasonable chance that the Bank will decide to move in October. However, central banks are conservative so a November ‘call’ for the first move looks to be more prudent.

Bill Evans, Chief Economist

page2image28568

 

 

Disclaimer

Westpac Institutional Bank is a division of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL 233714 (‘Westpac’). This document is provided to you solely for your own use and in your capacity as a wholesale client of Westpac. The information contained in this communication does not constitute an offer, or a solicitation of an offer, to subscribe for or purchase any securities or other financial instrument; does not constitute an offer, inducement or solicitation to enter a legally binding contract. The information is general and preliminary market information only and while Westpac has made every effort to ensure that information is free from error, Westpac does not warrant the accuracy, adequacy or completeness of the Information. The information may contain material provided directly by third parties and while such material is published with necessary permission, Westpac accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of any such material. Although we have made every effort to ensure the information is from error, Westpac does not warrant the accuracy, adequacy or completeness of the information, or otherwise endorse it in any way. Except where contrary to law, Westpac intends by this notice to exclude liability for the information. The information is subject to change without notice and Westpac is under no obligation to update the information or correct any inaccuracy which may become apparent at a later date. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The forecasts given in this document are predictive in character. Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure that the assumptions on which the forecasts are based are reasonable, the forecasts may be affected by incorrect assumptions or by known or unknown risks and uncertainties. The ultimate outcomes may differ substantially from these forecasts.

This communication does not constitute a personal recommendation to any individual investor. In preparing the information, Westpac has not taken into consideration the financial situation, investment objectives or particular needs of any particular investor and recommends that investors seek independent advice before acting on the information. Certain types of transactions, including those involving futures, options and high yield securities give rise to substantial risk and are not suitable for all investors. Except where contrary to law, Westpac intends by this notice to exclude liability for the information. The information is subject to change without notice. A product disclosure statement (“PDS”) may be available for the products referred to in this document. A copy of the relevant PDS and a copy of Westpac’s Financial Services Guide can be obtained by visiting www.westpac.com.au/ disclosure-documents. You should obtain and consider the relevant PDS before deciding whether to acquire, continue to hold or dispose of the applicable products referred to in this document.

This document is being distributed by Westpac Banking Corporation London Branch and Westpac Europe Limited only to and is directed at a) persons who have professional experience in matters relating to investments falling within Article 19(1) of the Financial Services Act 2000 (Financial Promotion) Order 2005 or (b) high net worth entities, and other persons to whom it may otherwise be lawfully be communicated, falling within Article 49(1) of the Order (all such persons together being referred to as “relevant persons”). The investments to which this document relates are only available to and any invitation, offer or agreement to subscribe, purchase or otherwise acquire such investments will be engaged in only with, relevant persons. Any person who is not a relevant person should not act or rely upon this document or any of its contents. In the same way, the information contained in this document is intended for “eligible counterparties” and “professional clients” as defined by the rules of the Financial Services Authority and is not intended for “retail clients”. With this in mind, Westpac expressly prohibits you from passing on this document to any third party. In particular this presentation and any copy of it may not be taken, transmitted or distributed, directly or indirectly into the United States and any other restricted jurisdiction.

This document has been approved solely for the purposes of section 21 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 by Westpac Banking Corporation London Branch and Westpac Europe Limited. Westpac Banking Corporation is registered in England as a branch (branch number BR000106) and is authorised and regulated by The Financial Services Authority. Westpac Europe Limited is a company registered in England (number 05660023) and is authorised and regulated by The Financial Services Authority. Westpac operates in the United States of America as a federally chartered branch, regulated by the Office of the Controller of the Currency and is not affiliated with either: (i) a broker dealer registered with the US Securities Exchange Commission; or (ii) a Futures Commission Merchant registered with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If you wish to be removed from our e-mail, fax or mailing list please send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax us on +61 2 8254 6907 or write to Westpac Economics at Level 2, 275 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000. Please state your full name, telephone/fax number and company details on all correspondence. © 2012 Westpac Banking Corporation.

Wednesday, 03 October 2012 11:00

Is the mining boom over and would it be so bad if it is?

Written by

The miners are big enough to play dirty

Key points

  • The mining investment boom still has another year or two to go but its peak is starting to come into sight and the best has probably been seen in terms of commodity prices.
  • While there is the risk of a timing mismatch around the end of the investment boom in 2014 and as other sectors take over in driving Australian economic growth, the eventual end of the mining investment boom should lead to more balanced Australian growth.
  • The eventual slowing of the mining boom should mean lower interest and term deposit rates, the best is over for the Australian dollar (A$) and a more balanced share market.

Introduction

Recent weeks has seen much debate and consternation in Australia as to whether the mining boom that has supposedly propelled the economy for the last decade is over. This followed the cancellation or delay of various resource investment projects including the massive Olympic Dam expansion and a fall in commodity prices over the last year.
But is it really over? And would it really be the disaster for Australia that many fear? After all, we have had years of hearing about the two-speed economy where the less resource-rich south eastern states were being left behind and it was said that the people of western Sydney were paying the price (via higher-than-otherwise interest rates and job losses) for the boom in Western Australia, so many Australians might be forgiven for thinking good riddance.

Semantics and confusion

Much of the debate about whether the mining boom is over has been characterised by confusion as to what is being referred to with some focusing on commodity prices, others on mining investment projects and others saying that technically it hasn’t even begun until mining and energy exports pick up. In broad terms the mining boom that has gripped Australia for the last decade likely has three stages.

The first stage, or Mining Boom I (MB I), began last decade and saw surging resource commodity prices driven by industrialisation in China. This resulted in a rise in Australia’s terms of trade to near record levels (see the next chart). This phase was initially good for
Australia last decade as it seemingly benefited everyone. Resource companies got paid more for what they produced, their profits surged, they employed more people, and they paid more taxes, which led to budget surpluses and allowed annual tax cuts. They paid more dividends and their share prices went up. The A$ rose but not to levels that caused huge problems for the rest of the economy. So, not only did the resources companies benefit but there was a big trickle down effect to almost everyone else. As a result the economy performed very strongly and unemployment fell below 4%.

 

The second stage, or Mining Boom II (MB II), has been characterised by a surge in mining and energy investment. This has been underway for the last few years and will take mining investment from around 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 up to around 9% in 2013, contributing around 2 percentage points to GDP growth in each of 2011-12 and 2012-13.

 

The third stage, or Mining Boom III (MB III), will presumably come when resource exports surge on the back of all the investment.  So where are we now? In terms of the commodity price surge that characterised MB I, it’s likely that we have either seen the peak or the best is over with more constrained gains ahead:

  • Firstly, the pattern for raw material prices over the past century or so has seen roughly a 10-year secular or long-term upswing followed by a 10- to 20-year secular bear market, which can sometimes just be a move to the side.

 

The upswing is normally driven by a surge in global demand for commodities after a period of mining underinvestment. The downswings come when the pace of demand slows but the supply of commodities picks up in lagged response to the price upswing. After a 12-year bull run since 2000 this pattern would suggest that the commodity price boom may be at or near its end.

  • Global growth appears to have entered a constrained patch. Excessive debt levels in the US, Europe and Japan have constrained growth, while potential growth in China, India and Brazil looks like being 1 or 2 percentage points lower than was the case before the global financial crisis. This means slower growth in commodity demand going forward.
  • The supply of raw materials is likely to surge in the decade ahead in response to increased investment.
  • Finally, the surge in commodity prices since 2000 was given a lift by a downtrend in the US dollar from 2002 as commodity prices are mostly priced in US dollars. This has now likely largely run its course.

Taken together, this would suggest that the best of the commodity price surge since 2000, or MB I, is behind us. There are two qualifi cations though. First, after the recent short-term cyclical slump there will still be a rebound, probably into next year as global growth picks up a bit. Second, it’s way too premature to say that the surge in demand in the emerging world is over - China and India are still very poor countries with per capita income of just US$8,400 and US$3,700 respectively compared to US$40,000 in Australia suggesting plenty of catch-up potential ahead and related commodity demand.

In terms of MB II, while the cancellation of Olympic Dam and other marginal projects indicates that projects under consideration have peaked, this does not mean the mining investment boom is over. In fact it probably has another one to two years to run. Based on active projects yet to be completed there is a pipeline of around A$270 billion of work yet to be completed. Iron ore related capital spending (on mines and infrastructure) are likely to peak this fi nancial year and coal and liquid natural gas related investment is likely to peak in 2014-15, suggesting a peak in aggregate around 2014.

In other words, the boom in mining investment has 18 months or so to run before it peaks and starts to subside back to more normal levels. But what can be said though, is with the cancellation of marginal projects that were in the preliminary stage, the end is coming into sight.

Finally, MB III or the pick-up in export volumes flowing from the surge in mining investment in iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas will start to get underway around 2014-15.

Heading towards a more balanced economy

Talk of the end of the mining boom has created a bit of nervousness regarding the outlook for Australia. However, the reality is that the current stage of the mining boom focused on
mining investment has not been unambiguously good for the economy and its inevitable end should hopefully see Australia return to a more balanced economy.

It was always thought that after two or three years the surge in mining investment would settle back down as projects ran their course. Trying to do a whole lot of projects in a relatively short space of time was always fraught with the threat of excessive cost
pressures and an excessive surge in supply. We are now seeing market forces kicking in to rationalise resource projects and so the more marginal projects are being delayed. This is a good thing as it will reduce cost pressures, leave work for the future and reduce the
size of the commodity supply surge over the decade ahead thereby helping avoid a crash in commodity prices.

The cooling down of the mining investment boom should help lead to a more balanced economy. MB II has not been good for big parts of Australia. With roughly 2 percentage points of growth coming from mining investment alone it has really put a squeeze on the
rest of the economy. Housing and non-residential construction, retailing, manufacturing and tourism have all suffered under the weight of higher-than-otherwise interest rates and a surge in the A$ to 30-year highs.

What’s more the boom in mining investment has meant that the Federal Government has not seen the tax revenue surge it got last decade, so last decade’s regular tax cuts have not been possible and this has weighed on household income.
This is all evident in the Australian share market which has underperformed global shares since late 2009, with the resource sector being the worst performer over the last year as resource sector profits have fallen 15% or so.

So, the end of the mining investment boom, to the extent that it takes pressure off interest rates and the A$, should enable the parts of the economy that have been under the screw for the last few years to rebound, leading to more balanced growth. This is also likely to be augmented by a pick-up in resource export volumes equal to around 1% of GDP from around 2014-15 according to the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics.

Of course a risk is of a timing mismatch around 2014 as investment slows down with other sectors taking a while to pick up. To guard against this the Reserve Bank will clearly need to stand ready to respond with lower interest rates.

The bottom line is that the end of the mining investment boom in a year or two won’t necessarily be bad for the Australian economy and will likely see a return to more balanced growth.

Concluding comments
It’s premature to call the end of the mining boom just yet. The peak in mining investment probably won’t be seen until 2014 and thereafter actual mining production and hence exports will start to pick up. However, the best has probably been seen in terms of commodity price gains and the end of the investment boom is starting to come into sight.
While there may be the risk of slower growth as the Australian economy shifts gears away from mining investment in 2014 to mining exports, construction and other parts of the economy that have been subdued, the end of the investment boom should lead to a more balanced economy reflecting less pressure on the interest rates and the A$.
For investors there are several implications including:

  • Ongoing pressure for lower interest rates as the risk of an overheating economy subsides. This means that term deposit rates are likely to fall further in the years ahead.
  • The best has likely been seen for the A$, implying less need to hedge global shares back to Australian dollars.
  • Resources shares are currently cheap and should experience a cyclical rebound when confidence in global growth improves.
  • However, beyond a short-term bounce it’s likely that the cooling of the mining boom will allow a return to a more balanced share market with domestic cyclicals likely to perform better.

This material has been provided for general information purposes and must not be construed as investment advice. This material has been prepared without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. Investors should consider obtaining professional investment advice tailored to their specific circumstances prior to making any investment decisions and should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement.

Monday, 03 September 2012 12:16

New Warning - Serious Investment Fraud

Written by

Fraud

The Minister for Home Affairs and Minister of Justice Jason Clare today urged Australians to protect themselves against the growing threat of serious and organised investment fraud.

Minister Clare released a new report from the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) which provides a national picture of the nature and threat of serious and organised investment fraud in Australia.

“This is the first unclassified report of its kind. It indicates that more than 2600 Australians may have lost more than $113 million to serious and organised investment fraud in the last five years. That number could be even higher because people tend not to report this kind of crime,” Mr Clare said.

“The targets of this type of crime are primarily Australian men, aged over fifty. They are usually highly educated – and have high levels of financial literacy. They are likely to manage their own super.

“This is what happens. The criminal syndicate cold calls the investor, refers them to a flash website and sends them a brochure promising strong investment returns. After taking their money they string them along for months or even years and then the money disappears.

“People’s entire life savings are stolen by criminals with the click of a mouse. This type of crime destroys wealth and destroys lives. It’s also very difficult to stop.

“These criminal syndicates usually operate from outside Australia. They use front companies and false names. Once they’ve stolen the money the website disappears and the trail goes dead.”

In the next two months every household in Australia will receive a letter warning them about this criminal activity and providing information on how to avoid becoming a victim.

This is the first time Australian law enforcement agencies have undertaken a mail out of this scale regarding serious and organised crime.

“This problem is not going away. Australia’s retirement savings are growing – making us a bigger target every year,” Mr Clare said.

ACC Chief Executive Officer Mr John Lawler said the level of superannuation and retirement savings in Australia made it an attractive target for organised crime groups.

“To combat this growing threat, last year the ACC Board established multi-agency Task Force Galilee to disrupt and prevent serious and organised investment fraud and harden Australians against this type of organised crime,” Mr Lawler said.

“These scams are typically unsolicited ‘cold calls’ used alongside sophisticated hoax websites to try and legitimise the fraud. This type of crime targets the life savings of hard working Australians. Australian and international law enforcement partners stand committed to protecting Australians from these crimes.”

Australian Securities and Investments Commission Chairman, Greg Medcraft said fraudulent investments are incredibly sophisticated and very difficult for even experienced investors to identify.

“Perpetrators of this type of fraud are skilled at using high-pressure sales tactics, over the phone and using email, to persuade their victims to part with their money,” Mr Medcraft said.

“I urge investors to be immediately wary if they are called at random by someone offering an investment opportunity overseas.”

Australians should take the following actions to prevent becoming victims of investment fraud:

  • Visit www.moneysmart.gov.au or call 1300 300 630 for further information or advice.
  • Alert your family and friends to this fraud, especially anyone who may have savings to invest.
  • Report suspected fraud to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, on www.moneysmart.gov.au or 1300 300 630, or your local police. Remembering information such as company name, location and contact details will assist with subsequent investigations and enquiries.
  • Hang up on unsolicited telephone calls offering overseas investments.
  • Check any company you are discussing investments with has a valid Australian Financial Services Licence at www.moneysmart.gov.au
  • Always seek independent financial advice before making an investment.

To access the report on Serious and Organised Investment Fraud in Australia see the ACC website www.crimecommission.gov.auor visit www.moneysmart.gov.au or call 1300 300 630 for further information and to report suspected investment fraud.

Warning letter that was sent to all Australian households

Media contact:  Annie Williams - 02 6277 7290

Monday, 27 August 2012 16:32

Reversionary Beneficiary

Written by

Allocated Pensions - Reversionary Pension could save Tax for surviving spouse

retirement-planning

Many people are under the impression that their will deals with all of their assets after death.  Not so generally with respect to people’s superannuation.

The payment of the balance of your superannuation fund, after your death, will generally be to a dependant beneficiary, such as your spouse or a dependant child.  However if no nomination has been made, the decision about where to pay benefits could rest with the trustee of the super fund.  It may be beneficial to pay your superannuation benefit as a pension rather than a lump sum.  To facilitate this your fund may allow you to nominate what is known as a “reversionary beneficiary”. The nomination of a reversionary beneficiary allows for the continuation of your pension upon your death, locking in some important potential benefits.

The rules of the fund (trust deed for Self Managed Super Funds must allow you to nominate a reversionary at the time you begin the original allocated pension, this is an important aspect for trustees of Self Managed Super Funds to check.

Some advantages of nominating a reversionary beneficiary.

Continuity of Tax Treatment - If the primary beneficiary was 60 or older at the time of death, then payments to the reversionary beneficiary will be tax exempt regardless of the age of the beneficiary. This is also the case if the reversionary beneficiary is also 60 or older but the member died before reaching 60.

John is 62 years old and has commenced an allocated pension with his wife Mary aged 57 as his reversionary beneficiary. If John dies Mary would continue to receive his pension payment of $30,000 per year tax free even though she is only 57 years old.

This benefit can be particularly important if Mary has another source of taxable income in her own right where she has already used up her tax free and low tax threshold.

Your benefit is paid according to your wishes. Where a valid reversionary nomination is made, the trustee of the superannuation fund is bound to continue paying the pension to your nominated reversionary upon your death. This takes away the risk that the superannuation fund trustee may pay part or all of your benefit to someone other than whom you desired.

This risk can arise when people have multiple spouses (although not at the same time) and children from different relationships.  Sometimes in these situations having assets bypass the estate can reduce the risk of an estate being contested resulting in hefty legal bills.

There can clearly be benefits in establishing a “Reversionary Beneficiary” for investors with allocated pensions, however these nominations can only be made at the time of establishment. For those with pre-existing allocated pensions, they could simply rollover their fund to a new fund provider and nominate a reversionary beneficiary at that time, but this needs to be considered against any adverse effects on Centrelink entitlements.

 

Monday, 27 August 2012 10:44

Financial Planning and Family Risk

Written by

There is an important aspect to Financial Planning we would like to highlight which is the potential risk associated with an illness, injury, or major trauma event occurring to a member in your family ie a son, daughter, their spouse or a grandchild.

If the unthinkable happened and one of your family members was to suffer from any of these events, would they survive financially, or would you need to step in and offer financial support?
We think it is important that you be honest and ask yourself two questions.
  1. Would you step in and help out your family in the event that one of your children, their spouses or your grandchildren were to suffer a serious illness or injury.  We know the importance of family and think in most cases the answer would be yes.
  2. How would you feel if when you found out they had no or insufficient insurance cover to provide for their family.......how would the rest of your family feel?

The financial consequences for you could be a burden too great to bear and drastically affect your future plans and other family members.

Many parents know little or nothing of their extended family’s real financial position, this extends to not knowing how much debt they hold and ongoing financial commitments they have.  In addition, most parents rarely know what insurance cover they have in place and if this is sufficient to meet the circumstance.

This is not unusual as they are adults now and responsible for their own life BUT, if something did happen and only then did you find out, you would potential have to suffer the financial consequences.  This is what we call Family Risk as it affects all members of the family.

We provide a financial planning service to the adult children of our clients.  We would be happy to have a discussion with you about your family and how we could provide this service to them.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012 11:14

Spain & Italy Are (Probably) Fine

Written by

...right round, baby, right round. Let's get it together and have a roundtable...Just as Brussels is finally enjoying a spell of summer sun, there’s more good news for debt-crisis watchers who stayed behind in the European Union’s headquarters: The Peterson Institute for International Economics says the debt loads of Italy and Spain are (most likely) sustainable.

In a new working paper, William R. Cline—a sovereign-debt crisis veteran going back all the way to Latin America’s troubles in the 1980s–calculates different trajectories for the debt loads of the two countries whose financial fate is seen as central to the survival of the euro. The interesting thing about the paper is that it not only examines three typical scenarios (good, baseline, bad) and applies them to five variables (the level of growth, primary surplus, interest rates, bank recapitalizations, and privatization receipts), but also assesses the probability of several of these variables going bad (or good) at the same time. In other words, Mr. Cline calibrated the effect of, say, low privatization receipts on a government’s primary surplus or the interest rates it’s likely to pay on its bonds.

His conclusion–which should delight policymakers in Rome, Madrid, and Brussels alike–is that the most likely outcome by the end of the decade is that “both Spain and Italy remain solvent” and that they won’t need a debt restructuring á la Greece or, even worse, leave the euro zone.

The “probability weighted average,” i.e. the best bet, for Spain is that its debt will be no higher than 92% of gross domestic product by 2020. That’s up quite a bit from the 81% it is expected to hit by the end of the year and slightly worse than the 89% under Mr. Cline’s baseline scenario, but still at a level that is generally seen as manageable for a large, developed economy. On top of that, there’s a 75% chance that the debt load will be below 99% of GDP by 2020. For Italy, the best bet is a debt that declines to at least 109% of GDP by 2020 from 123% this year, with a 75% probability that it will go down to at least 116%.

Now, forecasting debt levels eight years into the future is in itself a tricky exercise. The goal of Greece’s debt restructuring earlier this year was to bring the country’s debt load to a “sustainable” 120% of GDP by 2020. Even back in March some EU officials warned privately that that kind of calculation was more of a political spiel designed to convince parliaments in countries like Germany or the Netherlands to once again open their wallets for Greece than a sound basis for economic policy making. Less than six months on they were proven right–international debt inspectors are currently trying to determine how much the political uncertainty of two national elections have set the country behind in hitting the 120% target, while the International Monetary Fund is arguing that for Greece, really, a level of 100% of GDP is much more suitable.

The biggest challenge with these calculations is of course determining how to fill in the variables, i.e. what’s the good, baseline or bad scenario for growth or interest rates. And it is perhaps here were Mr. Cline’s analysis is most vulnerable. For Spain, for instance, the “good” scenario for bank recapitalizations is that Madrid will have to pick up exactly €0 of the cost of recapitalizing its banks—that would only happen if either the stakes the government acquires in struggling lenders turn out to be unexpectedly valuable or the country succeeds in moving the entire recapitalization costs off its own books and onto those of the euro-zone bailout fund. We explained why either of these two scenarios are unlikely here and here.

The baseline scenario expects bank recapitalizations to add only some €5 billion to government debt (mostly thanks to the European Stability Mechanism taking direct stakes in the saved lenders rather than routing the money through the government, as Mr. Cline explained in an interview). Even under the bad scenario the bank bailouts add “only” €50 billion to the debt load (that’s assuming that the cost cannot be transferred to the ESM). Considering that the euro zone has promised Spain as much as €100 billion and some analysts fear that low growth could push the bailout bill even beyond that, it’s easy to imagine a worse scenario. (Sidenote: the bank recapitalization section in the Spain scenario table on p.15 of the paper also includes €36 billion in debts that the Spanish government may have to take on from crisis-hit regions—a footnote that Mr. Cline says was accidentally dropped in the final version.)

But there are conclusions in the paper that go beyond the exact variables used for the different scenarios. For instance, Mr. Cline’s calculations show that for both Spain and Italy higher interest rates—and even lower growth–have a smaller effect on debt levels than missing budget targets. For Spain, more-expensive bank bailouts set off a similar dynamic: the “bad”(€50 billion) recapitalization scenario drives the baseline debt load from 89% of GDP to 94% by 2020; the full €100 billion, meanwhile, would take it up to 99%, even if all other variables stay in the baseline.

The good news from that if of course that governments may have more influence on their primary deficits—and even the cost of bank bailouts for national governments amid “direct” bank recapitalizations from the ESM–than on interest rates and growth. Or as Mr. Cline summed it up in an email: “The good outcome depends on Spain doing its part on the primary surplus and the euro zone doing its part on the banking union.”

If that thesis holds up, Mr. Cline’s analysis may herald more good news than Brussels weather, where the probability of sustainable summer sunshine is close to zero.

By Gabriele Steinhauser

The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, 22 August 2012 13:22

Why don't mortgage rates move in line with RBA rate moves

Written by

With the constant symphony of politicians from all parties clamouring over each other to bash up the banks and accuse the Australian banking industry of profiteering from mortgage holders since the GFC, we examine the truth behind why the interest rates on home loans have risen more than the official Reserve Bank cash rate.

First some revision, where do banks source money to enable them to lend out to homeowners?  Banks can either attract deposits by offering term deposits and cash accounts or they can "buy" money from the wholesale market, largely from overseas.

The graph below shows the increase in the cost to acquire these sources of funding since the start of the GFC, courtesy of Commonwealth Bank's analyst pack at their recent results presentation.

The chart highlights that Australian banks have paid an additional 1.65% to obtain funds from the wholesale market and have had to pay cash account and term deposit holders 1.86% over what they were paying before 2007 to attract funds.  Those who watch term deposit rates would know this as term deposits are currently more than the RBA official cash rate of 3.5%, whereas prior to GFC banks paid around 1.5% below the cash rate for deposits (source RBA Bulletin March 2010)

Despite having to pay on average 1.78% more to acquire funds to lend out, CBA's increase to the standard variable home loan rate has been less than 1.5% which means that the bank has absorbed some of the pain of the increase cost of funding.

The bank bashers will not accept this and point to their record profits.  The banks higher profitability has come through acquiring several of the second tier lenders such as BankWest (CBA) and St George & RAMS (Westpac) so one would hope their profits are higher as their businesses are now much larger.

We readily accept that the cost to build a house has increased due to the increased cost of raw materials such as steel and timber, and yet when the cost of "raw materials" for banks increase we accuse them of gouging.

Australia should be proud of our healthy banking system and pay no attention to the ill informed politicians who are bank bashing to distract voters from their own inadequacies.

 

 

 

Thursday, 23 August 2012 10:06

Don't trip up when Chasing Income Yield

Written by

With official interest rates hovering at 3.5% and residential property income yields typically running at between 4-5%, investors are clamouring for investments that pay a higher rate of income.

Is it as simple as running a ruler over the dividend yield column in the Financial Review to select your investments?

The table below highlights the top 20 dividend payers from the Australian share markets based on forecast dividend payments for the current financial year.

What are some of the questions investors should ask themselves when considering high income investments?

What is the likely profit growth trend that can support future dividends?

What proportion of company profits are being paid out as dividends?  A high proportion doesn't leave the company much room to maintain dividends if profit drops.

Is the dividend being artificially inflated by asset sales, debt or financial engineering?

What is the outlook for the sector in which the company operates within?

These points are best illustrated comparing the highest ranking dividend payer in the chart above, Metcash with its larger rival Woolworths.  Woolworths dividend is not as high as Metcash but the share price chart below shows that Woolworths has been a better performing investment despite paying a slightly lower dividend.  (Woolworths is the blue line and Metcash the red line)

Woolworths vs Metcash Share Price Performance

There is no doubt there are some juicy dividends to be enjoyed by investors in the current market, but care must be taken to avoid what is referred to as a value trap.  (where an investment appears good value - but performs as a dog)  We encourage investors to look beyond the headline dividend yield when considering an investment.

This material has been provided for general information purposes and must not be construed as investment advice. This material has been prepared without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. Investors should consider obtaining professional investment advice tailored to their specific circumstances prior to making any investment decisions and should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement.

Monday, 13 August 2012 15:59

House Hold "Tips and Tricks"

Written by

Useful Tips and Tricks For Every House Hold

cutaway house

  • To silence your squeaky hardwood floors sprinkle some baby powder on the squeaky area and sweep it into the cracks. Then wipe the floor. The baby powder between the boards will act as a lubricant and will stop the annoying noise.
  • Have friends on their way over and you forgot to put drinks in the fridge. Place your drinks in a large pot and cover with ice. Sprinkle 2 cups of salt on top of the ice and then fill the rest of the pot with water. Your drinks will be ice cold within 2 to 3 minutes.
  • If you have already sealed an envelope and realized you forgot to put something in it, place the envelope in the freezer for a couple hours. It will pop right open so you don't have to get another envelope.
  • After cooking fish put a little vinegar in a pot and let it boil. The nasty fish smell will disappear almost instantly leaving your kitchen smelling clean again.
  • To peel a kiwi cut off the top and bottom, slip a spoon between the skin and the flesh. Twist the spoon around the entire kiwi (keeping it between the skin and flesh the whole time). Then just pop the skin off.
  • When you are done using the roll of tape, fold the last quarter inch down and stick it back onto itself. This will create a little tab that can easily be found so you don't have to waste time searching for the end of the tape.
  • Accidentally close a tab on your browser? No problem! Hit ctrl-shift-T and the page will pop up again.
  • When packing liquids (shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, etc...) for your next trip, take the lid off, place a piece of plastic wrap over the opening and screw the lid back on. The plastic wrap will keep the liquid from spilling even if the lid pops open.
  • Before cooking a burger patty, press a hole in the middle of the patty. The hole will disappear as the burger cooks. This will minimize shrinking and you won't have to worry about them not being done in the center.
  • Rubbing some butter over the cut edge of a block of cheese will seal it and stop it from molding.
  • When masking tape and painters tape sit in the garage or other hot areas for too long, they tend to dry out and break apart when you try to peel them. Place them in the microwave for a few seconds. (keep a close eye on them, you don't want to start a fire.) This should loosen them up and they will peel a lot easier.
Thursday, 26 July 2012 11:31

Australian Official Interest Rates - Further to fall

Written by

Westpac Consumer Confidence index was released in July showing an improvement in Consumer Sentiment.

Finally we have some evidence that the Reserve Bank’s policy of cutting the official cash rate by 1.25% between November last year and June this year is starting to gain more positive traction with households.

However, this result is far from convincing and should not be interpreted that we can expect confidence to steadily return to more normal levels over the months ahead.

The Index is now 2% above its level in October last year prior to the beginning of the rate cut cycle. However it is still 4.1% below the reading in November last year when households responded positively to the first rate cut in November. Following that initial
positive response in November concerns around the international and domestic economic outlooks offset any positive impact of the rate cut in December. These ongoing concerns, particularly around the international economic outlook, continued to mute the impact of subsequent rate cuts in May and June. In fact, despite the cumulative cuts of 125bps we still have the situation that pessimists slightly outnumber optimists.

Over the month, households were probably buoyed considerably by the result from the Greek elections and the positive reception to the latest European leaders’ summit , averting, at least for the time being, a new crisis in Europe.

While the Reserve Bank did not cut interest rates further there was a strong 5.5% jump in the confidence of those respondents who hold a mortgage.

There was also some positive news around the domestic economy.Petrol prices are down by 7% since the last survey and have now fallen 13% since May. The Australian dollar rallied from 98¢ to 102¢ versus the US dollar, and the share market rose 2.7%.

All components of the Index increased in July. The sub-indexes tracking consumer expectations for economic conditions over the next 12 months and five years increased by 5.8% and 5.2% respectively. The sub-index tracking responses on ‘whether now is a good time to purchase a major household item’ rose by 1.1%.

Respondents were also more positive around their own finances. The sub-indexes tracking assessments of finances relative to a year ago improved by 4.6%; and the outlook for finances over the next 12 months improved by 3%.

However, disturbingly, the sub-index tracking respondents’ outlook for their finances over the next 12 months is still 9.4% below the level in October last year prior to the beginning of the Reserve Bank’s rate cut cycle.

The Board of the Reserve Bank next meets on August 7. It is our view that interest rates in Australia are still too high. In his Statement following the interest rate decision on July 3 the Governor described interest rates as “a little below medium term averages”. With the Australian dollar back above parity, despite lower commodity prices, and fiscal policy being quoted by the RBA to be contradictionary in the order of 0.75% – 1.5% of GDP financial conditions in Australia are mildly stimulatory at best. Although there are tentative signs of improvement emerging in some interest rate sensitive parts of the economy, these have yet to show a convincing recovery and remain vulnerable to renewed weakness. Mean while the threat from a deteriorating global economic outlook continues to build.

Not with standing these issues the recent rhetoric from the Bank indicates that it is in a ‘wait and see’ mind set. Accordingly, whilst we think it is likely that, as we saw in the first half of 2012, the Bank’s ‘wait and see’ approach will eventually evolve into further
rate cuts totaling 0.75%, our call that the next cut will come in August could prove to be too early. However, because we believe that Australia needs lower rates and much can happen, particularly in the international economy, we are comfortable
maintaining that view.

Sourced from Bill Evans -Chief Economist Westpac