Category archive: Finance News

Ways to Cut Spending on Monthly Expenses

Personal finance might seem to cover only the big stuff – student loans, house mortgage, income taxes. However, in this case, small daily expenses matter, as they add up to significant amount of your spending. By cutting seemingly negligible costs, you can earn tremendous cumulated savings and avoid unnoticeable drain on your bank account.

Here are a few ways to cut spending on your monthly expenses:

Buy Refills and Refillables

By purchasing refillable products, you can save up on a lot of consumer goods. For example, using refillable bottles would encourage you to get free tap water instead of getting ready-to-buy packaged water. Other goods such as handwash, laundry liquid, and cleaner also come cheaper in refill than in regular packages.

Set Up Limits

Want to curb the urge to shop? Set up a credit card limit and a spending cap to ensure you don’t go past a certain amount. You can go even further by setting up limit per transaction and daily card withdrawal limit.

Pay Your Debts in Full, Right Away

When it comes to credit cards, always strive to pay the bills in time, in full amount to avoid extra surcharges. You can do this by opting for automatic bill payment with your bank.

Re-evaluate Your Current Utilities and Services

You indeed need electricity, phone and entertainment plan, but are you sure your current plan brings the most value for money? Contact the customer service to see if there is any way to reduce the bills without losing the essential features that you need. Chances are you might not actually need that second Netflix screen!

Go for Home Brands

If you don’t have any preferred brand for a household product, you might be better off purchasing the more affordable home brands – they can do the same job for less dollar per gram.

Walk or Ride a Bike

Bus ticket fees might seem inconsequential, but you’ll be surprised by how much it costs when you walk or bike for a change. This might not be applicable for long commutes, but this would still be great for going places locally. Bonus point: walking and biking are great exercises. Who says you need gym membership to stay fit?

Shop Smart

In buying groceries and other household goods, opt for discount retailers and thrift shops – the competitive price will lift the burden off your wallet.

22 Ways to Cut Your Energy Bills (Before Spending on Solar Panels)

Tim Forcey, University of Melbourne

Despite many Australians opting not to heat their homes to the point of complete comfort, many of us nevertheless will soon receive a nasty surprise when the energy bills arrive.

With Australia’s historically cheap energy, old housing stock in many areas, mild climate and frequent emphasis on low building costs, many homes are little more than “glorified tents” when it comes to thermal performance.

Besides wanting smaller bills, many residents also want to improve comfort, lessen their environmental impact and boost their home’s value.

So here is a list of 22 things you can do to improve your home’s energy performance – some cheap, some free, and some that can even make you some money up-front as well as cutting your bills. Of course, to reach the ultimate goal of a home heated and powered by 100% renewable electricity you may still wish to put some solar panels on your roof, but why not consider the following actions first?

1. Make sure you get the maximum discount on your energy bills. Although not available everywhere, in Victoria discounts of up to 38% are available on gas or electricity. Ring up your retailer and just ask, or threaten to switch, or better yet seek out a retailer that doesn’t treat their discounts like state secrets.

2. Monitor your power usage with the help of a “smart” electricity meter or in-home electricity display. This real-time (or near-real-time) information is more useful than the coarse monthly data commonly printed on energy bills. It can help identify appliances that have inadvertently been left on or those that draw excessive power when not in use.

3. Heat your water off-peak. If you have a resistive-electric hot water storage tank, make sure it heats up at night, when off-peak power rates apply. In some areas, “time of use” rates are available.

4. Get rid of your ‘garage fridge’. It can cost hundreds of dollars a year to run an inefficient 20-year-old fridge, especially if it’s in a garage that hits 50℃ in summer.

5. Ditch your super-hot plasma. If you have a 10-year-old television that gets so hot you can fry an egg on the screen, check out the newer models that can use one-tenth of the electricity.

6. Install a modern showerhead, such as those designed with double-impinging jet technology that use only 5 litres of water per minute. Old showerheads can pass up to 35 litres per minute. Why not grab a bucket and stopwatch and test yours?

7. Insulate any exposed hot water pipes, including the pressure-relief valve on your hot water tank. Make sure hot water pipes do not run uninsulated straight into the soil in your garden. Insulate electrically heated storage tanks where it is safe to do so.

8. Check your heaters and air conditioning. Gas heating systems should be checked at least every two years by a qualified person, not least to keep poisonous carbon monoxide gas at bay. All heating or cooling system filters should be cleaned regularly to improve energy efficiency and air quality.

9. Inspect your ducts. Poorly installed or degraded ductwork can lead to big energy losses, which can go unnoticed for decades. Ensure that small children or animals have not gone under your house and damaged your gas heating ducts. Check also that air returns are properly “boxed-in” and do not draw air in from the wall cavity instead of from the living space. However, cleaning the inside of your ducts is not critical for energy saving, and risks damaging them in the process.

10. Banish drafts, for instance by plastering over those ubiquitous wall vents – relics from the days when homes relied on unflued heaters or gas lights. Seal off unused chimneys and fill any other cracks, gaps or holes around doors, windows, skirting boards, floorboards and architraves. Remember to close air-conditioning ceiling vents in winter. Ventilation should be controlled by opening windows, not by having permanent holes in the walls.

Older houses can be full of drafts, including from wall vents which are a throwback to times when homes were full of indoor pollution.
Bidgee/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

11. Eliminate ceiling-mounted downlights wherever possible. A small number of modern wide-beam LEDs can adequately replace a larger quantity of narrow-beam halogen downlights. Aim to have as few holes cut into your ceiling as possible, because these holes let heat escape in winter and let it in during summer.

12. Install downlight covers over all downlights that protrude into accessible attic spaces. Not only does this reduce fire hazards and keep out insects, but it will also reduce air flow through the roof.

13. Replace all regularly used lights with LEDs. LEDs use a tenth of the energy of halogen or incandescent bulbs, so will pay for themselves in just a few months (even less in places where free replacement is on offer). Replace less regularly used bulbs with LEDs as and when they burn out, and vow never to buy a non-LED bulb again.

14. Insulate your attic…. If you don’t have roof insulation, buy some. If you do, check it meets the recommended “R value” for your climate. Ensure all vertical attic surfaces (walls, skylight tunnels) are also insulated, and include a layer of aluminium in your attic space. Thermal imaging can be used to identify existing flaws, such as gaps or sections of insulation inadvertently moved by tradespeople working in the attic.

15. …and your floors and walls too. In cooler Australian climate zones, floor and wall insulation can help keep heat in, making your home warmer and cheaper to operate.

16. Cover your windows from the inside… with drapes, curtains or blinds. This will keep in heat at night and on cold winter days, and keep out the sun in summer. Cheaper or do-it-yourself thermal window treatments such as plastic films or even bubble wrap can be applied in some situations (just don’t expect to win any design awards).

17. …and the outside. Trees, plants, external awnings, blinds or shade sails can all keep out the summer sun and stop windows getting hot. Remember that significant heat will reflect onto windows from sizzling decks, paved areas and walls (but not lawns). It’s better to keep out the sun in the first place rather than try to cool your house down.

18. Double glazing for windows cuts out noise, improves security and saves energy too. For many Australian climate zones, I recommend that homeowners never buy a window in future that isn’t double-glazed. Retrofit options options such as “secondary glazing” are also available.

19. Fit a pool cover if you have a swimming pool. Not only will this stop the water cooling down overnight in summer, but a cover can also minimise cleaning, chemical use and the running time for your filter pump. Consider upgrading to a more efficient pump if yours is more than a decade old, and ensure it does not run for more hours each day than required.

Remember to cover up when not sunbathing.
Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

20. Use reverse-cycle to heat your home…. If your home has reverse-cycle air conditioning (also known as a heat pump), this may be the cheapest way to heat, especially as gas prices rise. On heat mode, reverse-cycle units harvest free renewable ambient heat from the air outside your home and pump it up to the toasty temperature you need inside. Having installed high-efficiency reverse-cycle units, I can heat my own home for one-third of the cost of ducted gas heating.

21. …and your water. If your hot water system is nearing its use-by date, consider replacing it with a heat pump. This is an especially good option for homes that already have solar panels and low feed-in tariffs.

22. If you can eliminate all gas use in your home (for space heating, water heating and cooking), you can eliminate your gas bill with its nearly A$1 per day fixed supply charges.

And then there is solar…

In Australia these days, you won’t be paid much money for selling your electricity back to the grid. However, it might still pay to install solar if you can consume most of the energy yourself, by running your pool pumps, appliances, space heating and cooling devices, hot water system and even an electric car with solar electricity harvested during the day.

In future, as electricity storage batteries get cheaper, there may be even more economic reasons to have solar panels on your roof.

This article doesn’t list every possible behavioural trick or home improvement. Sadly, some homes will never be fantastic energy performers without significant modification. But hopefully there are a few things on this list that will work for you – even if it’s only a case of finally covering that drafty doorstep, or giving your creaking “beer fridge” a dignified retirement.

The Conversation

Tim Forcey, Energy Advisor, Melbourne Energy Institute, University of Melbourne

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

News: NSW Housing Investment Sets Record High

Housing investment in New South Wales continues to grow as current levels are getting close to record highs, new Australian Bureau Statistics reports revealed.

Latest ABS data found that the value of residential lending in the state reached $7.19 billion in November 2016, the highest on record for the year and a significant 25.5 per cent increase from the previous month’s $5.7 billion.

The November value was also the second highest on record for NSW, with the highest being $7.36 billion in June 2015.

Investor loans constituted 56.7 per cent of all approved residential lending in NSW over the month, making it the highest market share nationally, followed by Victoria’s 45 per cent.

NSW’s residential investor lending represented 56.1 per cent of all approved lending in Australia in November. “This is clearly a record result, eclipsing the previous high of 48.8 per cent reported over March 2016,” said Andrew Wilson, chief economist at Domain Group.

“The strong Sydney market remains a magnet for investors with demand set to continue to rise attracted by continuing solid price growth and a tight rental market with rising rents consolidating gross yields.”

Wilson expected the NSW market to continue its growth, prompted by the possibility of better investment property taxes and rate cuts after 2015’s hike in mortgage rates.

“Residential investors have stormed back into the market since May 2016 driven by the prospect of possible changes to the tax treatment of investment property and interest rate cuts,” said Wilson.

“NSW generally and Sydney specifically remain the epicentre for what has re-emerged as unprecedented activity from this group.”

Cameron Kusher, head of research at CoreLogic said while NSW and Victoria might seem promising, investors should be mindful of the long-term risks.

“It’s clear that demand for mortgages from the investor segment is picking up, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, which are proxies for Sydney and Melbourne respectively,” said Kusher. However, he added that investors should also think about the risks from long-term value growth phase as well as the historically low rental earnings.

News: Sydney’s Housing Market Second Most Unaffordable in the World, New Survey Found

Sydney’s housing market has been rated as the second most expensive in the world, according to the 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2017.

Sydney, which is only topped by Hong Kong, beats other cities including San Jose (fifth most expensive) and Los Angeles (eighth).

The survey rates housing markets based on the World Bank-recommended “median multiple” principle, which divides median house price with median household income. A score of 5.1 and above is categorised as “severely unaffordable”.

10 Least Affordable Housing Markets

1            Hong Kong                       18.1

2            Sydney, NSW, Australia 12.2

3            Vancouver, Canada        11.8

4            Santa Cruz, CA, USA        11.6

5            Santa Barbara, CA, USA  11.3

6            Auckland, NZ                   10

7            Wingcaribbee, NSW, Australia    9.8

8            Tweed Heads, NSW, Australia    9.7

9            San Jose, CA, USA            9.6

10          Melbourne, VIC, Australia           9.5

The report found that 47 of Australia’s 54 markets are categorised as “seriously unaffordable” or “severely unaffordable”. The report’s co-author, Hugh Pavletich said the contrast between Australia’s land size and its housing prices indicates a “decentralisation” issue.

“State and local governments have lost the control of their costs and their capacity to finance infrastructure properly,” said Pavletich.

“Sydney house prices are about 12.2 times annual household incomes which is grossly excessive… What housing should be in normal markets is at or below three times household earnings, so Sydney is four times what it should be.”

The newly-sworn in NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian said in her first press conference that housing affordability would be one of her policy priorities.

“I want to make sure that every average hard-working person in this state can aspire to own their own home,” said Berejiklian.

Stockmarket: ASX Finishes in Red for the First Time in 2017

ASX has finished in the red for the first time in 2017, due to falls in big banks, unstable oil prices and decline in investor confidence.

While brent crude strengthened by the end of the trading session to $US55.05 a barrel, fears that the OPEC-led deal to cut production might not be implemented properly by its participants diminished investor confidence.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index and the All Ordinaries Index each dropped 0.8 per cent to 5760.7 points and 5813 points respectively. Investors sold out of every sector, with banking receiving the most impact. Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.5 per cent, as Westpac declined by 0.8 per cent. National Australia Bank was down 1.2 per cent and ANZ Banking Group dipped 1.5 per cent.

The US dollar also weakened as the post-election euphoria winded out. “The US dollar appears to have entered a consolidation phase since last week after a period of market optimism associated with prospective Trump policies,” NAB economist Vyanne Lai said. As a result, the Australian dollar rose 0.6 per cent to US73.72¢.

Property Market Predictions for 2017

Property prices in Sydney and Melbourne shows no sign of slowing down while prices in other cities fall, experts predicted.

Property research group SQM Research predicted that if the cash rate remains unchanged throughout the year, Sydney and Melbourne’s house prices could grow by 15 to 16 per cent.

Low interest rates will keep Sydney and Melbourne markets strong due to high income and population growth in these cities, said Moody’s economist Emily Dabbs.

“Affluent areas tend to be driven by the prosperity of local economy, and right now both Sydney and Melbourne have the fastest-growing economies in the nation,” said SQM managing director, Louis Christopher.

However, apartment prices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane could fall by 15 to 20 per cent in the next two years, AMP capital chief economist Dr Shane Oliver predicted. “There’s a [supply] indigestion problem, but Sydney won’t have a supply problem for another two years,” Dr Oliver said.

On the other hand, Perth, Darwin and Adelaide’s prices are expected to continue falling due to dwindling population and high unemployment rate.

“The unemployment rate in Perth, for example, is quite high compared to the rest of the country,” said Dabbs. “That’s really hampering any income growth and making it difficult for households to pay higher prices for houses.”

Construction industry analyst BIS Shrapnel said house prices would rise in all capital cities except Perth and Darwin, and apartment prices would fall in Brisbane and Melbourne.

News: Australia Lost Up to $4.8 Billion to Tax Dodging, Oxfam Reports

Tax dodging by Australian-based multinationals through offshore tax havens has cost Australia up to $4.8 billion in 2014, according to a new Oxfam Australia report.

The report claimed that Australia lost $4-4.8 billion in 2014 as a result of tax dodging. It also revealed that the top offshore tax havens used by Australian multinationals are Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Netherlands, Switzerland and Singapore.

The report followed the new data released by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) on Friday, which shows that 36 per cent of large companies, or 679 companies in Australia did not pay any tax in 2014-2015. McDonalds Asia-Pacific, Chevron Australia and Vodafone Hutchison are among the list of large companies that failed to pay tax.

In the report, Oxfam criticised the Federal Government’s plan to cut corporate tax further to 25 per cent in the next ten years.

“There is no winner in the race to the bottom on corporate tax,” said Muheed Jamaldeen, senior economist at Oxfam Australia.

The advocacy group said that tax incentives are ineffective to encourage payment due to the lack of parliamentary and public scrutiny.

“As a result, tax incentives are often ineffective and have become associated with abuse and corruption,” the report said.

“Tax revenues are needed to fund public goods and services, which contribute to the reduction of poverty and to the development of social and economic infrastructure.

“It is crucial that the Australian Government modifies current legislation so that multinational companies that function in or from Australia report publicly on their incomes, employees, profits earned and taxes paid in every country in which they operate.”

Dr Helen Szoke, chief executive at Oxfam Australia said the federal government should take action to make companies “pay their fair share”.

“The Federal Government must act swiftly and can no longer ignore the need for laws that will force big companies to publicly report on their incomes, taxes paid, profits and employees in every country in which they operate,” she said.

If you are an employer and looking to get a police check report for employees you can use National Crime check. They provide quick online police checks and offer bulk checks for staffing.

Oil rig

News: Investors Expect Oil Selloff Should OPEC Deal Collapse

As tensions arise between OPEC countries in the runup to the November 30 meeting, investors are preparing for the worst and expecting a fall in energy stocks should a deal fail to be clinched.

On Monday crude price fell by 0.3 per cent to $US47.1 per barrel, and energy stocks declined by 1.8 per cent.

Iran and Iraq have reportedly persisted on higher output numbers, according to unnamed sources.

“We hope we (will) have agreement,” said Jabar Ali al-Luaibi, Iraq’s Oil Minister on Monday upon arriving in Vienna for the talk. “We will cooperate with OPEC members to reach agreement acceptable to all.”

Experts expect oil selloff should OPEC fail to reach a deal. “People know if OPEC doesn’t do a deal, all the short-term drivers for the oil price will be off the table,” said Romano Sala Tenna, portfolio manager at Katana Asset Management.

Collapse in talks could send crude prices below $US40, said Fadel Gheit, managing director of oil and gas research at Oppenheimer & Co.

Others are more optimistic. There is a chance that OPEC could agree to cut production by more than 500,000 barrels, said Helima Croft, RBC Capital Markets’ global head of commodity strategy.

“OPEC’s leadership is cognizant of the risks posed by failing to reach a deal,” Croft wrote in a report. Should a deal be reached, Croft said oil prices could climb back to $US55 per barrel.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet on Wednesday, November 30 in Vienna to establish the terms of its first production cut in eight years.

Commonwealth Bank

News: CBA Deposit Interest Rates Cuts Hit Savers

Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has cut a range of term deposit interest rates for the second time since August.

The bank blamed the cuts, which took effect last week, on changes in credit markets and the globally low- interest rate.

The rate cuts apply to six-term deposit products, spanning from three months to five years, by 5 to 15 basis points.

“The reason we have made changes to interest rates on some deposit accounts is due to the record-low interest rate environment, changes in underlying funding costs in local and international funding markets, and competitive conditions that affect the interest rates we are able to pay,” said Clive van Horen, executive general manager of retail products and strategy at CBA.

In August, CBA raised deposit rates and marketed it as a win for savers after the Australia’s big four banks passed on half of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s rate cuts to mortgage holders.

CBA reversed these cuts in September, and ANZ, NAB, and Westpac followed suit in October.

Stockmarket: Major US Indexes Close on Record Highs

All three major US stock indexes have closed on record highs on Monday night, following a rise in commodity and technology shares.

S&P energy index jumped 2.2 per cent, while .SPLRCT technology index rose 1.1 per cent.

Facebook increased 4 per cent to $US121.77 after announcing a $6-billion share buyback program on Friday.

LifeLock rose 14.7 per cent to $US23.18 following Symantec’s announcement to purchase the company for $US2.3 billion.

Applied Micro Circuits also increased 11.7 per cent after Macom Tech announced a $US770 million takeover of the company.

Oil prices have risen after Iran and Russia indicated that an OPEC deal could be reached in a Vienna meeting next week.

 

Markets at 8:40am (AEDT):

  • ASX SPI 200 futures +0.7pc to 5,393
  • AUD: 73.65 US cents, 69.31 euro cents, 59.00 British pence, 81.62 Japanese yen, $NZ1.0429
  • US: Dow Jones +0.47pc at 18,957, S&P500 +0.75pc at 2,198, NASDAQ +0.89pc at 5,369
  • Europe: FTSE +0.03pc at 6,778, DAX +0.19pc at 10,685, Eurostoxx +0.29pc at 325
  • Commodities: Brent oil +4.8pc at $US49.11/barrel, spot gold +0.41pc at $US1,213.20/ounce, iron ore -$US2.00 at $US70.50/tonne