Category archive: Markets

Trump’s Cancellation of North Korea Summit Sends Markets Down

US and European stocks fell after US president Donald Trump cancelled a planned June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On Thursday morning, Trump cancelled the June 12 Singapore meeting, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility” even though North Korea followed through on its pledge to destroy tunnels at its nuclear test site.

The Dow Jones fell 75.05 points (0.3 per cent) to finish at 24,811.76 while the S&P dipped by 5.53 points (0.2 per cent) to close at 2,727.76. Nasdaq also dropped 1.53 points (0.02 per cent) to 7,424.43.

European bourses had a sharp dip, with London and Frankfurt down by almost one per cent each.

The markets were also impacted by Trump’s order of investigation into vehicle part imports, which could lead to tariffs on foreign auto goods. US carmakers such as General Motors and Ford rose with 1.4 and 1.5 per cent respectively.

Rio Tinto’s Climate Change Resolution Marks a Significant Shift in Investor Culture

Anita Foerster, University of Melbourne and Jacqueline Peel, University of Melbourne

What does the advocacy group the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) have in common with the Local Government Super fund, the Church of England Pensions Board, and the Seventh Swedish National Pension Fund?

Quite a lot, it seems. These three institutional investors joined with the ACCR to co-file a shareholder resolution on climate change at mining giant Rio Tinto’s Australian annual general meeting in Melbourne yesterday. While Rio’s board advised shareholders to vote against the resolution, there was a very healthy showing of 18.3% shareholders voting in support (over 20% including abstentions).

The resolution called on Rio to review and comprehensively report on its membership of industry associations such as the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA). The MCA’s pro-coal political lobbying has been distinctly at odds with the position of companies such as Rio, which publicly support measures to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement.




Read more:
Is BHP really about to split from the Minerals Council’s hive mind?


This alliance between civil society and institutional investors is significant for several reasons.

Institutional investors (large investors such as superannuation funds which pool money to buy shares and other assets) are increasingly concerned about the long-term resilience of their investments to the business risks posed by climate change.

For an energy-hungry miner such as Rio, these risks include changing energy prices and markets, as well as operational disruptions caused by climate impacts such as storms, floods, and droughts.

Investors want companies to disclose these risks fully and to outline how they will manage them to maintain company value over the long term. As the Rio resolution suggests, they also want companies to be transparent and consistent in their approach to climate change. Paying multimillion-dollar memberships for industry associations that lobby against climate action is inconsistent with the long-term investment goals of such shareholders.

New phenomenon

Shareholder resolutions on climate change are a relatively new phenomenon in Australia. In the United States, however, there is a long history of using resolutions to pressure companies to address human rights abuses and change their approach to issues like climate change.

In Australia, advocacy groups such as ACCR (and its counterpart Market Forces) have taken up this tool more recently and lodged resolutions to Australian banks, utilities, oil and gas companies, insurers, and now the big miners, asking for improved disclosure and better management of climate risks.

What’s more, institutional investors are increasingly backing these requests. This latest resolution to Rio Tinto is also reportedly supported by key voting advisors ACSI and Regnan, as well as other major Australian super funds.

As a result, it marks a significant shift in investor culture in Australia, signalling an increased willingness to engage proactively and publicly on environmental, social and governance issues.

Compared with the US and UK, shareholders in Australia have more limited rights to bring resolutions to an AGM expressing their views or requesting that certain actions be undertaken by company management. Australian court decisions have upheld a strict division of powers between company management and shareholders. Nonbinding advisory resolutions on matters that interfere with company management are not permitted. This means shareholders must lodge a special resolution to change the company constitution to allow them to put forward an advisory resolution on a substantive matter such as climate change.

This is not only clunky and inefficient, but also acts as a significant deterrent for investors to support a substantive resolution with which they would otherwise concur. There are renewed calls for law reform, widely supported by institutional investors and also, increasingly, by some of the companies facing these resolutions, to change the law to allow for a more consistent and orderly approach in Australia.

Do these resolutions actually change behaviour?

From their brief history in Australia so far, it appears that shareholder resolutions on climate change, together with a range of other influences, do have the potential to drive change. Many Australian companies that have faced these resolutions so far have responded with significant improvements in climate risk disclosure and management.

Santos recently released its first Climate Change Report; AGL has developed a long term energy transition strategy; and BHP Billiton (which faced a similar resolution to Rio Tinto on its membership of industry associations in 2017) has announced its withdrawal from the World Coal Association and reviewed its other industry association memberships, including the MCA.

While these developments are undoubtedly the result of many factors – including technology and market developments, behind-the-scenes engagement with investors on climate risks, and increased pressure from financial institutions and regulators – it seems that shareholder resolutions can help to focus a company’s attention on ensuring its climate stance is defensible to shareholders. The impact of these resolutions in Australia may also be a function of their relative novelty compared with other jurisdictions such as the United States.




Read more:
Why has BHP distanced itself from legal threat to environment groups?


This week’s resolution at Rio Tinto signals a coming of age for investor engagement on climate change in Australia. Shareholder resolutions have clearly become an important part of the toolbox for civil society in Australia seeking to influence corporate decision making on climate change.

As mainstream investors come on board with these resolutions, their potential impact is heightened considerably. For their part, Australian institutional investors seem to be increasingly willing to stand behind calls for better disclosure and management of climate risks by the companies in which they invest, including by forming new alliances and supporting the use of these more activist tools.

The ConversationIn a country with a relatively conservative approach to investor engagement, these are important cultural shifts. They offer promising signs that Australian businesses and investors are taking a more considered and proactive approach on climate risks.

Anita Foerster, Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne and Jacqueline Peel, Professor of Environmental and Climate Law, University of Melbourne

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

Lachlan Fearnley Brisbane

Brisbane House Price Growth Slides to a 5-Year Low

Home prices in Brisbane have fallen, leading the annual growth to drop to a five-year low.

According to the latest Domain Group’s quarterly house price report released in late April, median house prices were down 0.4 per cent across the area, while unit prices dropped by 1.9 per cent.

Alex Jordan of McGrath Paddington told Domain that changes in Sydney might have influenced buyer activity in Brisbane. “I think the change to Sydney’s market is affecting our confidence,” Jordan said. “When Sydney is going up, we look at them as a leading indicator, so when they turn, confidence in our market also goes down.”

This is despite the fact that the city made the latest Knight Frank Global Residential Cities Index as one of the world’s cities with highest home price growth last month. Brisbane achieved the 100th rank with a growth of 2.1 per cent in the past 12 months, beating cities like Beijing and London.

However, local agents claimed that sales were robust for Brisbane real estate. “Overall, the data might show not much is happening but in certain areas, there will be a real momentum and demand driving things along,” said Lachlan Walker, advisory director at Place. “We’re also a very seasonal city when it comes to property — traditionally things are quieter in the March quarter and September quarter.”

Noosa’s Property Market Growth Continues

Noosa real estate market has continued to grow, thanks to limited land supply and increasing demand from international visitors and expats.

The median house price in the suburb grew by 6.2 per cent in 2017, just around $15,000 under Brisbane LGA’s median price.

In February, a record $22 million deal was made for a seven-bedroom beachfront estate at 21-23 Webb Road. Only two weeks earlier, Pat and Lara Rafter’s beachside mansion was sold for $18 million. In November, a property in Noosa’s north shore and another at Noosaville each sold for over $10 million.

Michelle van der Splinter, sales agent at Tom Offermann Real Estate said Noosa’s performance was at its best over this summer season.

“Wealthy sea-changers, those from interstate and overseas, make up nearly half of our interested buyers for top end houses along the beachfront and canals, and are adding to the strengthening market,” said van der Splinter.

Offermann himself said the tourist destination’s attraction reaches way beyond the local population. “Many think of it as a northern suburb of Sydney; even ‘Toorak in shorts’ for Melburnians,” he said. “But expats from London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore have been very active in the past year.”

Real Estate Institute of Queensland CEO Antonia Mercorella said Noosa’s natural topography is what makes the property market both desirable and limited in supply. “Noosa’s world-class beaches, stunning natural bushland settings and wonderful warm community are factors that are fanning the flames of buyer demand,” said Mercorella.

“It is inevitable that this will push up prices.”

Do You Really Need Private Health Insurance? Here’s What You Need to Know Before Deciding

Sophie Lewis, UNSW and Karen Willis, La Trobe University

Every year at the end of March and early in April, the 11 million Australians who have private health insurance receive notification that premiums are increasing.

Premiums will increase by an average of 3.95% from April 1 and will vary with the insurer and the product. The increase is lower than previous years but still higher than any wage growth, leaving consumers wondering if they should give it up or downgrade to save money.


Read more:
Private health insurance premium increases explained in 14 charts


Why go private?

Australia has a universal health care system, Medicare. Health care is available to all and is financed, in part, through a 2% tax on our wages (the Medicare levy). Access to general practitioners and public hospitals are just some of the benefits.

The Commonwealth government encourages Australians to have private health insurance. It imposes penalties for not taking it out (paying more income tax: the Medicare levy surcharge) and offers incentives for those who do (rebates on premiums).

Some 45.8% of Australians have private health insurance, a rise from 31% in 1999.

Australians have different reasons for taking out private health insurance. For some, it makes financial sense to take out policies to avoid paying the Medicare levy surcharge.


Read more:
Explainer: why do Australians have private health insurance?


Others choose to take out policies to avoid waiting times for elective treatment (predominantly surgery); to choose their own specialist or hospital; or to have the option of a private room, better food or more attractive facilities.

Some people perceive that private health insurance will give them access to better care in the private system. Many are fearful they won’t get the services they need in the public system.

Shorter waits than the public system

A universal health system is based on people with the most clinical need gaining access to the services required.

Most emergency treatment is provided in public hospitals. The case is different for “non-urgent” or elective surgery, with patients encouraged to use their private health insurance, mainly because of waiting times for such surgery in the public system.

Elective surgery waiting times for public hospitals vary according to whether patients are publicly or privately funded. In 2015-2016, the median waiting time (the time within which 50% of all patients are admitted) was 42 days for public patients, 20 days for patients who used their private health insurance to fund their admission, and 16 days for those who self-funded their treatment.

Bear in mind, however, that waiting times vary according to clinical urgency. In 2016-17 in New South Wales, 98% of public patients were admitted within the clinically recommended time frame.

Differences in waiting times also vary according to the type of procedure. In 2015-2016, cardiothoracic (heart) surgery had a median waiting time of 18 days for public patients and 16 days for all other patients. In contrast, the median wait for public patients needing total knee replacement was 203 days, and 67 days for all other patients.

The question of choice

Choice of provider is a leading reason people take out private health insurance.

The idea that consumers should have choice in the services they receive has been promoted by government and private health insurance companies for some years, with great success. Many consumers now believe that more choice is better and private health insurance is an “enabler of choice”.

But do people really have choice? Choice is not equally distributed, and not everyone with private health insurance gets the choices they desire.


Read more:
Private health insurance and the illusion of choice


Private health insurers reserve the right to restrict benefits, or provide maximum benefits for using their “preferred providers”. This, in fact, limits the choices consumers can make.

A recent example of this is the announcement from Bupa that, from August 1, members will face higher out-of-pocket costs in private hospitals that don’t have a special relationship with the company, and some procedures will be excluded from particular policies.

Finding the best policy

If you decide to keep your private health insurance, make sure you’re getting the best deal on a policy that’s right for you. Shop around for a policy that meets your needs.

Take note of what is excluded. If you are thinking about starting a family, you may want to look at whether obstetrics care is covered. For those who are older, inclusions such as hip replacements and cataract removal may be more important.

The Australian government website PrivateHealth.gov.au or the Choice health insurance finder are good places to start. These include all registered health funds in Australia and allow you to compare what is covered in each policy.

Other “free” comparison sites may compare only some health funds and policies, or earn a fee per sale from insurers.


Read more:
Here’s what’s actually driving up health insurance premiums (hint: it’s not young people dropping off)


Before taking out extras cover, see whether you are better off to self-insure: setting aside money for if and when you need to pay for extras such as dental or optical care.

Review your policy each year and talk to your health insurance fund about your changing needs. Seek redress if something goes wrong.

If you need a procedure, find out the waiting period in the public system, rather than assuming it will be quicker in the private system. Check the out-of-pocket costs if you choose to use your private health insurance. Then you can assess whether the price tag is worth getting your surgery a few weeks earlier.

The Conversation* This article originally said more than half of Australians had private health insurance. This has now been corrected to 45.8%.

Sophie Lewis, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW and Karen Willis, Professor, Allied Health Research, Melbourne Health, LaTrobe University, La Trobe University

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

Should You Buy Off the Plan?

More off the plan houses and apartments are on the market today – but are they truly a good investment? We lay down the facts.

The Positives

The first off the plan properties to be released are usually offered at cheaper prices than the established ones, as the developers need cash fast to begin the project. This is great if you’re looking for a more competitive price and can afford to wait.

You can also use the time needed to finish building the property to reorganise your finances and moving out plans.

In some states and territories, you can also claim stamp duty concessions for the purchase of off the plan properties, as local governments are looking to support development of new residential buildings. There are also some tax deductions for investors.

The sooner you get involved in an off the plan transaction, the more likely it is that you can customise your property, such as the location, the floor plans and the finishes.

The Risks

Even with the most meticulous plan, the resulting product may be different from what you expected. The finish date can also be delayed, meaning that you may need to reschedule and change your plans.

Off the plan properties may not be the most profitable investment, too. According to BIS Oxford Economics, most off the plan buyers who resell in a few years are either facing loss or getting less capital gain than those who buy established properties.

Tips

Research the developer to evaluate their credibility and trustworthiness. Visit the site in person to see how living in the area will be like.

Always read the fine print and double check the contract. Things to look out for include the cooling off period, deposit, estimated completion time, defects, deposit and insurance.

Australia’s Housing Market is Worth $6.87 Trillion

Australia’s housing market is now valued at $6.87 trillion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS house price index found that the average Australian residential property prices increased by 1 per cent in the three months to December, gaining almost $93 billion. The average home price in Australia is now $686,700.

Despite this record number, the market is finally slowing down after years of growth. The national annual average gain of residential property prices in eight capital cities now stands at 5 per cent, down from 10.2 per cent rise in the year to June.

In the year to December 2017, Sydney property prices grew 3.8 per cent while Canberra rose 5.7 per cent, Melbourne 10.2 per cent and Hobart 13.1 per cent. The only capital experiencing decline was Darwin with 6.3 per cent year-on-year fall.

When is the Best Time of the Year to Buy Property?

As 2017 is ending soon, it is the perfect time to set your financial goals and plans for the next year. This might include buying property. However, what time of the year would be the best to purchase real estate in Australia?

Experts vary on their opinion. Advantage Property Consulting director Frank Valentic said the end of the year marks the “prime buying time”, due to the lead-up to the Christmas holiday.

“At this time of the year, particularly leading up to Christmas, some vendors are getting very keen to be done and dusted … They want to get a deal done this side of Christmas and go off on holidays and not worry about inspections and cleaning the house,” Valentic told news.com.au.

John Cunningham, president at Real Estate Institute NSW, also has similar views. “Many sellers will have already bought their next home and will be under a lot of pressure to sell before the real estate industry shuts down over January,” Cunningham told the Daily Telegraph.

However, the right time to buy also depends on other matters, such as seasons and personal conditions. For example, spring and summer are the best times to inspect coastal houses, while winter and autumn would be better suited for regional villas.

If you need more advice on property buying, consider consulting local real estate agents to find out more information about market trends and best purchasing times.

New Zealand Experience Shows Same-Sex Marriage Could Provide Huge Economic Boost for Australia

Andrew Gorman-Murray, Western Sydney University

Even though it’s still uncertain as to when Australian same-sex couples will be able legally to wed, New Zealand’s example shows how much this could be worth to our economy.

New Zealand has long been a destination for international wedding tourism. This was boosted from August 2013, when New Zealand same-sex couples could also marry. The majority of same-sex weddings between overseas couples conducted in New Zealand have been between Australian couples unable to marry at home.

In 2016, 2,490 heterosexual couples from other countries celebrated marriages or civil unions in New Zealand, comprising 11% of all heterosexual couples’ ceremonies. The proportion of same-sex couples from other countries entering into marriage or civil union in New Zealand has been even higher.

In 2016, 49% of same-sex marriages or civil unions in New Zealand were between overseas couples, and Australians accounted for 58% of these couples. Altogether, Australian couples comprised 29% of same-sex marriages or civil unions celebrated in New Zealand in 2016.

The figures for 2016 are not an outlier: since 2013, Australian couples have made up 25% or more of same-sex weddings celebrated per annum.

All the business of marriage

This phenomenon has both social and economic implications. Trans-Tasman same-sex wedding tourism underlines a real desire for marriage by Australian same-sex couples.

New Zealand wedding operators have been willing and able to absorb this demand. While of course the significance of marriage lies in the couple’s enduring commitment and love, supported by family, friends and community, there is also tangible economic value from the wedding celebration.

The wedding industry is a complex network of small and medium businesses. It includes everything from planners, celebrants to florists, photographers and entertainers. Beyond the ceremony itself, the industry also includes operators of honeymoon destinations.

In 2015, ANZ economists Cherelle Murphy and Mandeep Kaura crunched some numbers on the economic benefits of same-sex marriage in Australia. They used 2011 Census data on the number of same-sex couples in Australia, and we might update their estimate using the more recent 2016 Census figures.

Murphy and Kaura estimated the average spend on a wedding ceremony and reception at A$51,000. The 2016 Census counted 46,800 same-sex couples.

They applied other survey findings from 2010, and further assumed that out of the half of all same-sex couples who will want to marry, half will do so in the year after same-sex marriage is legalised.

The sentiments expressed in the 2010 survey findings may have shifted since then, especially in light of the marriage equality postal survey. But let’s use that proportion for consistency.

We might suppose 11,700 same-sex couples will marry within one year of the legalisation of same-sex marriage, spending on average A$51,000, totalling almost A$597 million dollars in wedding and reception costs.

This does not include honeymoon spending. For those couples choosing to honeymoon within Australia, we can add spending on travel and accommodation.

A 2015 survey by Bride To Be magazine found the average spend on wedding and honeymoon at A$65,482. This figure is clearly biased towards dedicated bridal magazine readers – those who might be willing to save up and fork out more for their perfect wedding and honeymoon.

Arguably many would not be able or willing to spend this amount. Nevertheless, A$65,482 would be equivalent to an annual salary for many, so this is suggestive of how lucrative some segments of the wedding and honeymoon market are.

Apart from what the couple (and their families) spend on the wedding and honeymoon, we might also consider guest spending. Obviously, purchasing wedding gifts contributes to the retail sector.

Out-of-town guests also have to pay for travel, accommodation, food and beverage, and other expenses. Some couples opt for destination weddings, with benefits for tourism operators.

Some operators hope that Australia, like New Zealand, might become a destination for international same-sex wedding tourism, and so provide a boost to the tourism industry.

In addition to this, Murphy and Kaura found other economic benefits of same-sex marriage, such as increased state government revenue from marriage licence fees and ceremonies in state-run births, deaths and marriages registries.

The ConversationWith the debate on same-sex marriage now turning to whether or not businesses will be able to refuse couples based on moral objections, it seems at least the economic case incentive is there for these businesses to say “yes”.

Andrew Gorman-Murray, Professor of Geography, Western Sydney University

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

Trouble in Eden? Apple Stocks Drop

Yes, Apple stock prices have experienced a few ups and downs since the announcement of the upcoming iPhone X with certain details seemingly leaving investors not so confident in what Apple are about to bring to the table, and when. But, according to CBA, Apple stocks usually rise or fall the day of their product announcements then drops just after the launch before gaining traction a few weeks post launch and holding fairly steady from then on. Since the stocks have dropped by 0.90%, they’re still within the predictable ‘OK’ area and seem to be following the pattern so far.

Since most have forgone replacing their devices in anticipation of the upcoming Apple launches so spirits and stocks were at a predictable high withe with the announcement of the new Apple watch but dropped after the announcement of the iPhone 8 and extensive leaks of the iPhone X. Factors such as the questionable new features like the facial recognition and the potential security issues it implies, rumours of production delays for the new OLED screen and the launch delay until the next fiscal year, seem to be major contributors to the stocks’ recent drops.

Nonetheless, Apple is a brand that has built itself into a brand well known for its exclusivity with a very loyal market, often implied whenever you here ‘Apple user vs Android User’. The ‘us and them’ mentality has always been a subtle yet convincing selling point for them and there is no doubt that the queues for the iPhone 8 will still be as long as ever, with crazy campers and maybe a broken screen more.