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Here’s a late column by The Age‘s economics editor Peter Martin, in which he wonders whether the entire country will follow booming coal prices:
What if, suddenly, we were out of the woods?
Quietly, the mining industry has just doubled the price of coking coal. Instead of getting $US81 ($107) per tonne as it did back in March, for the next three months it’ll get $US200 per tonne from Japan, the most in four years. And Japan has reason to be grateful. The so-called spot price has surged even higher, to $US213 per tonne.
If it stays there, or even near there, a good chunk of Scott Morrison’s budget problems will have vanished, just as they vanished for Peter Costello during the mining boom at the start of the century.
The Committee for the Economic Development of Australia believes Morrison needs to boost the budget by $17 billion per year if he is to get the deficit down to zero by the end of the decade. After a quarter-century of economic growth, that’s probably where it should be, if not in surplus.
To date he’s shown himself to be incapable of much at all. The much-vaunted “omnibus savings bill” he has just got through the Senate saves $6 billion over four years. The net effect on the budget won’t be much. It’ll be improved if his superannuation tax hikes get through the Senate, and harmed if his company tax cuts get through.
The explosion in the price of coking coal could deliver much more. Access Economics says for every $US1 the price rockets, the budget deficit will improve $65 million. Multiply that by the number of dollars the price has rocketed and you get a boost of $7 billion per year if the new price holds. And that’s just for coking coal. The iron ore price is up 40 per cent this year. The price of thermal coal (the stuff that makes electricity) is up 55 per cent. It’s not bad for an industry that had been shutting mines and laying off workers.
Quietly, the mining industry has just doubled the price of coking coal. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Australian stocks recovered from an early resources-led slump to close only marginally lower, as investors picked up Telstra shares and were cheered by another buyback announcement from CSL.
A disappointing start to US earnings season, a drop in the oil price as well as another jump in the greenback had combined to drag down Wall Street’s S&P 500 index by 1.2 per cent, triggering a leap in Wall Street’s “fear gauge”, the CBOE Market Volatility index, which ended the day up 15 per cent.
The weak leads cast a gloom over the local market at the start of trade, pulling the S&P/ASX 200 index down as much as 0.8 per cent in early trade. But bargain hunting in Telstra, which ended 1 per cent higher, and a positive market reaction to CSL‘s latest share buyback sparked a turnaround and the benchmark index ended the day just 0.1 per cent lower at 5474.6.
CSL, which suffered a 25 per cent shareholder vote, or “first strike” against its remuneration report at the company’s AGM on Wednesday, announced a $500 million buyback and said its nearly completed previous buyback over $1 billion had boosted earnings per share by 25 per cent by June. Shares ended 1 per cent higher.
The biggest drag on the index came from the materials sector, which dropped 1.1 per cent on falling commodity prices and as UBS turned more cautious on the sector, which is up 42 per cent this year, against the ASX200’s much more modest 6 per cent gain.
The broker downgraded BHP Billiton and South32 to neutral, while Whitehaven Coal – which has quadrupled in price this year – was cut to sell.
“We believe all three are quality companies, but see risks as manganese and coal prices are at unsustainable levels, with the factors that drove prices up reversing,” UBS analysts led by Glyn Lawcock said.
The shares were among the day’s biggest losers, with BHP falling 1.5 per cent, South32 down 1.6 per cent and Whitehaven losing 2.1 per cent.
UBS switched its diversified miner preference from BHP to Rio Tinto, which lost 0.9 per cent on Wednesday, saying that the rise in iron ore prices, if sustained through the end of the year, could spell additional returns for Rio in 2017.
Shares of wagering companies Tabcorp and Tatts both jumped, 2.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively, after New South Wales reversed a ban on greyhound racing that was due to start next July.
Winners and losers today. Photo: Bloomberg
Samsung Electronics is corporate royalty in South Korea. It’s also a company recognised for its marketing smarts and engineering savvy worldwide, so much so that consulting firm Interbrand ranked it as the world’s seventh most valuable in its 2016 survey, ahead of Amazon and Mercedes-Benz.
So how is it that the pride of South Korea has so botched the recall of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after complaints of exploding batteries — and a ton of negative publicity by the media in the US, Europe and China, not to mention the vast echo chamber of social media?
When it recalled phones last month, it assured consumers it had diagnosed the problem and that its replacements were safe. Not so it turns out: Customers reported the lithium batteries in new phones went up in flames too, in some instances. On Tuesday, Samsung took the dramatic step of killing off the Note 7 for good.
“This is a calamity,” said Srinivas Reddy, director at the Center for Marketing Excellence at Singapore Management University. “The threat for Samsung is how soon they can get back. If they don’t get back soon, it provides a vacuum for others to creep in.”
The company has not said how many new or replacement phones will be affected. Analysts estimated that the original recall would cost between $US1 billion and $US2 billion, but that figure will now certainly rise. Chung Chang Won, an analyst at Nomura, estimated in a research note before the company’s announcement the worst-case scenario of Samsung terminating the Note 7 would cost the company about $US5 billion in operating profit through 2017.
The move sent Samsung shares down 8 per cent on Tuesday, vaporising $US17 billion in market value. The stock dropped as much as 3.3 percent today before steadying but is still more than 10 per cent down this week. Samsung’s sterling brand image built up over decades is at risk unless the management team led by vice chairman Jay Y. Lee, 48, doesn’t get out in front of the crisis soon.
The pound is bouncing back, halting a four-day slide against the US dollar, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May accepted that parliament should be allowed to vote on her Brexit plan.
Sterling climbed as much as 1.4 per cent against the greenback, the most on an intraday basis since September 1, and was up against all its 31 major peers. A gauge of the US dollar retreated from a two-month high that was reached Tuesday.
“Given how aggressively short the pound the market was positioned, the prospect of UK parliament at least discussing the downside of a ‘hard Brexit’ has encouraged substantial profit-taking on those positions,” said Westpac senior strategist Sean Callow.
The pound is up 1.1 per cent to $US1.2258, rallying from a 4.9 per cent slide over the previous four days. On Friday, sterling plunged to the lowest level since 1985 versus the greenback in a move that traders blamed on possible human error and algorithms.
Theresa May’s latest move to allow parliament a say in Brexit negotiations has calmed investors. Photo: Bloomberg Back to top
What he said…
*AUSTRALIA SELLS A$7.6BLN OF 30-YEAR BONDS IN BIGGEST EVER DEAL
— Martin Whetton (@martin_whetton) October 12, 2016
UBS analysts have taken stock for metal and mining stocks at three-quarter time in what has been a blockbuster 2016, and have decided that it’s time to get a little more cautious on the sector.
The sector is up 42 per cent this year, against the ASX 200’s 6 per cent gain.
As we reported early in the day, the broker downgraded BHP and South32 to neutral, while Whitehaven Coal – which has quadrupled in price this year – gets cut to sell.
“We believe all three are quality companies, but see risks as manganese and coal prices are at unsustainable levels, with the factors that drove prices up reversing,” the analysts write.
Those “factors” that have been boosting prices have to do with long-awaited lower production levels rather than increased hunger for resources, the analysts say.
“It is very apparent that demand has not been the cause of the rise, but curtailed supply,” they write. “Either through voluntary reductions (manganese, alumina, aluminium, oil) or government enforced (coal).”
“The question now is will these prices hold or will supply increase. The Chinese government seem determined to cap coal prices, easing supply restrictions. On the flip side, we don’t believe the industry or governments want to revisit the January lows.”
Higher commodity prices, cost cutting, and lower capex has all helped the powerful 2016 sector performance, the UBS team note. But now, with the sector up strongly, the potential upside to the analysts’ price target have come down. You can see that pretty clearly in the BHP chart below.
“We switch our diversified preference to Rio, with a view that a sustained iron ore price through year-end could see additional returns in 2017,” they write.
The other stock which keeps its buy rating is Iluka Resources.
“After four years of declining prices, for both zircon and titanium dioxide feedstock, we believe prices are now in the process of rising or about to rise (depending on the commodity and end market) over the next couple of years,” the analysts wrote a few weeks back.
At the current rate the ASX could even end in the black, reversing a gloomy start.
The benchmark index is down 0.3 per cent, well off the day’s early lows, with gains in CSL, Telstra and three of the four big banks (ex NAB) contributing to the afternoon recovery.
Miners and energy stocks remain the biggest losers of the session, but most have also retreated from early lows.
ANZ and NAB are the best bets for investors in the banking sector over the next 12 months in an overall sharemarket which may only creep ahead by about 5 per cent by late 2017, says the head of Australian equities for global investment giant T.Rowe Price.
The two Melbourne-based banks which have more of a traditional skew to business banking are likely to perform better than CBA and Westpac, which have greater exposure to residential lending as Australian house prices hit a peak.
Randal Jenneke, head of Australian equities with T.Rowe Price, the US firm which has more than $776 billion in funds under management around the world, says there isn’t likely to be any substantial housing price slide in Australia which will feed into tougher times for the big banks.
“The business banks are better positioned,” Jenneke said. “They are exposed to the better part of the sector”.
CBA shares have come off about 13 per cent since the start of 2016 to around $74 and the traditional premium it has been awarded by investors would keep retreating, with the PE multiples for all four likely to keep converging.
Jenneke said overall, the big bank share prices were at reasonable levels now, but it was likely that others would follow the lead of ANZ in paring back dividend payout ratios.
ANZ and NAb are less exposed to residential housing than CBA and Westpac. Photo: Joe Armao
Shock resistant Australia will be the fastest growing triple A-rated commodity exporting economy in 2016, Moody’s predicts.
The forecast is a reflection of the local economy’s resilience to sharp commodity price declines, as export volumes have increased strongly despite falls in metals prices, and the services sector has benefited from a weaker domestic currency, the ratings agency says.
“The weaker Australian dollar and lower interest rates have allowed it to take an increasing market share of rising global demand for tourism and education services,” Moody’s says.
Moody’s expects Australia’s GDP growth to continue to outperform Canada and Norway, and come in at a similar rate to New Zealand (all triple-A in the Moody’s world).
But it’s not all good news, as Moody’s expects Australia’s fiscal deficit to remain wider for longer than the government projects, “constraints to fiscal consolidation are likely to persist”.
“Although Australia’s general government debt will rise as a result, to around 41 per cent of GDP in 2017 – higher than in New Zealand and Norway – it will remain much lower than in Canada, and other Aaa-rated sovereigns.”
Moody’s notes that all four countries have experienced rapid increases in house prices and household debt, exposing their economies and financial systems to negative shocks.
“Nonetheless, the intrinsic financial strength of Australia’s banks – somewhat higher than in Canada, New Zealand and Norway – lowers the potential cost of government support to the banking system in the event of stress.”
Sky-high prices and worrying levels of household debt leave the housing market vulnerable, but it would take a recession or much higher interest rates to spark a crash, says AMP Capital Investors head of investment strategy Shane Oliver says.
Oliver lists four reasons why a house price crash is currently unlikely:
- No oversupply: We have not seen a generalised housing oversupply and at the current rate we won’t go into oversupply until around 2017-18.
- No stress: Despite talk of mortgage stress the reality is that debt interest payments relative to income are around 2004 levels.
- No low-doc boom: Australia has still not seen anything like the deterioration in lending standards seen in other countries prior to the GFC. In fact in recent years there has been a decline in low-doc loans and a reduction in loans with high loan to valuation ratios.
- No national bubble: While property prices have surged 60% and 40% over the last four years in Sydney and Melbourne, they have fallen in Perth to 2007 levels and have seen only moderate growth in the other capital cities.
Possible triggers for a property crash, ie falls of 20 per cent or more, include a recession, a surge in interest rates or property oversupply, but Oliver doesn’t see any of these factors in the near future.
Oliver concedes that the surging supply of apartments and the continuing strength of the Sydney and Melbourne property markets pose an increasing risk, adding he expects some price correction over the mid term.
“Average dwelling prices in these cities are likely to see another cyclical 5-10 per cent price downswing around 2018, with unit prices in oversupplied areas likely to decline 15-20 per cent.”
The combination of high house prices, low rental yields and a coming surge in the supply of apartments mean property investors need to be careful, Oliver warns: “Best for investors to focus on undersupplied, less loved parts of the property market.”
Less than a week after raising $US3 billion in a private debt sale, Deutsche Bank has returned for another $US1.5 billion, offering yields that were more than twice what it paid to borrow a year ago.
The German lender issued the debt to mostly the same investors who bought last week’s offering, Bloomberg reports quoting a person with knowledge of the matter.
But it paid a slightly smaller premium this time around, with the deal priced at 290 basis points above borrowing benchmarks, the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public, told Bloomberg. The premium on the October 7 sale was 300 basis points.
The debt offering was the first for Deutsche Bank after the US Justice Department demanded $US14 billion to settle claims that it misled investors over mortgage-backed securities before the American housing crisis. The claim has fuelled concerns about the viability of the bank.
While the bank is showing it can quickly raise funding, it’s proving to be expensive. The $US4.5 billion notes pay a coupon of 4.25 per cent and are due in 2021.
Overnight, worries about the rise in Deutsche’s short-term borrowing costs weighed a bit on the bank’s share price, which dropped 1.6 per cent to 12.31 euros.
And investor nerves weren’t soothed by a report in the Financial Times this week that Deutsche was given special treatment in the EU’s banking stress tests, the results of which were announced in July.
A red road traffic light stands illuminated next to the logo of the Deutsche Bank’s offices in Berlin. Global markets are increasingly focused the travails of Europe’s biggest bank. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi
Time for a lunchtime update and the ASX has picked itself up off the mat and managed to claw back around half of the morning’s losses as banks rallied from early falls, but the benchmark remains 22 points, or 0.4 per cent, lower at 5458.
Miners are still well lower after a tough night for commodities. BHP is off 2.2 per cent, with UBS downgrading the stock to “neutral”. Rio is off 1.6 per cent and Fortescue and South32 by 3.4 per cent. Energy stocks are also retracing some of yesterday’s enthusiasm, with Origin off 2.9 per cent, Oil Search 2.5 per cent and Woodside 1.3 per cent.
The negativity surrounding resources stems at least in part to the US dollar moving sharply higher overnight as investors ramped up their worries around a December rate rise by the Fed. Some of that US currency move has unwound through today’s session, with the Aussie recovering some ground against the greenback to last fetch 75.7 US cents. The pound has moved smartly higher today after being battered over recent days.
The mood is also negative across the region, with Japanese and Chinese stocks lower.
Helping prop up the market, as mentioned, are some limited gains in the big lenders. Westpac is up 0.3 per cent, CBA 0.2 per cent and ANZ 0.1 per cent, while NAB is off 0.4 per cent.
Among stocks in the news, CSL is up 0.5 per cent following its AGM in which the company received a “first strike” against its remuneration policy, but confirmed a $500 million buyback and earnings guidance. Vocus was off as much as 6.8 per cent this morning on news the founder had resigned amid a leadership dispute, but is now off 3.5 per cent.
Tatts and Tabcorp have jumped – by 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent, respectively – following the NSW government’s about-face on greyhound racing.
Aussie 10-year yields continue to move higher to 2.266 per cent. Since September 30 traders have lowered their odds of more easing from the RBA, from a 60 per cent chance of a cut over the next 12 months or so to only 40 per cent.
Winners and losers in the ASX 200. Photo: Bloomberg
It’s been a long property boom. Prices in Australia’s two biggest housing markets have grown rapidly for four years. In that time the median price for a standalone house has jumped by 60 per cent in Sydney and 40 per cent in Melbourne, Domain Group figures show.
But much less attention is given to how rising property values change our behaviour. The housing booms that are so much part of the modern Australian story alter the way we live.
Some house-price driven changes are obvious – like the tendency for young adults to live in the family home for longer than in the past. The momentous shift to higher density living in our big cities is another palpable example.
But the rising cost of housing reshapes behaviour in more subtle ways.
New research for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute by Sydney University economists draws attention to some of these significant but less heralded changes.
They examined more than a decade of data on the assets, borrowings and work patterns of thousands of households to investigate links between house prices, household debt and the jobs market.
One striking discovery was that house price movements have a “clear and consistent” influence on how much some people work. The biggest effect was on older women who own a home. The economists found that for every 10 per cent rise in house price there was an “economically significant” drop in labour force participation by single and partnered women aged 55 and over who own property (although not men). Why? The economists say there is a tendency for females in that age group to use any unexpected wealth gains from house prices to retire early.
Rising property values also affect the work choices made by younger women and men. Those between 20 and 40 years who own property cut back their hours of work, on average, following strong gains in housing wealth. At that formative stage of the family life-cycle many young couples use housing wealth gains to help manage the juggle between work and family.
Illustration: John Shakespeare
Biotechnology company CSL will buy back up to $500 million worth of shares to improve returns and earnings per share.
The announcement comes as chairman John Shine said the company’s $1 billion buyback, announced last October, is 91 per cent complete.
Shine also said the board would endeavour to communicate better about the way in which it is evolving its executive pay model to one suited for a global company after receiving a 25 per cent shareholder vote or “first strike” against its remuneration report.
Chief executive Paul Perreault confirmed the company’s full year guidance for 2016-17 for an 11 per cent rebound in net profit after tax at constant currencies, and 14 per cent growth in trading profits, also at constant currencies.
Perreault said the company expected earnings per share growth to exceed trading profits growth this year. Net profits dipped 10 per cent last year as CSL digested its Novartis acquisition and the northern hemisphere enjoyed a mild flu season.
The latest share buyback was flagged as being under consideration when CSL announced its annual results in August.
Buybacks last year and in previous years have helped boost earnings per share by 26 per cent, Shine told shareholders at the Melbourne Tennis Centre.
Shares are down 0.3 per cent at $105.21.
CSL says buybacks have boosted earnings per share by 25 per cent. Photo: Supplied Back to top
Thousands of aggrieved Slater and Gordon shareholders will be represented in a $250 million-plus class action against the law firm for wrongdoing including allegedly “blindsiding” them with bad news.
Rival law firm Maurice Blackburn will file an open class action on behalf of more than 3000 shareholders, including some of the largest institutional investors, in the Federal Court.
Slater & Gordon shares have tanked as much as 7.1 per cent to 39 cents on the news, snapping four days of gains.
Maurice Blackburn says Slater and Gordon did not disclose information about its finances in a timely manner to shareholders on multiple occasions, leading to investors losing millions of dollars when the firm’s share price tanked in 2015.
“They didn’t just miss their earnings guidance predictions – they were miles off – and that suggests systemic issues across the company,” Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions Andrew Watson said in a written statement.
“To blindside shareholders once is really bad news; if it happens twice, it’s then a farce, but to happen again and again and again – you can understand why shareholders want serious questions answered about the internal corporate governance of the company.”
Watson said the company shocked the share market with multiple bad news that led to more than $2 billion being wiped from the stock’s value in less than a year.
Slater and Gordon is facing a $250 million class action from Maurice Blackburn.
Consumer confidence is still experiencing a remarkable run of stability despite the local and international political events over the past six months.
The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment for October has risen to 102.4 points, up 1.1 per cent from 101.4 points in September. The index has been stable above the 100 mark for the past three months and has risen by 4.7 per cent from its level a year ago.
“This has been despite some significant local events including two rate cuts from the Reserve Bank; a very close election result and the aftermath of the May (federal) budget,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said.
Evans said international events like Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the volatile US presidential election campaign had not shaken confidence, while concerns about China had been toned down and the prices of Australian commodity exports were rising.
“This stability is signalling a sustained lift in consumer sentiment over the last year,” he said. “The average level of the index over this last, stable six months is now 4.9 per cent higher than the average of the same six months a year ago. However, the boost is all in expectations.”
The further rise in the Westpac measure of consumer confidence in October supports other evidence that consumption growth will remain healthy enough over the next few months, said Capital Economics Australia economist Paul Dales.
“That said, the survey does indicate that sentiment towards the housing market is waning.”
Some doubts are creeping in. Photo: Westpac
Bond selloff, poor earnings, commodities falling, as if that wasn’t enough, Wall Street has a new political risk to fret about: a Democrat landslide.
While a president Hillary Clinton is considered a positive for markets, at least when compared to the prospect of a Trump presidency, a Clinton landslide election win that delivers (potentially) anti-business Democrats control of the US Congress seems a less appealing proposition for investors.
Before Trump’s implosion over the past few days, polls were pointing to the combination of a Clinton White House and small-government Republicans retaining their big majority in the House of Representatives. The current Republican-controlled Senate is a toss up.
However, Trump’s toxicity and turmoil in the Republican party after House speaker Paul Ryan distanced himself from the presidential candidate is leading to some speculation a victory by Clinton could be accompanied by big gains of her party in the House.
“There is more discussion that the control in Congress could possibly shift,” said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer of Bryn Mawr Trust in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “The bottom line is that it’s not really priced into the market.”
Wall Street’s big fear is that Democrats would come in with new regulations and less favourable tax plans that the Republican-controlled Congress would have thwarted.
The Democratic policy platform, heavily influenced by Bernie Sanders and his followers, calls for raising taxes on business and the wealthy, a higher minimum wage, more employee family leave and larger spending on social programs.
“Today’s the first day where people said, ‘Wow, what happens if the Republicans lose Congress?’” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. “I think it’s still a far-fetched possibility. There’s no question if Hillary wins that Paul Ryan will get all the support he needs from Republicans.”
Traders mull the possibility of a Clinton landslide and its policy ramifications. Photo: Richard Drew
The bond market sell-off has not soured interest in Australia’s first-ever 30-year bond for which demand has pushed past the $13 billion mark, although the size of the actual offer is likely to be much less than that.
The new bond, which matures March 21, 2047, was launched yesterday and is expected to be finalised today. It has been met with great interest from domestic and international investors.
The sale, managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, follows successful long-term debt raisings by other sovereign borrowers such as Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Italy that are luring yield hungry conservative investors frustrated by near zero rates in most major bond markets.
Traders believe demand is likely to have come from insurance companies eyeing globally attractive long-term rates paid by a triple-A rated borrower, and short-term traders and funds looking to buy securities that will gain in value if a slowdown in China forces further Reserve Bank of Australia rate cuts.
The spread has been set at 3.24 per cent, or 101 basis points above the 10-year yield, which is within the range investors had speculated earlier. ANZ, Citi, Commonwealth Bank, Deutsche Bank, UBS and Westpac are managing the issue.
In it for the long haul.
Shares have slumped at the open, pulled down by miners and energy stocks after commodity prices and Wall Street sunk overnight.
The ASX has lost 0.7 per cent to 5444.1 and the All Ords is down 0.65 per cent at 5527.0.
All sectors are in the red, but materials and energy are leading the falls, down 1.6 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively.
BHP, Rio and South32 have all shed around 2.2 per cent.
After resisting the sell-off in bonds and rising yields for nearly two weeks, US equity markets finally bowed to pressure last night, dropping below the recent trading range, CMC chief market analyst Ric Spooner said.
“Stock markets are becoming nervous about the prospect of rising interest rates against a background of moderate profit growth and relatively high valuations, particularly in the US.”
Investors are also likely to be cautious ahead of the Fed minutes due for release tonight, he said.
“Given how critical the interest rate outlook is for markets at the moment, markets will be focused on the degree of support for a rate hike this year revealed in the Fed minutes.”