Manufacturing - who can help and how
Date: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Author: Henry Thornton
US jobs fail to rise and double dip recession looks more likely.
Europe debt levels coincide with rising fears of the breakup of the Euro, bad debts for banks and forced austerity.
Global economic and financial volatility rules and fear stalk global markets.
There is general agreement that Australian interest rates are on hold at least until global financial volatility declines to the point that reliable economic prediction is again possible.
The government's woes are now so entrenchged that it is having additional negative impact on business and household confidence.
The Reserve Bank has signalled that interest rates are on hold for the forseeable future. I have no argument with that decision. Global financial volatility is worsening global economic uncertainty. While Australia’s overall inflation is predicted to exceed the RBA’s target, this is not by such a margin that great damage will be done if the RBA waits for global uncertainties to be resolved.
If things become sufficiently gruesome, either internationally or domestically, inflation will cease to be a problem and the next move in interest rates might be downward, as some bold souls have predicted.
The topic of Australia's manufacturing capacity has been much discussed in recent weeks, and in particular what opposition leader Tony Abborr calls 'heavy manufacturing' and Henry calls 'strategic manufacturing'.
While free trade is the modern economists’ mantra, the USA, Europe and Japan all protect their agricultural industries. Furthermore, in other strategic areas, including defence, their rules of engagement clearly favour local industry, and why not, one is forced to ask? While-ever the possibility of serious global conflict exists, no sensible nation should rely entirely on global free trade, trade that will immediately be disrupted in any serious conflict.
There are three things Australia can do to promote 'strategic manufacturing', and the first two will help manufacturing generally and other non-mining industries.
The first is to implement a rersponsible fiscal policy. The economy cannot accommodate massive spending on mining as well as wasteful, excessive and unnecessary government spending, and the net result is interest rates higher than they need be, a stronger currency than there need be and the squeeze on non-mining industries that we are now experiencing. This ‘crowding out’ is a major consequence of inadequate fiscal policy and will continue unless and until a responsible government eliminates the excessive government activity.
A second thing that a responsible government could do, having achieved a substantial budget surplus, is to create a sovereign wealth fund that places almost all of its investments offshore. Currency outflows from such a fund will ameliorate the rise in the value of the Australian dollar while building a war chest of spending power for use when the mining boom subsides or Australia is faced with a serious geopolitical risk.
The final thing that a responsible government could do would be to remove impediments to non-mining activity. Cutting useless government activity will do this across all industrial sectors, but for strategic manufacturing I have far more targeted actions in mind. Australia’s current defence establishment is notoriously focused on ‘inter-operability’ with allies, especially our great American allies. The cost is the demise of the ‘inter-operability’ with Australian industry that was so helpful in WWII.
I present three examples of what I regard as inappropriate treatment of Australia’s strategic manufacturing sector.
These concern ther Joint Strike Fighter project, the 'light-weight Bushmaster' project where anti-protection was implemented and the treatment of Metal Storm Ltd, not unlike the attitude of Australia Inc to the locally developed solar energy generation now used widely in China.
There are calls for the RBA to help by going easy with monetary policy, which are clearly wrong.
How can Glenn Stevens and the Reserve Bank help solve the problems of manufacturing, or non-mining industries more generally.? The answer is obvious. Keeping interest rates lower than needed to contain inflation will do nothing to help Australian industry, and inflation will damage all industries.
It is the government's job to implement, the maximum safeguards for manufacturing and indeed for other non-mining industries.
Today we headed for Darwin to put the car on the train to Adelaide.
Mrs Thornton insisted, of course, on the compulsory viewing and route march.
We looked from a 'hide' over a vast lilly-filled lagoon with birds and no doubt man eating salt-water crocodiles hiding beneath the lilly pads.
The walk was through hideously hot dry scrub, but after half an hour or so a nice view over a vast bird nesting area, including multiple Magpie Geese.
The path was quite a way from the billabong, but frequent signs warned that 'crocodiles have been seen close to the paths'. Henry has been reading We of the Never-Never, published in 1902 by Mrs Aeneas Gunn.
Mrs Gunn helped pioneer the region we were travelling through, her husband managing Esley Station until he tragically died after not much more that a year of married bliss.
The book makes fascinating reading more than a century after the events it describes, and is both informative and quite moving.
Mrs T sparked right up on the the road to Darwin as we were passed by a long convoy of military vehicles including tanks, trucks and armoured cars with men in full combat gear behind wicked looking weapons - heading south.
Tomoow the car goes on the Ghan to Adelaide and we head for the airport to fly to Adelaide.
New Age rip-offs #2
Date: Monday, December 10, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
There have been three deveoplments, two of which are totally contradictory and show how in the modern corporation the right hand (senior management) it totally disconnected from the left hand (the worker bees who strive to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances).
1. On 5 November I received an email from xxx-Energy's customer service department. It said: 'I can confirm that your account is currently being investigated. We have referred the account to our billing department to investigate the account and provide a detail (sic) explanation in relation to the account. Once this is completed we will organise a call back to inform you of the outcome.
'We appreciate your patience in relation to this matter'.
So far, there has been no call, and one assumes that the billing department is simply unable to disentangle its impenetrable, possibly scamming, billing system.
2. On 7 December I received a letter from Geoffrey Mendleson, Lawyers, dated 4 December.
Amongst what is no doubt intended to be a deeply threatening letter someone unidentified said the following.
'We act for Probe Collections and their above named client.
'We have been instructed to effect immediate recovery of your outstanding debt owed to xxx-Energy in the amount of $1,310.91 together with our costs in the sum of $143.00.
'The total of these amounts is $1453.91. If payment of the outstanding debt is not received within 7 days of the date of this letter, further recovery action will be undertaken against you without further notice'.
3. As I have been keeping the Energy and Water Ombudsman informed of this matter, I called this morning to discuss. I was told there had been over 60,000 complaints about electricity and water billing this year. The Ombudsman would immediately inform the relevant senior officer of xxx-Energy and require him or her to call me to set up a process to resolve this matter. I have of course, also asked a senior lawyer, a family friend, for advice on this matter, and Mrs Thornton has called the ACCC who told advised her on steps she could take in this matter.
I find this matter deeply distasteful, as from the get-go I have simply sought an explanation of how the repidly escalating numbers on successive bills were achieved.
I am certain that there are other elderly people out there - some even more elderly than Henry, out facing this sort of bullying and that someone has to take a stand.
Saturday Sanity Break, 8 December 2012
Date: Saturday, December 08, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
US stocks rose overnight as jobs growth exceeded expectations and the rate of unemployment fell to 7.7 %
The US added 146,000 jobs in November, the Labour Department reported, up from a downwardly revised 138,000 in October. The November reading topped economists' median forecast of 80,000. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 %t from 7.9 %, compared with economists' predictions for it to remain unchanged.
'Europe and the USa are about to deliver Australia a colossal economic dividend' says Adam Creighton in the Oz's Inquirer section - but no link I could find.
The US and Europe overspent on the national credit cards for 30 years. While those major economies put their houses in order - likely to take a decade or more - the big saving nations of Asia are unlikely to want to park their savings with countries that have already overborrowed.
Ergo, Australia will benefit as a place in which to invest. Warwick McKibbin says of China's acquisition of of Cubbie Station: 'We ain't seen nothing yet', or words to that effect.
We should expect a high exchange rate and low interest rates, and should get used to it, like Canada, whose non-mining industries also had to adjust to a new reality. Which, for the nation as a whole, was an enriching experience.
This is the view most economists accept but one wonders if we could engineer a lower dollar by imposing a tax on capital inflows, following Switzerland. This is a debate we have to have, so stay tuned, gentle readers, we intend to forment such debate.
The BIS Annual Report may opine on this matter next year, as the IMF has already done, but is worth a read in any case.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently changed its long-held view against the view that capital flows should always be completely unhindered.
The Wall Street Journal recently said: 'WASHINGTON—The International Monetary Fund cautiously endorsed measures to limit surges of capital across borders, easing off decades of gospel about the free flow of money around the world'.
Apologies, gentle readers, for late arrival of this missive, but Telstra failed (for the third time this week) to provide access to the world wide web earkier today.
Usually it is rain that disrupts access in our home in leafy Kew, but this week it seems to be the heat.
We were told the Internet was creasted to maintain communications during a nuclear war, but normal rain and heat?
Another problem caused by Tony Abbott, one must assume.
Conspiracy theorists have been promoting the idea of an early election so that the gummint will not have to fess up to another broken promise - the one that (withour qualification) said 'We shall deliver a budget surplus'. Henry never fell forludicrous this due to his belief that a softening economy would cause that promise to be impossible to keep, or at least so damaging to the economy not even Wayne Swan would decide he'd rather have his Prime minister take another integrity blow.
Christopher Pearson, however has come up with a more plausible theory - if Julia thinks she is about to be rolled, she will go to the G-G and ask for an election, which will surely be granted.
Given the verious reports that the PM nearly lost her job over the UN vote on Palestine, and a general view that Labor is very likely to lose the next election, quite possibly in a wipeout, a cleanskin like Bill Shorten could be seen as safe pair of hands who would limit the damage.
`Fill up my glass, bartender`
Date: Friday, December 07, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
'Dump the surplus' has been the advice of Australia's economists for the Gillard-Swan government. Still yearning for 'stimulus', comrades. Lord Kenyes is smiling with approval while the IPA spits venom at the 'Keynesians', and the climate worriers, but that is another story.
The Australian today has a new angle on the drive for a surplus (aka 'tightening fiscal policy') - 'blunting' the effect of the RBA rate cuts. Read on here.
'Leading economists say further deterioration in budgets is likely as commodity prices fall, and that governments should be considering debt-financed infrastructure spending to support growth'.
Henry would be a lot happier with this advice if so much of taxpayer's money had not been wasted on the fiscal frolic that supposedly saved Australia from the GFC.
Fact is, of course, it is now clear that the crisis of 2007-08 is far from over, and spending on much needed infrastructure about now would make perfect sense, assuming we could afford it.
Imagine if the money spent on dangerous pink batts (both putting in and taking out), cosmetic school refurbishment and the unnecessary National Broadbent Network, plus handouts to all and sundry, was now available to spend on much needed infrastructure? Boosting productivity in all liklihood.
Unemployment has supposedly fallen back to 5.2 %, but regular readers will be aware that the Roy Morgan poll, which uses more accurate definitions, says a more realistic number is 10 %.
With job vacancies down by 30 % from the peak, and people dropping out of the workplace like flies at the end of summer, anyone in the 'real world' - and I do not mean the nominal world divided by the price level - knows things are not so good out here.
The RBA completed its backdown with pike this week, providing the second of two 25 basis points proposed by Henry way back in October. (There is the great tradition of moving too little, too late, to maintain.)
The final proof for the RBA of a rapidly weakening economy was this week's drastic downward adjustment to investment intentions. Rising mining investment has been boosting growth, but the mining investment cycle is now expected to peak in mid-2013 at a lower level than earlier expected. And investment in the non-mining sectors is virtually disasterous.
In global news, the US President and 'House Republicans' are wrestling on the edge of the fiscal cliff. Earlier hopes for a rational resolution of the wrestle - give up fighting and reach a compromise - have faded but are not completely dead. Certainly one to watch in the weeks ahead.
The Eurozone is still hanging together, but unemployment has exceeded 20 % in Greece and Spain and is still rising in other Eurozone nations and for the Eurozone as a whole. Can this go on, gentle readers? Why not say the skeptics - after all, the so-called Great Depression went on for a decade and was only ended by outbreak of war, and the bursting of Japan's asset bubble in 1989 ushered in two decades of stagnation. The clue to a sharp rebound after a negative shock is to let the necessary corrective action happen in all its arbitrary but effective ways, as the USA did in the nineteenth century.
But modern nations think that officials can do better than simply letting adjustment rip, and people have learned that 'the gummint will provide'. Ergo, adjustment is blocked, and suffering gets drawn out. In Europe, and perhaps in the USA, there will be a lost generation of youths denied work at the most formative time in their lives, a permanant underclass.
Last night Henry was at a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Melbourne Institute. Created by Ronald Henderson, revived by Dick Blandy, expanded and greatly improved by Peter Dawkins, all helped by constructive Advisory Boards, the Institue is flourishing in its dynamic middle years. Guest speaker, Bruce Chapman made a wonderful speech full of gentle humour (well, most of it was gentle) and revealed the stunning fact that happiness is related to alcohol with a clear 'U-shaped curve'.
On average, people who are happiest are in two catagories in relation to the demon drink - those who drink no alcohol at all, or those who drink 14 glasses a day.
The most unhappy people are those who consume 6 drinks each day. 'So if you are drinking 6 drinks a day and are unhappy, you have a choice - give up or increase the amount you consume'.
A noted visiting economist's glass was empty when Henry's OJ was consumed. 'Can I get you a drink?' Henry inquired. 'I'll have another scotch, no ice, no water' said the distinguished visitor. 'Make it a double'.
A happy man, clearly a 14-a-day man, so fill up my glass bartender. (How does Glenn Stevens manage to keep his glass permanantly half-full? Frequent top-ups is my guess.)
Small glass, perhaps half-full
Date: Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
Wayne Swan has failed utterly to make sense of the issue of cash rates at what some time ago he described as an 'emergency' level.
People who said that, the Treasurer said, were not qualified to comment on the economy. (That's what I thought I heard - will someone send the transcript, sounds too silly to be correct.) In any case, Nicholson (see cartoon below) said it all really.
Well Wayne, many people more qualified than either of us say the economy is in deep trouble, and the real smarties are beginning to suggest it is your government's fault.
* Panic-induced spending hikes during the GFC are being replaced by panic-induced spending cuts now you have grasped that tax receipts are drying up as the economy slides.
* Your IR policy is making it harder to hire and fire, raising labor costs.
* Red tape and green tape are driving footloose industries, like modern mining, offshore.
* You have spread a mentality that 'the gummint will provide', completely useless now the government is trying to achieve a (tiny) surplus to demonstrate it really is a good economic manager.
* Household surveys show people are lacking confidence, with a high degree of concern for job stability, despite your constant bleating about the strength of the labor market - check out the Roy Morgan survey, and do some deep pondering.
* Business surveys are also deeply pessimistic, citing rising costs, red tape, green tape and the burden of taxation.
The most pregnant comment is perhaps the following: 'Last month’s RBA statement was tinged with careful optimism about the global outlook, a slight concern about inflation and an expectation that the 1.5 per cent reduction in official interest rates in the current cycle would put a floor under the housing market and flow through to stronger growth in consumer confidence and spending. Today the RBA governor, Glenn Stevens, made some modest but significant departures from that script after the bank’s December board meeting'.
Henry's reading is that this is another mini-step in the RBA 'stumbling reluctantly to the truth', to quote a legendry RBA official - not, not Henry, but a free Goldmembership comes to the first woman or man to get the right name.
Commodity supercycle ...
Date: Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
... is far from dead.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard recently addressed this emerging conventional wisdom. He notes that Studies by the World Bank covering two centuries of data sketch a pattern of 10-year supercycles, followed by a slide for the next 20 years or so as excess investment leads to a flood of supply. 'The long bear market can be cruel for those hanging onto to resource stocks, convinced that the rebound must be nigh'.
He adds that this view has been accepted by Mark Ryder, Australian investment chief for UBS. 'Ryder says we are reaching just such an inflexion point as China’s manic construction phase gives way to more sedate growth, and Europe, America, and Japan take their fiscal medicine. "The commodity super cycle’s end is at hand. The scene is set for a momentum shift," he said'.
Another guru, Dylan Grice from Societe Generale, describes the current commodity boom as "a credit bubble built on a commodity market built on an even bigger Chinese credit bubble". Henry is not totally certain just how this effects the argument, but it certainly makes one think thoughts of mega (multi-layered) boom leading to mega-bust.
Citigroup’s Edward Morse that has also rattled resource bulls. 'He claims that America’s shale gas revolution -- which has cut US natural gas prices by 70pc -- is a taste of what will happen across the gamut of commodities as vast investment comes on stream. The inference is that parking money in "long-only" resource index funds -- worth $250bn -- has become a mug’s game'.
These are not silly views. After all, 'this time it's different' is a well-worn assertion by people who get bedazzled and bewitched by each new boom. Indeed, one important reason for writing my recent book Great Crises of Capitalism, now available on Amazon and at other progressive global bookshops, was to point out how often the 'this time is different' boosters have been wrong. And also to warn that policies adopted during the current crisis might generate continued, even greater, financial and economic instability.
Three giant iron ore mining companies, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and Brazil’s Vale, have all cut back on expansion plans. 'All three are battening down the hatches as hopes fade that this year’s 23pc fall in iron ore prices will soon reverse'.
'Mr Morse says China’s growth will slow from 10.5pc to 5.5pc by 2020 - Credit Suisse thinks it could be as low as 4pc, and the US Conference Board 3.7pc - but the crucial twist is that appetite for resources will wane as the Politburo calls time on history’s greatest building boom and opts instead for a modern, sleek, consumer and service-driven economy'.
Henry observes that occasionally booms last far longer than average results for two centuries, and if that occurs now pessimists who attach their boats with a firm anchor will be swamped by the tide that raises all boats, which may appear more like a tsamnumi.
Evans-Pritchard quotes Australia's own much-loved central bank to the effect that that construction in China will not peak in absolute terms for another five years as 20 million rural migrants pour into the cities each year. The pace will not slow much until the urbanisation rate reaches 70 % in 2030. And the RBA says that China’s growth will become more "steel-intense" -- not less -- as building shifts to high-rise blocks and urban sophistication. "Steel used in residential construction will peak around 2024, at a level that is 30 per cent higher than in 2011," it said'.
China is predicted to add 125 million cars over the next five years, half the entire US fleet, which will have to be parked in multi-story blocks or below ground. There will be strong demand for fuel for all these cars.
Evans-Prtichard has, of course, been to China and has talked with leaders in deep inland places such as Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi’an, Changsha, and Kunming. He says these and other similar leaders 'are attempting to replicate the East Coast booms with their own metropolitan extravaganzas over the next decade'.
'Nor is it clear that the Communist Party is yet ready to wean the country off state credit, top-down planning, and chronic over-investment, an addictive model for Maoist patronage.
'China’s Development Research Council knows that the catch-up model launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 is no longer fit for purpose as China moves up the technology ladder.
'Yet the Party’s 10-year power transition last month seems to have been a victory for hardliners. Key reformers were shut out of the seven-man Standing Committee. The North-Korea trained Zhang Dejiang has tightened his grip, a boon to the state-owned behemoths. It looks as if the Politburo may try to keep the infrastructure blitz going for another cycle, extending it to the 800m or so people of the hinterlands'.
This will create major problems for China, but 'could kindle a fresh burst of uber-growth, with demand cascading through the Asian tigers and the commodity complex'.
So we must not be surprised if China cranks up its growth again, America turns the corner and underlying commodity scarcity takes its toll? Has Malthus finally found his target? Only time will tell, but it is plausible that China's massive growth, increasingly being followed by others, may have changed the resource equation for the forseeable future.
And in conclusion, support for Henry's views as articulated today in The Australian: 'And never, ever ignore the global money supply. The key gauge -- real six-month M1 -- touched bottom at 1.5 pc in May. It jumped to 3.7 pc in September and seems on the same track for October. The world’s kindling wood is crackling again. Can commodities really stay cold?'
Much later, Sarah-Jane Tasker, 4/2/13, reports the commodity 'supercycle' is back.
'LEADING commodity forecasters have predicted a new stage of the commodity "supercycle" this year, underwriting optimism in the sector after a bumpy 2012.
'In what would be welcome news in an election year for a federal government banking on a mining tax that has yet to deliver any revenue, the prediction is for higher commodity prices this year.
'Colin Fenton, JPMorgan's chief commodities strategist and head of commodities research, said he was "getting bullish" as it was clear that the mid-cycle slump was over.
"The data is coming in much stronger than we had anticipated for the first part of January," the New York-based strategist told The Australian during a visit to Sydney.
"We see business flows picking up around the planet and, very critically, the level of implied volatility is about as low as it can go".' More here.
Excess money and global financial instability
Date: Monday, December 03, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
Regular readers will be aware that in response to the global financial crisis there has been a fundamental change in global monetary policy. In more or less uniform response of the major developed nations to the global crisis, central banks have adopted various forms of ‘quantitative easing’. This builds on near-zero cash rates in these nations, and has resulted in a major expansion of the balance sheets of the leading central banks.
We are grateful to the newly appointed Deputy-Governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, for addressing some of the implications of this highly innovative development in a recent speech (linked here). As Mr. Lowe put it in a speech in late October: ‘From one perspective, this setting of monetary policy is hardly surprising. The sluggish growth in many of the advanced economies means that little, or no, progress is being made in reducing high rates of unemployment. At the same time, core inflation is subdued. ...
‘But from another perspective, what we are seeing is highly unusual. Since mid 2008, four of the world's major central banks – the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England – have all expanded their balance sheets very significantly, and further increases have been announced in a couple of cases. In total, the assets of these four central banks have already increased by the equivalent of around $US5 trillion, or around 15 per cent of the combined GDP of the relevant economies. We have not seen this type of planned simultaneous very large expansion of central bank balance sheets before. So in that sense, it is very unusual, and its implications are not yet fully understood’.
Mr. Lowe discusses two implication of this ‘highly unusual’ development. The first is that it increases the prices of assets that the central bank is buying, thus lowering the yields on those assets. Thus bond yields in the USA, the UK and Japan are all very low, and in the Eurozone nations whose bonds have been purchased by the ECB yields have retreated from the clearly unsustainable levels they had reached before the ECB began buying.
The second implication is that cashed up institutions, including banks, will at some stage seek out higher yielding assets, and their acquisition of those assets will drive up their price. Expansionary monetary policy creates inflation, but with markets for goods and service depressed, it will be asset inflation that is the main immediate effect. We have seen this response to expansionary US monetary policy already, following cash rates near zero under Alan Greenspan, and even lower under Ben Bernanke.
There are substantial risks in this situation, risks that are only hinted at by Mr. Lowe. Asset booms are always followed by asset busts, and if these are serious enough they can hinder economic progress. If the asset bust makes for a continuation of easy money, it will eventually spill over into markets for goods and services and create inflation. Money is widely used as a buffer stock, and which market excess money finds its way into, and with what lags, is not something that has been nailed down, and is unlikely to be nailed down in the forseeable future.
Eventually, however, unless there is very deft and timely reversal of ‘quantitative easing’, which seems highly unlikely, the excess money now being produced will produce a large burst of goods and services inflation. This is not a conclusion drawn by Mr Lowe, but it is an issue we shall all be grappling with eventually. If it is commodity prices that are inflated most, Australia may even be a net beneficiary of what could produce a very dangerous risk to the stability of the global financial system.
'Money, prices and output', Kredit und Kapital, 1976. Reprinted in David Laidler (ed), Foundations of Monetary Economics, Edgar Elgar Publishing Limited, UK, 1999. Here is a link.
Asset Prices and Monetary Policy, Proceeding of a Conference, Reserve Bank of Australia, 18–19 August 2003.
Saturday Sanity Break, 1 December 2012
Date: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
The parliamentary year ended more or less as it started - allegations flying, the speaker exasperated and new lows in the attitude to their leaders by people who will soon be gathering around BBQs to discuss the state of Australian cricket, next year's footy draws and prospects and the occasional disparaging remark about politics.
A wise man recently objected to the usual view that 'power corrupts'. Far more relevant, he asserted was that 'power reveals'.
This is one of those remarks that lodges in the brain, and Julie Gillard's progressive revealing of 'the real Julia' is perfect illustration.
Paul Kelly comments: 'THE final parliamentary week of 2012 was dominated by the stunning political persona of Julia Gillard - fierce, feminist and unrestrained - whose will-to-survival is Labor's last, best but highly dangerous hope.
'The real Julia is unleashed in her self-righteous fury and calculated aggression. Her voice now bounces across the summer landscape invading homes, hotels and workplaces. Her arch opponent, Tony Abbott, is traduced as sexist, relentlessly negative and an agent of smear as the nation divides between those who applaud Julia and those appalled by her.
'Gillard has summoned up all the hostility and prejudice directed towards her and thrown it back in the face of her accusers with added venom. At the dispatch box her vituperation assumes a shocking, sharper edge precisely because she is a woman,...'
Paul Kelly sadly but I fear realistically predicts there is worse to come. 'The mutual character assassination is guaranteed to intensify'.
The world heavyweight bout in test cricket is underway in Perth. Australia's bowlers rookie (apart from returning vet, Michael Johnson) fast bowlers dominated the day but South Efrica fought back with two quick wickets before stumps.
There are four exciting days to come and we remain hopeful of a century for Ricky Ponting and a glorious return to number one status for our team.
Speaking of the footy, why is an uncontracted superstar Kurt Tippett being punished? As Henry understands it, Mr Tippett signed a contract that guaranteed he could go to another club in 3 (?) years or so. Why is such a contract against the laws of the code? Seems like an infraction of his rights as a worker - where is 'Fair Work Australia ' on this one?
The commentariat is lashing itself into a lather in support of a rate cut next Tuesday.
This is the most likely outcome, but the board when it meets next Tuesday should be lashing each other with bamboo rods for the poor governance admitted (finally) by Governor Glenn Stevens on Friday in the forged polymer notes issue. Will ASIC step in to penalise the RBA for lack of attention to the need of appropriate disclosure?
Still, Terry McCrann has come to the board's rescue with a summary judgment 'remarkable job with interest rates'.
McCrann says a rate cut is 'all but inevitable', a judgment Henry made way back in October when he called for a cut of 50 basis points.
But he raises another interesting point: 'There are a series of important points to be made about the cash rate returning to the record low reached at the peak of the global financial crisis.
'First, it is simply extraordinary.
'We are not now in a crisis, either economic or financial, as we were in 2009. Then we all thought we might be looking into the abyss. Back then, we did not have the comfort of knowing that China would save itself and us, in the way it did.
'Even in conventional macro-economic assessment terms, a record low official rate seems odd if not indeed bizarre. Yes, consumer spending is subdued, consumer and business credit growth is in the low single digits'.
We shall return to this issue, which hinges in this writer's view on how to measure the stance of monetary policy, especially difficult in a small open economy such as Australia.
Image of the week
Courtesy The Oz
Investment drought; RBA culture
Date: Friday, November 30, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
'THE investment outlook is souring rapidly, with mining companies reining in their growth ambitions while business across the rest of the economy plans for the lowest spending in six years', reports David Uren.
'The downbeat forecasts in the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics survey are in line with warnings from the Reserve Bank that the peak in the resource investment boom will come sooner and be lower than thought, and make it likely that interest rates will be cut again next week.
'Resource companies have cut $10 billion from their estimated 2012-13 spending since the latest survey three months ago.
"It is very rare for companies to cut their investment forecasts at this early stage of the financial year and has only previously occurred in 1991 and 1974," Barclays chief economist Kieran Davies said. "There is still going to be an enormous lift in resource investment, but there has been an unambiguous downgrade."
Other leading business stories this week concern the response of the big Australian mining companies, who have signalled they are entering a time of cost containment and retrenchment. As we have noted before, it is hard times that create productivity improvements, and now the good times are over.
The same ABS report discussed by David Uren also said that investment in manufacturing is dropping like a stone. There will be renewed efforts to improve productivity in this sector, but it may be Australian manufacturing has passed the invisable line in which giving up is the preferred strategy for over half the participents. Henry yesterday was involved in an intense debate of whether of not Australia's manufacturers, project managers and other relevant people were up to the task of conttructing and maintaining Australia's next submarine fleet, and I am hoping that there is a considered contribution on the 'yes' side of this debate for Henry's readers.
Henry is moved to ask why the parliament is not debating this question (and other big economic questions, like the extent Labor's IR legislation is holding back both mining and manufacturing) rather than the issue of the Prime minister's honesty and competance, which shall be decided whenever we all get to vote again.
A grizzled political veteran, now long retired, said with a note of deep resignation when asked this question: 'You know the answer, Henry, its politics'.
A parliamentary committee is (again) grilling Messrs Stevens and Battellino about the polymer note bribery affair, as a feature article in The Oz recounts in all is gory detail.
Henry's modest contribution is to report the view that in Henry's day the internal culture was best described as adverserial. Governors and Deputy-governors would jump on a supposed mistake or rash (in their minds) judgment with glee, and Henry was once said to 'write like an open sewer'. Painful at the time but, a bit like an English boarding school, character forming.
Henry suspects that with more modern management, the place has become far more forgiving and indeed positively lovey-dovey. I suspect a warm, soothing atmosphere, not unlike Kew Primary school. Why jump on a report of alleged bribery? Why say hurtful things to key officers? We mustn't delve Ric, better to let this matter take its natural course.
This is just an hypothesis, but it is perhaps worthy of investigation by said parliamentary committee.
Ricky Ponting has retired with grace and realism. We sincerely hope he makes a double century to make a return to number one his final gift to Australian cricket.
OECD cuts outlook; Poms summon a colonial
Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Author: Henry Thornton
The OECD, a rich nations club, with some penniless members, has cut growth forecasts for 2013 and issued some serious warnings that it could be worse.
Growth in 2013 is estimated to be around 1.4 %, insufficient to reduce the rate of unemployment.
Reuters reports: 'Unemployment in advanced economies will remain high until at least the end of 2013, with young people and the low-skilled bearing the brunt of what is by far the weakest economic recovery in the past four decades, the OECD said on Tuesday.
'The jobless rate in the 34-country OECD area will still be stuck at 7.7 per cent at the end of next year, close to this May's 7.9 per cent rate and leaving 48 million people out of work, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its 2012 Employment Outlook'.
For the penniless members such as Greece, Spain and Italy, things are much worse. For young people, approaching or indeed over 50 % of the relevant youth workforce,a catastrophe for an entire generation.
And the changes may be permanant, as workers and potential workers fight losing battles 'against the machine'.
'Over the recent past, signs of emergence from the crisis have more than once given way to a renewed slowdown or even a double-dip recession in some countries', said Pier Carlo Padoan, OECD chief economist. 'The risk of a major contraction cannot be ruled out.
The eurozone economy is predicted to contract for the second successive year in 2013 and the OECD is warning (with Australia's Blind Freddie) that the currency bloc 'could be in danger' if there is a lack of sufficient progress by the region’s policy makers. Growth in the US is forecast at 2 % next year, while Japan’s economy is expected to expand 0.8 %, little more than half the growth expected in May.
The OECD called for interest rates not already effectively zero to be cut further. Why not pay people to borrow (negative interest rates) one is forced to ask. Some nations, include China (not an OECD nation) should add fiscal stimulus if the situation gets worse.
A colonial at the crease.
The once mighty Bank of England is to be run by a Canadian, like making Shane Warne captain of the Australian cricket team at its peak. Mark Carney is former (current?) boss of the Bank of Canada, former Goldman Sachs investment banker and is said to be highly respected in academic and central banking circles.
Martin Wolf comments both on Mr Carney's high credentials and the massive challenges he has to face.
Tax reform - a taxpayer`s perspective
Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Author: Tiresias of Canberra
Further to your comments on tax reform, I’d have to point out that you seem too focussed on the state – why not approach tax reform from the other end, that of the tax payer? I’d argue that we need a tax system designed to meet the needs of small business and citizen-taxpayers, NOT the needs of anyone else.
The true cost of our tax system is not the combined wages of the ATO, but the time and money spent by taxpayers trying to comply with the existing system. The latter, unquantified, cost would be extraordinary.
And what do business want? A vastly simpler tax system that take up less time, less money and less attention. A tax system that is as easy to use as the operating system on a PC or as easy as a video game. And, ideally, one which creates incentives for productivity and saving/investment and that minimises hassles in taking on staff.
Small business owners and managers spend an amazing amount of time on compliance with Commonwealth and state/territory demands for licensing/registration, reportage and tax collection – time which should be spent on focussing on the business and on customers.
The trouble is that the public sector has not kept up with the key trend of our age: the ever faster, simpler and cheaper transfer of data. If it is possible for the banks to manage a payment system like EFTPOS, that enables truly vast amounts of data to be handled all the time and very cheaply, there is no good reason why the public sector cannot manage small business compliance in exactly the same way.
While they are about, both levels of gov’t should radically reduce the total number of taxes and charges (most add only a marginal amount to consolidated revenue) and aim for all small business to be liable for a maximum of two to three taxes only. The rats’ nest of registration fees of all kinds should be scrapped – why exactly should any properly incorporated lawful business have to keep registering for this and that all the time? And paying for the privilege too?
Also – scrapping ‘stamp duty’ (the Hanoverian impost that sparked off the US War of Independence) is centuries overdue. A trade off could involve extending capital gains to the family home, while scrapping capital gains on all stock holding lower than half a million. Such a trade-off would encourage ordinary Australians to save and invest outside of the housing market – a reform that only the spivs of the real estate industry could argue with. If stamp duty Is to be retained, then all sums collected should be earmarked by law for public utilities such as water, sewerage, electricity and transport (ANYTHING but arts festivals, the film industry, public fireworks displays, Olympic/Commonwealth sport or grand prix motor races).
A tax act that was limited to 200 or 300 pages is achievable. After all, our Lord needed only 10 sentences to get the essentials across.
Ed: Hear, hear to this splendid contribution Tiresias. Henry totally agrees with you and your aims for simpler taxes would fit beautifully with my aims for a tax and spending system modelled on that in place in 1971.
The old lady of Threadneedle Street
And here is a dramatic announcement - the governor of the Bank of Canada is to become the new boss of the venerable Bank of England. Read on here.