Westpac’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer writes…

…about banking and house prices. One wonders how that got past the Corporate Affairs twinkies.

Obviously we’re being facetious, Brian isn’t really the Head of LGBTQI123& non-TERF Advocacy (not that you’d know it to look at what he seems to spend most of his time focusing on).

No, he’s the CEO of Westpac

Which means, on balance, the article is even more worrying.

Why?

Ask yourself a question; when the CEO of the 2nd biggest bank decides to write a blog post explaining that the property market isn’t crashing, that the bank is sound and they are still open for business, does that make you feel great comfort and security?

Or, do you think to yourself, “why is he telling me this, why wouldn’t everything be fine, what does he know that I don’t?

Bill’s Opinion

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

It’s highly unlikely any of the major Australian banks are going to be in trouble any time soon. However, the prime candidate if one does hit hard times would be the one with the largest exposure to interest only investment loans and a top of the market (2007) acquisition of a competitor that they never got round to integrating and realising economies of scale….

Golgafrincham “Ark Buzzfeed”

… “I mean, I couldn’t help noticing,” said Ford, also taking a sip, “the bodies. In the hold.”

“Bodies?” said the Captain in surprise.

Ford paused and thought to himself. Never take anything for granted, he thought. Could it be that the Captain doesn’t know he’s got fifteen million dead bodies on his ship?

The Captain was nodding cheerfully at him. He also appeared to be playing with a rubber duck.

Ford looked around. Number Two was staring at him in the mirror, but only for an instant: his eyes were constantly on the move. The first officer was just standing there holding the drinks tray and smiling benignly.

“Bodies?” said the Captain again.

Ford licked his lips.

“Yes,” he said, “All those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold.”

The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.

“Oh they’re not dead,” he said, “Good Lord no, no they’re frozen. They’re going to be revived.”

Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked.

Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.

“You mean you’ve got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?” he said.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain, “Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We’re going to colonize another planet.”

Ford wobbled very slightly.

“Exciting isn’t it?” said the Captain.

“What, with that lot?” said Arthur.

“Ah, now don’t misunderstand me,” said the Captain, “we’re just one of the ships in the Ark Fleet. We’re the ‘B’ Ark you see. Sorry, could I just ask you to run a bit more hot water for me?”

Arthur obliged, and a cascade of pink frothy water swirled around the bath. The Captain let out a sigh of pleasure.

“Thank you so much my dear fellow. Do help yourselves to more drinks of course.”

Ford tossed down his drink, took the bottle from the first officer’s tray and refilled his glass to the top.

“What,” he said, “is a ‘B’ Ark?”

“This is,” said the Captain, and swished the foamy water around joyfully with the duck.

“Yes,” said Ford, “but …”

“Well what happened you see was,” said the Captain, “our planet, the world from which we have come, was, so to speak, doomed.”

“Doomed?”

“Oh yes. So what everyone thought was, let’s pack the whole population into some giant spaceships and go and settle on another planet.”

Having told this much of his story, he settled back with a satisfied grunt.

“You mean a less doomed one?” prompted Arthur.

“What did you say dear fellow?”

“A less doomed planet. You were going to settle on.”

“Are going to settle on, yes. So it was decided to build three ships, you see, three Arks in Space, and … I’m not boring you am I?”

“No, no,” said Ford firmly, “it’s fascinating.”

“You know it’s delightful,” reflected the Captain, “to have someone else to talk to for a change.”

Number Two’s eyes darted feverishly about the room again and then settled back on the mirror, like a pair of flies briefly distracted from their favourite prey of months old meat.

“Trouble with a long journey like this,” continued the Captain,”is that you end up just talking to yourself a lot, which gets terribly boring because half the time you know what you’re going to say next.”

“Only half the time?” asked Arthur in surprise.

The Captain thought for a moment.

“Yes, about half I’d say. Anyway – where’s the soap?” He fished around and found it.

“Yes, so anyway,” he resumed, “the idea was that into the first ship, the ‘A’ ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or ‘C’ ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B’ ship – that’s us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.”

He smiled happily at them.

“And we were sent off first,” he concluded, and hummed a little bathing tune.

The little bathing tune, which had been composed for him by one of his world’s most exciting and prolific jingle writer (who was currently asleep in hold thirty-six some nine hundred yards behind them) covered what would otherwise have been an awkward moment of silence. Ford and Arthur shuffled their feet and furiously avoided each other’s eyes.

“Er …” said Arthur after a moment, “what exactly was it that was wrong with your planet then?”

“Oh, it was doomed, as I said,” said the Captain, “Apparently it was going to crash into the sun or something. Or maybe it was that the moon was going to crash into us. Something of the kind. Absolutely terrifying prospect whatever it was.”

“Oh,” said the first officer suddenly, “I thought it was that the planet was going to be invaded by a gigantic swarm of twelve foot piranha bees. Wasn’t that it?”

Number Two span around, eyes ablaze with a cold hard light that only comes with the amount of practise he was prepared to put in.

“That’s not what I was told!” he hissed, “My commanding officer told me that the entire planet was in imminent danger of being eaten by an enormous mutant star goat!”

“Oh really …” said Ford Prefect.

“Yes! A monstrous creature from the pit of hell with scything teeth ten thousand miles long, breath that would boil oceans, claws that could tear continents from their roots, a thousand eyes that burned like the sun, slavering jaws a million miles across, a monster such as you have never … never … ever …”

“And they made sure they sent you lot off first did they?” inquired Arthur.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain, “well everyone said, very nicely I thought, that it was very important for morale to feel that they would be arriving on a planet where they could be sure of a good haircut and where the phones were clean.”

“Oh yes,” agreed Ford, “I can see that would be very important. And the other ships, er … they followed on after you did they?”

For a moment the Captain did not answer. He twisted round in his bath and gazed backwards over the huge bulk of the ship towards the bright galactic centre. He squinted into the inconceivable distance.

“Ah. Well it’s funny you should say that,” he said and allowed himself a slight frown at Ford Prefect, “because curiously enough we haven’t heard a peep out of them since we left five years ago … but they must be behind us somewhere.”

He peered off into the distance again.

Ford peered with him and gave a thoughtful frown.

“Unless of course,” he said softly, “they were eaten by the goat …”

“Ah yes …” said the Captain with a slight hesitancy creeping into his voice, “the goat …” His eyes passed over the solid shapes of the instruments and computers that lined the bridge. They winked away innocently at him. He stared out at the stars, but none of them said a word. He glanced at his first and second officers, but they seemed lost in their own thoughts for a moment. He glanced at Ford Prefect who raised his eyebrows at him.

“It’s a funny thing you know,” said the Captain at last, “but now that I actually come to tell the story to someone else …”

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Bill’s Opinion

It’s still not safe to click any links on the internet, but this is a start.

Australian banks’ dichotomy

This is not a trick question, but what is the primary purpose of a retail (AKA commercial) bank?

 

Assuming it’s not been nationalised, like RBS and other 2008 basket cases, presumably the main function of a bank is to make money for its owners, i.e. the shareholders. Sure, the corporate mission statement might waffle on about helping customers through the key milestones on their life journey, blah, blah, blah, but if they don’t increase the shareholder’s value, they’re dead.

 

Australian retail banks have performed this task very well over the years. CBA’s share price and dividend history is shown below as an example, the other 3 major banks are not dissimilar;

 

 

That the dividends barely missed a beat following the minor difficulties in the banking world in 2008 is amazing. Of course, this masks a slightly inconvenient fact that they were supported by an implicit government guarantee of a bail out should one be required, allowing investors to remain calm and not rush for the exit like in other jurisdictions.

 

Gifts rarely come without an expectation of a quid pro quo, however. In the Australian case, the banks are expected to “do the right thing” by the public, by which we mean, “help the government”.

 

On the way up, when values are increasing and there’s a wealth effect to the public, or at least those exposed to the upside of property ownership, these two purposes (shareholder value and public service) are reasonably well-aligned.

On the way down, as property values decrease and regular members of the public start to experience financial pressure, the two purposes diverge. If the government of the day would like the bank CEOs to show some forbearance to those in distress or even take a haircut on the margin between borrowing and lending costs, the bank shareholders are going to suffer.

 

What might this mean in the short to medium term?

 

There’s a few factors at play currently which may provide us with an indication of how the next year or two might play out.

 

  1. The Royal Commission in to the financial sector has unearthed some unpleasantness by most major institutions. There will be ramifications for the sector in terms of increased oversight and regulation.
  2. Macroprudential restrictions on lending has resulted in a cooling of the housing market with prices down around 10% from the 2017 peak and perhaps, conservatively, 1 in 10 owner occupier mortgages being in negative equity (more, according to some sources).
  3. A likely change of government in May and the possibility of the removal of some tax breaks for new owners of investment properties.
  4. Costs of borrowing from overseas sources (currently about 60% of mortgage funding) has increased and looks likely to continue to do so, albeit mildly, during 2019.
  5. A halving of the number of foreign (by which we mean Chinese) property investors buying in Australia since the peak in 2014.

 

Predictions are notoriously difficult, especially about the future, but this combination of factors suggest that the decline in values is unlikely to halt during the next 12 months.

Whichever flavour of government is in power, and let’s face it, there’s little difference between the two parties other than one group is more competent at being corrupt than the other, won’t really matter; neither of the major parties are going to enjoy governing during a -15% or perhaps -20% property crash.

The calls to “do something, do anything” are going to become deafening.

The professional economic troll, Stephen Koukoulas, and the “Chief Economist” of My Property Market (i.e. the only employee), Dr. Andrew Wilson, are already flooding social media with pathetic begging of the Reserve Bank to cut rates.

God only knows how many more vested interests will come out of the woodwork over the coming months. 

 

Bill’s Opinion

 

Obviously, the government is going to call in the favours owed. At the very least, banks are going to have to take a hit on margins. The banking regulator, APRA, may find itself under political pressure to ease the responsible lending restrictions that have been put in place and then banks will be “encouraged” to open the spigots again. Friendly State Governments may be under pressure to reverse restrictions on overseas ownership.

 

None, some or all of this might “work”. 

 

Regardless though, shareholders of the banks are going to take one in the chops.

 

Wasn’t this tried once before in one half of Germany?

That this should come from a German politician’s mouth is somewhat ironic.

Spahn, a conservative heavyweight among Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats who recently lost a contest to become the party’s leader, described a knock-on effect of countries attracting doctors from neighboring countries, as is the case with Switzerland taking in German physicians.

That’ll be the “free movement of labour” thing that the EU is so much in favour of then.

Or is the deal that only low skilled labour should be allowed to move so as to keep a downward pressure on domestic wages?

“That cannot be right. We should therefore think about whether we need to create new regulations on the luring away of people with certain professions within the EU, and without fundamentally calling into question the freedom of movement within Europe,” he was quoted as saying.

Bill’s Opinion

The good news is, the Germans have relatively recent experience and understanding on what the solution is to this.

The bad news is, if Trump gets his budget passed, there’ll be a global shortage of workers with the skills to build it for a year or two;

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

This is a heartwarming tale of consumer power to save a dying brand from bygone times; a small group of dedicated enthusiasts are keeping the traditional New South Wales’ beer, Resch’s alive by maintaining a Facebook page informing people where it can be purchased.

Admirable stuff.

Ah, those halcyon days of yore when the working man would drink a simple yet honest schooner of Resch’s beer.

Not for these enthusiasts the cynical corporate machine pumping out gigalitres of tasteless piss. Oh no, they’re fighting for the little guy, the artisan brewery doing it tough amidst a market dominated by a duopoly that has taken nearly all of the market share. Bravo!

One of the beer’s younger fans, 22 year old Amelia McGuire, was introduced to Resch’s when she was in year 12 by some male friends. To her, the beer feels part of the local community (although it is owned by Carlton United Breweries).

Wait, what?

Oh, Resch’s is just another of the myriad brands of beers brewed by Carlton United (really, AB-InBev) who, along with Lion Nathan (really, Kirin Holdings), brew and sell 98 of every 100 pints of beers drunk in Australia.

See also, Little Creatures, Four Pines, and every other “craft” beer you’ve drunk in recent years.

Bill’s Opinion

Beer is the second oldest recipe in human history (bread is the first… which resulted in the discovery of beer). Maintaining a diverse range of choices of this ancient beverage is surely a good thing.

In the early 1970s, British beer diversity started to improve thanks to the work of CAMRA.

Similarly, massive improvements have occurred in the USA in the last twenty years with a thriving independent brewing sector producing interesting and award-winning beers after the pissy “Bud” decades.

Australia however, is stuck in the 1970s with their duopoly masquerading as a “craft beer” industry.

So much so, that some silly old farts have formed a society celebrating, in effect, a recipe that’s been bought by Coca Cola.

In the words of Ray Davies;

We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society

God save Mrs. Mopp and good old Mother Riley

Preserving the old ways from being abused

Protecting the new ways, for me and for you

What more can we do?

To which the answer is, “more, but not this”.

[oh, and I resisted the temptation to make fun of Ms. McGuire but feel free in the comments]

What’s that definition of insanity….

….that Einstein probably never said?

Real estate agents are starting earlier this year.

Shame. You’ll be telling us next that divorce lawyers, journalists and politicians are having a hard time, and then we’ll really have to get the tissues out.

Falling prices, tighter credit and uncertainty ahead of a federal election and the final report of the banking royal commission mean a busier year for agents on the country’s eastern seaboard as they sell an increasing stock of homes on the market.

I’m not sure that statement is completely accurate; perhaps replace “busier” with “tougher”?

As several commentators on here have pointed out, in a falling market most sellers will rethink whether they really need to move. There’s a high degree of emotion attached to the perceived value of one’s house and the attitude that “it’s worth $x and I won’t take a penny less” can be deeply ingrained.

So therefore we may well see far fewer properties up for sale this year. Those who have to sell due to death, divorce or unsustainable debt will be the exceptions.

Something else will need to change too, although Eliza McGrath hasn’t spotted it yet;

Our first open [day] is on 19 January. Then we’re extending it to be a five-week campaign with the first auction on 16 February.

Given that fewer than 1 in 2 properties are selling at auction, it seems somewhat poor advice to her clients to chuck a bunch of cash at a marketing campaign and planning for an event that has a higher probability of disappointment than ever before in living memory.

Finance is getting harder to get,” McGrath says. “So getting a five-week campaign is more standard. Some people are asking for six weeks. They know from trying to buy themselves how hard it is to get pre-approval.

She’s not getting the hint, is she? The auction favours the seller only in a rising market, that power dynamic reverses on the way down.

A search for her on Google Images explains why. She looks like she is barely 30 years old. The last time the market was like this she wouldn’t have been potty trained.

Ren Hor Wong seems to have a better idea, however;

“Given the current market condition and low auction clearance rate, vendors’ confidence is low when it comes to selling,” chief executive Ren Hor Wong said.

“We see a surge in listings activity, but majority of them would not go to auction, and some probably don’t even want to go for a marketing campaign.”

Quite.

This is interesting too;

“So it’s imperative for agents to have a database of finance-ready buyers”

He might regret dropping that gem into the interview. He’s just told his competitors a good tip on how to survive this year, if they are clever enough to listen.

He’s got some other intelligent insights too;

Going off market also allows the seller to save marketing costs, a key for vendors at this low point in the market, Wong adds.

“When you can’t ask for a higher price in the market, next thing you want to do is to save money,” he says.

Smart thinking; drop the price and lower your sales costs.

Meanwhile, on Planet Millennial, reality hasn’t arrived yet;

McGrath isn’t sure what will come. The year is likely to start well, but it is hard to see further beyond, she says.

We’ll have a strong start to 2019, like 2018 did, but it’s hard to say what’s after the first quarter, with the election coming up and the royal commission [final report],” she says.

I bet you won’t, Eliza, I bet you won’t.

Bill’s Opinion

For some time now, being an estate agent on the east coast of Australia required nothing more challenging than possession of a cheap suit, a driving licence and pulse.

Things have changed this year. There will be significant consolidation of agencies and a huge reduction in the number of agents employed.

The question is, what does one do as an alternative job if all your previous work experience consisted of handing out leaflets at open houses for the last decade?

The price of Uber journeys and dog waking services in Melbourne and Sydney are likely to reduce significantly.

So what you’re saying is…

….Japanese men compete hardest when there is more cultural “face” to lose, particularly when competing against women?

Here’s an insight from the economic heavyweight that is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Economics Editor, Ross Gittins.

To be fair, he’s achieved one requirement of journalisming; to inform. I, for one, had never heard of this Japanese sport before;

He also explains that there is a vast database of to be mined about how men and women compete in single sex and mixed sex races, both in terms of results and penalties for aggressive fouls.

What does this data tell us?

Wait for it; men are more aggressive than women, even more so when they are competing with women.

Which surprises no-one who has a passing knowledge of Asian culture.

There is then a whole bunch of word salad about something called “gender identity“. 

Bill’s Opinion

Japanese men in competitive sport don’t like losing.

Japanese men in competitive sport really don’t like losing to women.

Japanese women in competitive sport take fewer risks than men.

This research and Ross Gittins’ subsequent regurgitating of it is analogous to the discovery of the double helix by Watson and Crick in it’s importance to the human species. 

It’s possible that blog posts here may reduce in frequency soon, depending on how successful I am in my application for a 3 year research grant to investigate why men and women tend to urinate standing up and sitting down, respectively, and the influence of the cis-heteronormative patriarchy on the cultural appropriation of gender norms in the use of toilets.

In related news, if you want to understand how completely arrogant and boorish Gittins is, risk your mental health by listening to this podcast where he is interviewed by our friend Jess I can use a spreadsheet to diet, and you proles can’t Irvine

Gittins may be hugely qualified in his profession but, my goodness, when speaking he sounds an awful lot like every old bloke in the office you’ve ever met who’s close to retirement and wants to give you unsolicited advice at each opportunity that seems more about explaining how smart he is than being of any practical use to you.

 

 

We’ve always been at war with the Eurasia Group

The usually sound Ambrose Evans Pritchard regurgitates a press release from the Eurasia Group risk report in the Telegraph (Sydney Morning Herald paywall avoidable version here);

The answer to questions like this in headlines is almost always, “No, you’re just trying to get eyeballs“.

Oh, that’s worrying.

By that I mean, it’s worrying that the UN isn’t also in the list of global institutions past their sell-by dates that are in crisis. In the words of Saint Augustine, “Oh Lord! Make me pure, but not yet!“.

Bloody hell, we’re almost on the brink of another world war? There’s no way the government will allow that, just think what it would do to their plans for annual skiing holidays and the values of their Caribbean villas.

It all sounds very worrying though, whatever might be the cause?

Ah, it’s just another #OrangeManBad #LiterallyHitler article.

One of these political thinktank pieces isn’t compete without an economic prediction, of course;

Sure, the EU is going to have a few challenges ahead, especially if the UK is lucky enough to exit without a deal and gets to keep the £39bn ransom, but we’re heading for deflation, are we?

Given that the USA inflation figures for 2018 were 2.54% and projected to be ~2.44% this year, I wouldn’t go holding one’s breath for it to turn negative. Something like a meteor strike would have to happen in 2019 to turn that into deflation.

Oh goodeee, another article telling us the reason why we voted to leave the EU.

Personally, it was Magna Carta, 800+ years of Common Law, legislative sovereignty, the right to determine our own immigration laws and the fact that calling 73 MEPs for a population of 67m “democracy” seems like a sicker joke than anything Louis CK could come up with. But no, Eurasia Group, do tell us why we voted Brexit.

As for the problems between China and the USA, yes sure China is not running as hot as before (-16% sales of smartphones was an interesting recent data point), however, Xi looks to be trying to rapidly build bridges with Trump. It’s almost as if, I dunno, Trump’s strategy is working. Perish the thought.

So, after you’ve scared us half to death, what’s the chances of any of this happening?

“Muddle through”.

We do like a good old fashioned muddle.

Bill’s Opinion

As you were, platoon. We’ll be just fine.