Tag Archives: australia

Banks Covered by the Australian Government Guarantee

Following the shenanigans in parliament earlier this week, the Government has modified their original 12 October media release about the Government guarantee for banks. In the process they no longer list the local and foreign banks covered by the guarantee, so with the help of Google’s cache* I am republishing the original list here. The Government has also (finally) announced the terms of the wholesale guarantee, so stay tuned for another post on that subject. Update: here is that post.

Today the Government announced the fees payable for a guarantee on wholesale debt, which will also apply to retail deposits over $1 million. At the same time they announced that foreign bank branches will be able to access the deposit guarantee but only if they pay the fee, regardless of the size of the balance. The lowest possible fee is 0.70% (it varies with each bank’s credit rating) and the bank is sure to pass that on!

Note that foreign banks not in the list below are now also able to access the wholesale guarantee (for short-term debt only) and the deposit guarantee, but the wholesale guarantee fee will apply even on balances below $1 million.

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Update on the Guarantee of Australian Banks

Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, appeared before a Senate Estimates Committee today to provide some clarity on the nature of the consultation between the Government, Treasury and the Reserve Bank prior to the 12 October announcement that the Government would provide guarantees for all Australian banks. This followed yesterday’s article in The Australian which claimed that the Reserve Bank and Treasury were at odds on the question of providing an unlimited guarantee. Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull tried to capitalise on the issue in Parliament the same day and, despite scoring some initial points, he lost the upper hand when he appeared to question Henry’s integrity.

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Income Inequality in Australia and the US

A topic that the New York Times visits from time to time is that of income inequality. In the United States, the gap between the highest and lowest earners has been increasing over the last 80 years or so. A recent article returns to this theme and provides further insight into the trend. It cites research from the new book “Unequal Democracy” by Larry M. Bartels, which indicates that income inequality has increased far more under Republican presidents than under Democrats.

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Weak Dollar and Australian Petrol Prices

The world’s financial markets have shifted their focus from oil supply problems to the demand side of the equation. They appear to have decided that the US and European economies look so dire that oil consumption will collapse. As a result, oil prices have been in free-fall, barely staying above US$100 per barrel. If the recent hostilities in Georgia had taken place a couple of months earlier, oil prices would almost certainly have shot up. But with the shift in focus, they scarcely reacted to the conflict.

Unfortunately for Australian motorists, a weak Australian dollar is preventing the full effect of lower oil prices coming though to the price of petrol at the pump. Oil is not the only commodity to see price declines, not good news for the currency of a commodity producing country. More significantly, the Reserve Bank has started cutting interest rates and the dollar is moving down alongside rates. Since the end of July, the dollar has fallen almost as much as oil. The result, evident in the graphs below, is that oil prices have not fallen nearly as much in Australian dollar terms as they have in US dollar terms.

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Australian Grocery Prices on the Rise?

Last month, the Australian Government launched the GroceryChoice initiative, with the goal of helping consumers find the cheapest place to shop for their groceries. As I wrote at the time, the GroceryChoice website allows users to compare prices in a given area, but comparisons across areas are not made easy. Undeterred, I simply scraped all the data from the web-site for easier analysis. Today GroceryChoice released prices for the month of September, making it possible to start analysing prices over time as well as by region and retailer.

The website provides prices for a number of specific grocery “baskets” (Fruit & Vegetables, Meat & Seafood, etc.) as well as for a more general “Basic Staples” basket. A crude average of prices of this Basic Staples basket around the country would suggest that prices are on the rise, having increased from $75.41 for August to $75.97 for September. However, this figure should be taken with caution. Quite apart from the fact that this analysis does not take into account the differing population sizes in each region, there is also significant variation across the different retailers, as is evident in the chart below.

“Basic Staples” Prices by Retailer (A$)

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Digging into GroceryCHOICE

Earlier this week, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon raised concerns that the Government’s FuelWatch scheme would lead to higher petrol prices and that small independent petrol retailers were likely to be disadvantaged by the scheme. So it looks likely that the FuelWatch legislation will fail to pass the senate and then fade into oblivion. I can’t say I’m too upset about this as I have been critical of the scheme. Furthermore, falling oil prices have led to a fall of around 20 cents/litre in petrol prices which takes much of the sting out of the issue.

So now I am free to turn my attention to another Australian Government initiative, GroceryCHOICE**. This scheme aims to “[help] consumers find the cheapest supermarket chain in their area without having to compare hundreds of prices”. Every month a survey is conducted of prices on around 500 different grocery items at over 600 supermarkets around the region. These prices are aggregated into “baskets” of goods in the following categories:
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NAB takes $830 million hit

nab, the largest of Australia’s banks saw its share price fall by almost 14% today after they announced an A$830 million (US$795 million) provision on mortgage-backed CDOs (“collateralised debt obligations”).

It has been estimated that the US sub-prime mortgage crisis has resulted in over US$450 billion in write-downs to date and, earlier this year, the IMF suggested that the figure could rise to almost US$1 trillion. Up until now, Australian bank balance sheets had appeared fairly clean compared to their global peers, and they had avoided the large write-downs that have become common-place elsewhere over the last year. So what happened at nab?

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This evening I caught up for a chat and a couple of beers with Dan Walsh, the technologist behind the scenes of the Australian social news site Kwoff.

For those not familiar with social news sites, the idea is that users submit links to interesting news articles (or blog posts, funny photos, videos or anything else that tickles their fancy) and then other users can vote for the stories they enjoyed reading. The most popular stories then float to the top where they are easily found by visitors to the site. This is a classic example of the Web 2.0 technique of crowd-sourcing.

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Update on Sydney Petrol Prices

A little while ago I wrote about the relationship between crude oil prices and the price Sydney motorists are paying for petrol at the pump. The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has now released their price data for June and, not surprisingly, prices continued to track moves implied by rising crude oil prices. The simple regression model suggested that average prices would be up 8 cents/litre. The AAA data shows a rise of 10 cents/litre in the average Sydney price.

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The Garnaut Report and “Tit-for-Tat”

For those outside Australia, the Garnaut Climate Change Review is our equivalent of the Stern Review and last week a draft report was released. In this report, a nation’s decision as to how to act in the face of climate change is compared to the prisoner’s dilemma:

Effective international action is necessary if the risks of dangerous climate change are to be held to acceptable levels, but deeply problematic. International cooperation is essential for a solution to a global problem. However, such a solution requires the resolution of a genuine prisoners’ dilemma. Each country benefits from a national point of view if it does less of the mitigation itself, and others do more. If all countries act on this basis, without forethought and cooperation, there will be no resolution of the dilemma.

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