The advent of a long weekend, particularly in January, usually brings with it a bit of a mixed bag from a newspaper commentary perspective. In keeping with this tradition, this morning’s edition of The Distillery includes speculation about the longevity of the consumer watchdog’s commissioners, a forecast of the Queensland flood sharemarket reaction, hopes of an equity market resurgence and an analysis of the impact iron ore price movements have on Australian wealth.
The Australian’s John Durie reports rather worryingly that Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss Rod Sims could lose four of his seven commissioners this year, when complaints are already on the rise about the time it takes to get a takeover approved.
"On a personal level Sims scores high marks from the so-called ‘trade practices mafia’, that is, the corporate lawyers acting for big business who are involved in all the high-profile merger cases. But some note the ACCC is a big organisation processing more than 200,000 consumer complaints each year, amid making highly complex decisions on issues ranging from electricity and water prices, to the national broadband network authorisation and key merger decisions such as last year's Foxtel takeover of Austar. It is a hard organisation to get on top of, and some key staff, such as chief of staff Brian Cassidy, have been in the job for more than a decade. This helps continuity, but also includes relics of past administrations. The commissioners whose terms expire this year include Sarah Court in April, Ed Willett in June, Michael Schaper in July and Joe Dimasi in December. Next year merger commissioner Jill Walker is also slated to leave.”
Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson argues that the market reaction to the Queensland floods will be somewhat more dispassionate than any human being watching the devastation unfold.
"As the country feels its heart in its mouth watching the fallout of the devastating Queensland floods, investors will take a more clinical approach to the disaster on the equities market when it opens today. After the market closed at a 20-month high on Friday, hedge funds, day traders and others will punt on the impact of the wild weather on tourism, aviation, Queensland coalmines and insurance stocks. Not surprisingly, the biggest focus is likely to be on insurance stocks, particularly analysing the retention rates that the big three listed companies, IAG, QBE and Suncorp, managed to negotiate with their reinsurers on property catastrophe events.”
Speaking of sharemarkets, Fairfax’s Matthew Kidman points out that stockbroking companies are showing signs of serious share market success, reflecting a growing sense of optimism towards equities generally.
"Stockbroking companies listed on the Australian sharemarket are already starting to feel the benefits of an improving sentiment towards equities. Wilson HTM's shares have rocketed 157 per cent higher since July 2012, Bell Financial Group has risen a hefty 51 per cent since mid-November and Perth-based Euroz has won some latent support with a 23 per cent move in the past four weeks. These businesses are highly leveraged to a rising sharemarket and only Euroz managed a profit in 2012. At the big end of town, shares in Macquarie Group have risen 56 per cent since the middle of last year. All these issues are still only at a fraction of the highs reached before the global financial crisis.”
Meanwhile, The Australian’s economics editor David Uren has an interesting factoid about commodity price movements and the impact it has on Australian earnings.
"Every $10 move in the average iron ore price shifts Australia's export income by roughly $6 billion, with about 60 per cent of the money remaining in the country. So the $50-a-tonne fall in the price in the September quarter, and the $70-a-tonne bounce-back in the last three months are a big deal, if only for the volatility they bring into the economic outlook.”
And Fairfax’s Michael West looks back on the year that covered bonds legislation has been in effect, revealing that at least Westpac is describing the drop in wholesale funding as "extraordinary”.
"No longer can the banks rely on that hoary old chestnut of ''high funding costs'' to pass off their failure to match the successive cuts in the official cash rate. Margins are fatter than ever, veritably bulging, and there is scant proof that borrowers are getting their grimy fingers on a single cent of it. It's a good thing for shareholders though, some cautious at the listless growth in credit.”
Meanwhile, Fairfax’s finance writer Eric Johnston looks at the elevation of former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus to the global advisory board of US banking giant Bank of America.
The Australian’s Barry Fitzgerald expects yet more drama to come from the big miners, despite the departure of Rio Tinto boss Tom Albanese and the insistence of BHP Billiton chairman Jacques Nasser that the search for Marius Kloppers’s replacement is simply good succession planning.
The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd is scathing in his critique of a journalist last week that reported Linc Energy’s ‘undiscovered’ reserves in South Australia contained $US20 trillion in oil and gas.
Elsewhere, Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson notices that the milk wars between the two big supermarkets is now two years old, noting also that it took two years of heavy discounting in the UK before serious reforms were brought forward.
Business Spectator’s Shane White employs the brilliant phrase "delusional pearlers” in his column The Last Gasp, specifically directed at the usually sensible opposition leader Tony Abbott.
And finally, Fairfax’s Peter Cai makes the interesting argument that Westpac Bank boss Gail Kelly and her heir apparent Brian Hartzer would not be able to get to their current positions so easily without their backgrounds in language and history respectively.