Markets Live: Banks propel ASX gains
Housing starts of apartments, townhouses and semi-detached dwellings fell to their lowest level in two and a half years in the June quarter as developers held off projects.
New dwelling commencements of attached housing totalled 24,380 in the three months to June in seasonally adjusted terms, down 0.8 per cent from March and the lowest level since December 2014, when the total was 21,416, official figures showed on Wednesday.
The decline contrasted with the 3.3 per cent quarterly gain in detached house starts, which have avoided the more volatile ups and downs of the apartment sector, but which are also slowing overall.
Total new dwelling commencements have come off the peak t hey touched in March last year, when the sector started 62,000 new homes. In the latest three-month period, that total stood at 52,895, with both detached houses and attached dwelling commencements below their level of a year ago.
The figures, which follow earlier slowdowns in approval numbers, strengthened the argument that Australia's housing market was unlikely to experience a crash in values, said AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver.
"It's like we are starting to roll over again," Dr Oliver told The Australian Financial Review. "People were looking for a housing supply surge to deliver a housing price bust, but it probably won't happen. The risk is that once the cranes come down construction activity will slow down again and it will take a while to ramp it up again. It's hard to see what precisely would ramp it up again."
After a burst of new housing construction that has eased prices in some areas, sl owing production of new dwellings â" at a time when population growth is increasing â" is likely to lead to further housing affordability problems later on.
Consultancy BIS Oxford Economics already predicts a shortage of apartments in Melbourne and SQM Research managing director Louis Christopher says the rental market will tighten on that undersupply of dwellings.
Australia's population grew at its fastest rate of gain in nine years in the March quarter, led by Victoria, which gained 2.43 per cent â" the fastest since 1960 â" and NSW, which rose 1.6 per cent.
Westpac C EO Brian Hartzer is appearing before a parliamentary committee headed by Liberal MP David Coleman on Wednesday as part of the government's review of Australia's four major banks.
In his opening statement to the parliamentary committee, Hartzer said Westpac is actively reviewing all its products, processes and policies under its "Get it right, put it right" program.
He said recent changes to Westpac included the introduction of a basic credit card "Westpac Light" with 9.9 per cent interest rate, simplified fees for transaction accounts and better disclosures for pre-existing conditions for life insurance.
Hartzer said he supports the BEAR regime and in fact Westpac has already started implementing some BEAR rules in relation to incentives.
However, he said severe penalties under the BEAR regime could lead to "unintended consequences".
He added Westpac cha nged the bank's mortgage pricing to meet APRA's balance sheet requirements rather than market mechanisms, for example by increasing the price of interest only mortgage while offering lower rate for principal and interest mortgages at a time when interest rates are at a "50 year low".
He said Westpac also changed its incentive system last year to remove all sales incentives for tellers and incentivise personal bankers equally for sales and customer service.
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The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has found that borrowers who use mortgage brokers are more likely to sign up for interest-only loans.
It also found that borrowers were still being provided with a "significant" number of interest-only loans for homes they owned even as they neared retirement age and would no longer be earning an income.
The findings formed part of a review announced in April of this year as the corporate watchdog, the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority took co-ordinated action to target interest-only loans.
APRA imposed a limit on interest-only loans to be 30 per cent of all new loans.
The review surveyed 16 lenders and found that the major banks had cut back interest-only lending by $4.5 billion over the past year but the decline was offset by other lenders increasing their share of interest-only lending.
In total, the 16 lenders provided $14.3 billion of interest-only loans to owner-occupiers in the June 2017 quarter, down from $19 billion in the September 2015 quarter.
The report comes as brokers have warned that many borrowers do not understand that they have an interest-only loan whilst expressing concern that as more borrowers are forced to begin paying down the principal of their home loans, consumer spending could take a dip, hurting the economy.
The banks have responded to the APRA restrictions by lifting rates on interest-only loans.
Interest-only loan rates have increased by an average of 74 basis points for investors, to 6.26 per cent and 49 basis points for owner occupied borrowers over the last 12 months to 5.78 per cent.ASIC said it would examine individual loan files to "ensure that lenders are providing interest-only home loans in appropriate circumstances.
"ASIC will carefully review cases where owner-occupiers have been provided with more ex pensive interest-only home loans, to ensure that consumers are not paying for more expensive products that are unsuitable."
The ASX is holding onto early gains at lunchtime, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 up 30 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 5768. The All Ordinaries is up 29 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 5836.
The Australian dollar is trading at US77.93Â¢ after a strong consumer sentiment reading this morning.
"Consumer sentiment has been soft for some time now, running below its long average over the past year. So the lift over the last two months is a welcome development," CBA economist Kristina Clifton said.
"The employment component of the survey remains solid and suggests decent jobs growth should continue in the months ahead."
Banks are advancing, with Westpac up 0.7 per cent, ANZ up 0.5 per cent, NAB higher by 0.5 per cent and Macquarie up 0.7 per cent.
Transurban is up 1.6 per cent, Brambles is 2.4 per cent higher, Aristocrat is gaining 1.7 per cent and Amcor is up 1.3 per cent.
Myer shares are down 1.3 per cent and miners are also lower, with BHP down 0.2 per cent and Fortescue down 1.1 per cent.
Orora shares are climbing today, up 2.4 per cent at lunchtime, with Citi upgrading the firm to buy from neutral. Here's Citi's view:
Since listing in late 2013, Orora has strongly outperformed as a result of largely self-help measures and disciplined growth investments.
Orora's strategy remains to grow its North American footprint, but given an under-geared balance sheet, we believe a capital return must now be on the table.
Meanwhile, headwinds from earlier in the year have reversed with China's latest environmental push resulting in old corrugated container prices collapsing, just as the Australian dollar has begun to ease.
US exports of old corrugated container prices crashed US$70-75/ton (A$104/tonne) last month as China continued a nearly-full ban on recovered paper imports, in its most recent environmental drive.
The sharp price falls are the largest ever, exceeding those experienced during the GFC.
Orora had flagged that high OCC prices were a likely headwind, but the recent price collapse reverses the situation into a tailwind.
Spot OCC prices are now $50 a tonne below FY17 levels â" for each $10 a tonne fall, Orora's EBIT benefits by around $2.3 million.
With container board prices staying firm given low inventories and high utilisation rates, we expect Orora's fibre packaging business to enjoy a strong second half 2018 performance.Back to top
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Foreign buyers, almost all of them Chinese, are buying the equivalent of 25 per cent of new housing supply in NSW, undeterred by local taxes or investment limits imposed in China.
Credit Suisse's Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu have forecast a "stronger-for-longer" scenario for the housing sector after analysing f oreign buyer receipts collected in NSW, Victoria and Brisbane.
The trend is strong in Victoria as well, with foreign buyers accounting for the equivalent of 17 per cent of new housing. In Queensland, it is 8 per cent.
"Almost 90 per cent of foreign demand is from China and there is little evidence that new capital controls by the Chinese authorities, announced in December 2016, have slowed demand for Aussie housing," the analysts wrote in a report released overnight.
"We think the tailwind of Chinese wealth creation will mean more, not less, foreign buying of Aussie housing."
In Sydney, house prices fell by 0.1 per cent over September, the first fall since late 2015. New dwelling approvals have also been sluggish.
In their report 'Build it and they will come', the Credit Suisse strategists expect the moderation in housing activity and house price inflation to continue.
"But Chinese de mand suggests we ought to remain skeptical of a collapse," they wrote.
"Residential exposed companies should benefit including the developers, building material companies and banks."
Following an initial report in March this year, and using Freedom of Information requests the Credit Suisse report collates tax receipts collected by the state revenue offices in the three states over the 2016-17 financial year.
It found foreign buyers are pouring an annualised $5.9 billion into residential property in NSW, $3.4 billion in Victoria and $700 million in Queensland.
That investment is just a tiny fraction of the national housing market, worth $6.7 trillion, or $5.6 trillion in the three east coast states. However, the report notes, it represents a large proportion of the value of new housing supply.
An estimated $3.5 billion in revenue from large corporates and multinationals is at risk to the economy, but through audit activity this will reduce to $2.5 billion, according to the Australian Taxation Office.
The agency is releasing the first tranche of its long-awaited highly anticipated "tax gap" figures, which focuses on 1400 corporate groups with gross income of over $250 million.
This is the first time the agency has e ver put specific dollar values on the tap gap, which measures the theoretical difference between the total amount of income tax collected and the amount the ATO estimates would have been collected if every one of those taxpayers was fully compliant.
The agency's figures show that in 2014â"15, large corporate groups reported $1.5 trillion in gross income and paid about $41 billion in tax. The agency estimates that after audit activity, the net income tax gap for this group is $2.5 billion in 2014-15 or 5.8 per cent of tax payable.
This trend has been steady for a number of years, the agency said, and the gap primarily reflects differences in the interpretation of complex areas of tax law.
Since the estimates rely on predicting the outcomes of audits still underway - and also do not measure all instances of non-compliance (that is the companies the ATO chose not to audit) - there's some level of error.
Deputy Commissioner Public Grou ps Jeremy Hirschhorn likened measuring the tax gap to drug testing undertaken during the Olympics: "They don't do drug testing to catch lots of drug cheats but to make sure that there's a clean Olympics," he said.
Mr Hirschhorn said a 5.8 per cent tax gap was was "pretty good on a global scale, but our aim is to significantly reduce that".
But Oxfam Australia's Economic Policy Advisor Joy Kyriacou said $2.5 billion was a conservative estimate. "The ATO can only report on what large companies are bound to tell it, not on taxes which multinationals are dodging through legal tax avoidance," she said.
Pizza giant Domino's Enterprises, its network of franchisees, unions and thousands of workers will be itching for the outcome of a Fair Work Commission hearing that relates to more than 26 applications by two unions to terminate various enterprise agreements, writes SMH columnist Adele Ferguson.
If the agreements are terminated, workers will be put on a modern award â" the wages safety net â" which would make them instantly better off.
Last year Deutsche Bank estimated the cost of Domino's paying award penalty rates would be more than $30 million a year, a figure the company disputed.
Still the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan estimates it would be in the tens of millions of dollars. The RFFWU was set up to challenge the SDA union and has taken action in conjunction with a Domino's delivery driver to terminate the agreement in the commission.
The stakes are high, which is why there are likely to be a lot of twists and turns between now and November 1, when the hearing will be held in Sydney in front of the Fair Work Commission's senior deputy president Jonathan Hamberger.
In the past year Domino's has become one of the most shorted stocks on the ASX. Spruiking itself at an investor day on Monday, the company did little to pacify the doubters, with the share price falling.
Concerns include its expansion into France and Japan as well as the eventual impact of a new workplace agreement on the franchise network.
In a note released after the update, Deutsche Bank analysts said: "Overall, we still see downside risk for the company given our view that f ranchisees' share of the profit pool is falling which could become a bigger issue as Australian sales growth slows and higher wages come through."
A measure of Australian consumer sentiment jumped to its highest this year in October as an outbreak of optimism about the economic outlook and family finances overcame months of caution.
The survey of 1,200 people by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank published on Wednesday found consumer sentiment climbed 3.6 percent in October, on top of a 2.5 percent rise the month before.
The index reading of 101.4 meant optimists outnumbered pessimists for the first time since November last year.
The pick-up will be a relief to policy makers after a shock slide in retail sales for August sparked concerns that consumers were going on strike.
"Consistent reports of an improving global economy may have been a factor behind this lift," said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.
"Ongoing improvements in the labour market are also boosting confidence," he added, noting that sentiment among "trade" workers surged 22 percent in October amid strength in home and infrastructure construction.
While employment growth has accelerated markedly this year, it was not accompanied by a revival in wages, clouding the outlook for household incomes.
The better mood could be positive for the struggling retail sector, with the survey's index of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item rising 3.7 percent in October.
The outlook on the economy improved markedly with the index for the next 12 months up 7.1 percent, and that for the next five years rising 1.4 percent.
Respondents were still guarded about finances and the survey's measure of family finances compared to a year ago edged up 1.0 percent in the month, but was still down 6.1 percent on October last year.
Analysts note that, historically, business surveys have a far closer correlation to activity in the broader economy than do polls of the consumer mood, which can prove fickle from month to month.Back to top
Some Fortescue Metals Group investors may not pay too much attention to the philanthropic endeavours of their chairman Andrew Forrest, writes the AFR's Julie-anne Sprague.
But what Forrest, and his wife Nicola, are doing on the world stage â" from improving education, funding cancer research to ending modern slavery â" is shaping the next stage of growth for the nation's third force in iron ore.
In an era when his main rivals, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, are talking down acquisitions and focusing on being better capital managers, Forrest has begun talking about possible deals (admittedly with scant detail).
As Fort escue was building mines and railways capable of producing 155 million tonnes per annum of iron ore (which would eventually become 170 million tonnes), its bigger, fiercer rivals were throwing billions and billions at assets such as shale gas (BHP) and aluminium (Rio). Those expansions have cost BHP and Rio dearly. Both have admitted the mistakes and taken massive writedowns.
Fortescue is now a $16 billion company with a story of winning against the odds and beating market expectations. This is why Forrest thinks he can bet the next phase of its journey with little impact on its own balance sheet (or restricting the group's dividends).
He says Fortescue has the pulling power, or "reputational capital", to suck in external investors and bond holders to back new initiatives. This is not something every company can do, he argues.
"We haven't put big bets on big acquisitions tha t have turned sour," he tells this column. "It's been a win-win for shareholders."
The ASX rose in early trading on Wednesday, with the benchmark up 16 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 5755. The All Ordinaries climbed 16 points and 0.3 per cent as well to trade at 5823. The Australian dollar was at US77.81Â¢ in early trading as the US dollar eased.
"Europe (no immediate declared Catalan independence from Puigdemont) and the US (Trump tax politics and a softer NFIB repo rt) provided the background for limited currency moves overnight," noted NAB's currency team.
Myer shares were up 0.7 per cent after it said that former Spotless chairman Garry Hounsell will become its next chairman after long-serving chairman Paul McClintock decided not to seek re-election.
The banking and mining sectors were both strong in early trading, with BHP up 0.6 per cent, South32 up 0.8 per cent, Macquarie up 0.8 per cent and Westpac higher by 0.3 per cent.
Former Spotless chairman Garry Hounsell will become chairman of Myer at the annual meeting on November 24 after long-serving chairman Paul McClintock decided not to seek re-election.
The decision, announced early on Wednesday, could take some of the heat out of reta iler Solomon Lew's bitter campaign against the Myer board.
Mr McClintock was originally considering standing for re-election but planned to hand over the reins to Mr Hounsell months later, mirroring his own four-month transition from chairman-elect to chairman in 2012.
However, given Mr Hounsell's board experience, the short handover period and the campaign launched by Mr Lew, Myer and Mr McClintock had been discussing whether the veteran company director should step down at the AGM.
"This outcome is an important milestone in the process we outlined at last year's AGM, when we welcomed Dave Whittle to the Board and foreshadowed the intention to appoint JoAnne Stephenson to replace Anne Brennan when she retires in November 2017," Mr McClintock said on Wednesday.
"At that time I also specifically referenced the board's intention to appoint a successor for my role as ch airman and today's announcement reflects that work," he said.
"I have great confidence in the capability of the Myer Board and that Garry's extensive experience strongly complements the deep and diverse skill set available to the Board."
Premier Investments, which is 43 per cent owned by Mr Lew, emerged as Myer's largest shareholder in March after snapping up a 10.8 per cent stake from shareholders including Perpetual Investments for $101 million or about $1.14 a share.
It is unclear whether Mr Lew intends to vote Premier's 10.8 per cent stake against Mr Hounsell's election, a move that would force Myer to appoint one of its existing non-executive directors as chairman-elect.
Both Premier and Myer have missed the 45 business days deadline to nominate new directors to the board.
Iron ore futures have been dragged back into the $US50s, raising the possibility that the commodity may slump below this year's low on concern that steel-output cuts in China will hurt demand over winter just as seaborne supplies from the world's top miners expand.
In Singapore, the most-active SGX AsiaClear contract retreated 3.3 percent to $58.48 a metric ton, the lowest price since June. The contract bottomed in the same month at $52.50. On China's Dalian Commodity Exchange, prices sagged 0.6 percent as steel tumbled.
Iron ore sank into a bear market last month as investors wei ghed the impact on demand of steel production cuts in China to fight pollution, while miners including Brazil's Vale go on boosting output.
The measures in the top steel producer could drag prices into the $50 to $60 range, before they snap back in 2018, Deutsche Bank has warned. Among signs of robust supplies, stockpiles of ore amassed at China's ports rose again last week.
"We're going to have fewer steel mills going flat out during this winter, so there will be a greater seasonality in the market this year," said David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets. "This is a temporary lull. November and December should be quiet but at some stage there will be restocking."
Benchmark spot ore with 62 percent iron content in Qingdao was at $61.01 a dry ton on Tuesday, the lowest since June, according to Metal Bulletin. Prices have lost 22 percent this year, and bottomed in June at $53.36.
Holdings of ore at mainland ports rose again last week, expanding 0.5 percent to 133.9 million tons, according to figures from Shanghai Steelhome E-Commerce Co. The increase builds on the prior week's 1.8 percent gain, which snapped a run of nine straight declines.
The International Monetary Fund is warning policymakers including Treasurer Scott Morrison gathering in Washington for G20 talks this week that an improved global economy has opened only a temporary window for tough reforms.
Upgrading global economic growth for this year and 2018 as a synchronous upswing across Europe, China, Japan, the US and emerging Asia gathers pace, the IMF has urged countries like Australia to tackle the need for greater infrastructure investment and deregulation of sectors like retail.
Following a similar upgrade from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last month, the IMF now believes global gross domestic produce growth will accelerate to 3.7 per cent in 2018 from 3.6 per cent this year. That's 0.1 percentage points above its last forecast six months ago.
Economic growth will quicken in Australia from 2.2 per cent this calendar year to 2.9 per cent in 2018, pushing the jobless rate to 5.4 per cent over the next year or so.
The latest IMF forecasts match the Reserve Bank of Australia's expectations, and suggest the long overhang f rom the global financial crisis is coming to an end.
"The global recovery is continuing and at a faster pace," said the IMF's director of research Maurice Obstfeld. "The picture is very different from early last year, when the world economy faced faltering growth and financial market turbulence."
"The current global acceleration is also notable because it is broad-based â" more so than at any time since the start of this decade."
Strengthening growth provides an "opportunity for ambitious policies" that would help repair battered government budgets and generate additional growth for the future.
"Policymakers should seize the moment: the recovery is still incomplete ... and the window for action the current cyclical upswing offers will not be open forever."
The fund's latest world economic outlook â" prepared ahead of this week's Group of 20 finance ministers an d central bank meeting in Washington â" mentions Australia as being one of five advanced economies suffering from an infrastructure "deficit".Back to top
All the overnight action in numbers:
- SPI futures up 15 points or 0.3% to 5733
- AUD +0.4% to 77.80 US cents
- On Wall St: Dow +0.3%, S&P 500 +0.2%, Nasdaq +0.1%
- In New York, BHP +1% Rio +0.4%
- In Europe: Stoxx 50 -0.3%, FTSE +0.4%, CAC flat, DAX -0.2%
- Spot gold +0.5% to $US1290.03 an ounce
- Brent crude +1.6% to $US56.70 a barrel
- US oil +2.7% to $US50.92 a barrel
- Iron ore +2.6% to $US61.01 a tonne
- Dalian iron ore +0.5% to 442 yuan
- Steam coal -1.3% to $US95.35, Met coal +0.3% to $US179.50
- LM E aluminium -0.5% to $US2163 a tonne
- LME copper +1.4% to $US6760 a tonne
- 10-year bond yield: US 2.34%, Germany 0.44%, Australia 2.83%
On the economic agenda today:
- WBC-MI consumer confidence October 10.30am
- Federal Reserve latest meeting minutes
- Fed speakers: Evans, Williams
Stocks to watch:
- Clean TeQ Holdings cut to hold at Canaccord
- âCromwell Property raised to neutral at JPMorgan
- âNew Hope cut to underperform at Credit Suisse
- Ooh!Media new hold at Morningstar
- Bluescope annual meeting scheduled
US stocks climbed to fresh record highs overnight as Wal-Mart Stores led a rally in consumer shares and energy producers climbed along with oil prices.
The US dollar weakened against most major currencies as President Donald Trump's feud with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., clouded the outlook for his much-heralded tax reform.
Traders are also waiting for minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting, which may provide more details on the path of interest rates and balance sheet tapering.
All three major US equity markets set record highs on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 Index closing up 0.2 per cent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.3 per cent and the Nasdaq finishing the day up 0.1 per cent.
"The economy is kind of just chugging along here," said Brian Frank, portfolio manager at Key Biscayne, Florida-based Frank Capital Partners. "It seems like investors just aren't able to put their finger on any risk in front of them."
Meanwhile, the euro climbed 0.7 percent to $1.1816. after Catalonia's president stepped back from declaring immediate independence from Spain.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona, said that while an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, he would "suspend" the result for a period of some weeks for dialogue with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's administration.
He suggested that the European Union should be involved in the talks, and sought to reassure companies fleeing the region. Spain's IBEX Index fell 0.9 per cent while the Stoxx Europe 600 Index was little changed.
Good morning and welcome to the Markets Live blog for Wednesday.
Your editor today is Sarah Turner.
This blog is not intended as investment advice.
Fairfax Media with wires.
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