Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Budget buffer?


The Treasurer is winning the post budget arguments because those who question his mastery aren’t acquainting themselves with the true situation.

The Treasurer is setting the agenda. We have fixed the budget mess he claims. There are surpluses as far as the eye can see.  Are there surpluses? Yes. Does this mean the budget is fixed? No.

The corporate world is littered with the corpses of companies which showed profits one day and went belly up shortly thereafter. Profits or net operating surpluses in this case, often coexist with cash deficits. Yet most people, innocently accept the Treasurer’s claim about future surpluses thinking he means cash surpluses, and respond by saying why not spend them now?  The Treasurer’s answer is essentially to say, no, they are needed to provide a buffer for the future.

This is the point where the Treasurer crosses the line from an arguable position, namely the existence of surpluses, to a baseless assertion that he is creating a future buffer.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Banks: Do we need them?



People who believe the good times will soon return are harder to find these days. It’s not just the loss of trust in our institutions and the political class but a more deep-seated scepticism as to whether the suggested remedies will work.

The laws of economics are not immutable. Many are mere transient beliefs that may provide a reasonable explanation of current machinations, but when a black swan event occurs, like the Global Financial Crisis, something outside previous experiences, the old ways of thinking are of little help.

Likewise, our treasured institutions have failed us. As part of the reported proceedings of the Royal Commission into Banking, investment banker UBS estimated $500 billion out of $1.7 trillion in mortgages across Australia, that’s one third of the total mortgage debt, could be ‘liar loans’, based on dodgy documentation.

With residential mortgages growing faster than the rest of the economy, our economy is out of balance. Everyone knows it. We shuffle existing assets amongst ourselves at ever increasing prices using borrowed funds under the mistaken belief we are growing the economy when the reality is we are involved in a giant Ponzi scheme. Now we discover that up to one third of the mortgage loans may be based on suspect if not fraudulent documentation.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The case for Basslink?

(Published in The Mercury on 20th April 2018. This blog includes additional endnotes.)
With all the talk about a second Basslink one would have expected to have a clear picture of the costs and benefits of the first interconnector. Surely if you’re buying another of the same, one of the determining factors would be how the first has performed? Has it worked as planned?

The short answer is no. It’s been a costly voyage into the unknown.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Forestry Tasmania and the RFA


The following was a background paper prepared as part of a series of articles on Regional Forest Agreements  by Gregg Borschmann published by The Guardian. An overview can be found  HERE.
The Guardian asked the Tasmanian minister responsible for forestry a series of questions about the RFA. The questions and the Minister's responses are included at the end of this blog.

The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) signed in 1997, was supposed to provide a framework for the sustainable management of Tasmania’s forests.

If financial sustainability was the aim, the outcome has been a complete failure. Since 1997 the state-owned Forestry Tasmania (FT) has suffered cash operating losses of $94 million. In simple terms it was selling timber far too cheaply.

But the overall picture is even worse. Capital spending of $368 million on plant and equipment, roads and plantations, most sourced from government funds, failed to add anything to FT’s asset base.  FT’s total operating cash loss over 20 years was therefore $454 million.

That’s just the cash losses.

Not only did new capital spending fail to increase FT’s asset base, there were huge non-cash losses as forests under its trusteeship lost $750 million or 90 per cent of their value.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

A surplus of lies


Treasurer Gutwein reckons even after factoring in all the promises made during the election campaign there will still be surplus totalling $104 million over the next four years.

"The key thing here is that we have arrived at a modest surplus to provide for a buffer moving forward," he was reported as saying.

Mr Gutwein forgot to mention the skinny surplus each year is solely because of the $40 million special dividend received annually from TTLine.

As explained in the last blog profits don’t imply cash surpluses. Now we have Mr Gutwein trying to tell us there is still a buffer when the tiny profits which he calls surpluses  are due entirely to transfers that are locked away and can only be used to fund vessel replacements.

Take away the TTLine transfers and even the paper profits disappear.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Back in black?



One of the Hodgman government’s claim that always seems to pass without challenge is the proposition that the budget, being back in black is now able to withstand more spending.

The almost universal view is that we now have the necessary cash buffer to be able to loosen the purse strings a little and give ourselves a treat after a few years of austerity.

However, reality has a different perspective.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

RSL pokie porkies

The release of player loss figures for each individual pokie venue casts a huge pall of doubt over the claims by the Glenorchy RSL that removal of pokies will be the swan song for the Club and the end of life as we know it.

The Club’s haul for the 2015/16 year, the total of player losses, was $590,000. This is only a fraction of the $4.5 million lost at the Mecca of misery, the Elwick Hotel just up the road with the same number of machines.

But with losses of about $20,000 per pokie there’s no money being made by the Club. Anyone familiar with the industry knows that when player losses slip below $20,000 per pokie it’s time to summon the pokie machine undertaker.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Election odds


The absence of any reliable polling during the current election campaign has left most observers scratching their heads as to what is exactly happening in the minds of voters.

What are the betting markets saying?

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Liberal pokie gifts


Andrew Wilkie in his latest media release reckons the Federal Group is “set to pocket an enormous $18 million windfall if the Liberals win government.”

Nonsense.

The figure is $75 million.

There’s obviously a bit of misunderstanding about how the Libs’ pokie industry welfare policy works. The value of pubs and clubs with pokies will receive a boost with increased pokie commission. If the venues are given licenses for a set period, then the amount of those future commissions will reflect in enhanced capital values of venues. If the licenses are in perpetuity, then the value of pubs and clubs with pokies will increase by $250 million.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Love your local


Just tuned into the latest Love Your Local promo on the LYL facebook page featuring the Beach Hotel Burnie. It was surprisingly frank. Whilst it only gave half the story that half was reasonably truthful. But telling only half the story can be misleading.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Pokie backflip?


The extension of pokie machine into community pubs and clubs was initially bitterly opposed by the Federal Group. Until it got a better deal. 

In the interim it submitted an alternative  to a LegCo inquiry in 1993 proposing increased numbers of pokies at the two casinos.

What Ms White is now proposing and what Federal Group now ferociously opposes, is virtually the same as the policy it fully supported in 1993. 

The following are snapshots from the 1993 submission:

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Liberals' pokie policy


It’s easy to summarise the Libs’ pokie policy. They have simply adopted THA and Federal Group’s position. Without amendment.

When Rebecca White moved the goalposts the Libs were left flatfooted with a urgent need to find a plausible alternative.

Yet despite the mountain of evidence presented to the parliamentary inquiry plus its 72 findings and 23 recommendations, despite its own post 2023 framework  that specified allocation of venue licenses by a market based mechanism, the Libs opted instead to adopt the THA/ Federal proposal in its entirety, a proposal lodged so late in the life of the parliamentary committee it didn’t have enough time to consider it in detail.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Federal Group: What will the New Year bring?


As the clock ticks over to start what is bound to be a watershed year for the Federal Group, few will take as much interest as the Group’s bankers. Rebecca White’s undertaking to remove pokies from community pubs and clubs after 2023 should she be successful at the March 2018 election will precipitate a major overhaul.

Back in 2016 Federal Group was treading water. The most recent financials reveal there was no improvement in the 2017 year. Specifically:

·       Turnover was the same at $512 million.

·       Expenses increased slightly causing net operating cash to continue its downward slide from $51 million to $46 million. That’s the lowest figure since 2001, sixteen years ago.

·       Net profit before tax fell from $28 million to $20 million.

·       Net profit after tax fell to $14 million.

·       As per usual shareholders drew out most of the after tax profits. Dividends of $11 million were paid in 2017. Since pokies in pubs started in 1997 shareholders have withdrawn $250 million in dividends.

·       Capital hungry tourism businesses can’t keep up that level of dividend payments without borrowings. Another $4.5 million was needed. Capex spending was $31 million, about $20 million more than the inadequate annual spend of the last few years. The fit out of MACg01was probably the reason for this increase.