Uber is making headlines for the wrong reasons and Alan’s disappointed his Uber eats comes by bike.
Here’s this week’s episode of the Money Cafe in which Alan Kohler and James Kirby discuss:
- Superannuation’s first new idea in decades
- Will UBER flourish without the dickheads?
- Property owners put on notice
- The Finkel review
- This week’s jobs data
And here’s a full transcript of the conversation.
Alan Kohler: Hello. I’m Alan Kohler publisher of the Constant Investor.
James Kirby: I’m James Kirby, wealth editor at The Australian.
Together: We are The Money Café.
JK: The Money Café.
AK: James, I’m still basking in the glow of the Bombers’ win on the weekend, Saturday night.
JK: That’s just great news. I’m delighted, Alan.
AK: I was there. It was fantastic.
JK: For those people in the regions of Australia that are interested in AFL, I’m sure that’s very interesting.
AK: There’s nothing better … Can I just …
JK: Our Queensland listeners will find that arcane.
AK: Queensland listeners are barracking for the Bears, the Brisbane Bears. I mean …
JK: They’re barracking for rugby actually.
AK: The Brisbane Lions actually, the Brisbane lions.
JK: That just shows you how closely you’re following them.
AK: And the Gold Coast Bears. No, the Gold Coast Suns. There is nothing better, can I say, than flogging David Koch’s team.
JK: Okay, well that must be … I’ll take it on board.
AK: Koch is a wonderful bloke but, geez, it’s great to beat the Port Adelaides. Oh boy that was great. Yes, but I’m coming down now, as is the property market in Australia.
JK: Yes, coming down.
AK: Coming down.
JK: You’re probably coming down at about the same pace as the property market, it’s really slowly.
AK: Now, interest rates were put up again in the US last night, James.
JK: Yeah, it is important.
AK: Entirely expected, but what’s the connection? Explain to me, what’s the connection between Australian property and American interest rates?
JK: The connection is, Alan, that worst case scenario is that property prices falling at the same time as interest rates are rising. Right now, we’ve got that actually. We don’t know how long it’s going to go for, how bad it’s going to be but I mean I think everyone might as well take it now, on notice, that residential property prices are falling. They’re only falling for a month or more, but at a weekly number, so they’re falling as well. Or, of course, the key numbers on property are going the wrong way, the banks are tightening up, they’re lifting their commercial rates. They’re lifting commercial rates anyway, before official rates move. Now, official rates have moved again. That is the American ones have, and they’re the ones that rule the world. That will give the banks an excuse to go higher again on their own rates. On top of all that, we’ve got 40% on interest only. The banks are cranking up the interest only rates in particular, like they’re about one full percent higher now than standard rates if you were an investor.
AK: I think that’s really stupid, but there you go.
JK: What? Cranking up the interest only rates?
AK: Yeah. Look, it’s only in response to relatively misguided instructions from the regulators. I get that.
JK: From the regulators, yeah. That’s right. It’s very interesting to see what will happen, in terms of what gets hit. You got to think that Brisbane and Perth, which haven’t been going crazy, will be dealt with reasonably, except for Brisbane apartments because, per capita, there’s more apartments being built than in Sydney. Also, different segments of the market. I had Larry Kestelman, interesting guy, do you know him? Do you know who he is?
JK: He originally created Dodo, the internet service company, and he sold that for about 200 million to one of the telcos.
AK: Yeah, TPG. No, no. Vocus.
JK: What is now Vocus, yeah, yeah. One of the parts of Vocus.
AK: He’s rich.
JK: He sure is. What he did after that was, on the side, he bought the National Basketball League. Not a team, the League.
AK: He could buy the League?
JK: Yeah, he owns it. He’s a luxury property developer, so he’s a strictly top-end. He was really interesting on this.
AK: Top-end what? Apartments?
JK: Yeah, top-end apartments. Of course, he’s saying that the top-end will survive better than the middle, where there’s huge volume coming on. He may actually be right.
AK: He wishes, he wishes at least.
JK: He wishes, I know. I think you look at apartment market and property market, it’s always segmented. Different parts will do worse. You got to think, the middle of the road apartments are really what’s going to be in the gun in the months ahead. We’ll have to see, but I think you can take it officially now that the property market is starting to topple over.
AK: Yeah, well that’s right.
AK: We thought it was toppling over last year at about this time.
JK: Yeah, but we didn’t actually have evidence of it.
AK: No, it did start toppling over but it was …
JK: There was that freaky sort of lift when the investors went back in.
AK: It would be the Reserve Bank cut rates in May and then, again, in August. That restarted the whole thing.
JK: Yeah, but you got to think now, the Reserve Bank have finished cutting rates, especially with this US lift.
AK: Not only that, especially with this morning’s employment data, which was quite strong. There was 124,000 new jobs. Unemployment rate came down from 5.7, this is the seasonally adjusted, unemployment rate down from 5.7 to 5.5%. It won’t be long before we start to see people starting to predict interest rate rises in Australia.
JK: Maybe we get wage rises rather than interest rate rises.
AK: Maybe. I mean …
JK: What about the under-employment?
AK: Under-employment is still high. I mean, in fact, I think under-employment went up in May. Look, I think there’s still probably downward pressure on wages. Everyone’s been worrying about wages growth, which is fine, I mean, and so they should. It’s been terrible.
JK: Worry about the lack of it.
AK: Which is holding back the economy, but it seems possible now that it’s the low wages growth is feeding through to jobs and extra jobs. In fact, although the official under-employment rate did go up a little bit, hours worked rose quite a lot. Hours worked was up 2%. As I say, unemployment fell, jobs went up. Look, the labour market looks pretty good. There’s lots of softness in the economy in other ways.
JK: It’s curious, isn’t it? People aren’t spending.
AK: Yeah, retail sales are weak. Consumer confidence is weak. There are quite a few softnesses in the economy. The labour market looks okay. I think it won’t be long before we’re talking about rate hikes, which will obviously accelerate the decline of the property market at that time.
Look, I mean the Reserve Bank will be constrained in the amount of rate hikes it has, because of the amount of debt. Because the economy and the household sector is going to be so much more sensitive to rate increases than they have been in the past.
Moving along now, tell us about super. There’s a couple of new super funds, Spaceship and Zuper. What do you think of them? Should our listeners be putting their money into Spaceship and flying to the moon?
JK: Here’s the thing. We don’t know. We haven’t done a survey of our listeners yet, but we will soon folks. We don’t know whether you’re millennials out there or not, these are all aimed at millennials, right? I was very suspect of them …
AK: You and I are young at heart.
JK: Young at heart, and always prepared to try new things.
JK: What these superannuation funds are, they’re like robo-funds, right? They’re ETF based, but they’re very clever marketing. Spaceship is this guy, Paul Bennetts, and he’s got this very clever marketing. They do a lot of social media marketing, and it’s all about aiming at young people. There’s a new one coming down to challenge them called Zuper, with a Z. Michael Rice, who is someone I remember we both met him one time a few years ago in Sydney. He’s very respected actuary, and he’s inside the super system. Normally, he’s quite prepared to speak out.
For instance, he regularly defends industry funds returns over how good they are. He really had a go at these Spaceships, saying it was chasing gullible young people and they were silly basically. I don’t know. I think he’s a bit too extreme on that. I’d be prepared to give them a chance for the simple reason that there hasn’t been a new idea in super since, well, I don’t know when really. When was the last time you saw something fresh and interesting in super?
AK: 1992, which was …
JK: Is that so? What was that?
AK: It was the launch of the National Superannuation System with the super guarantee levy.
JK: There you go, so it’s been a while.
AK: That was Paul Keating’s idea.
JK: That was Paul Keating, and he was a fair while ago. Look, I think we should give these guys a chance and see how they go. That’s all.
AK: The proposition for Spaceship, and I think it’s actually a correct proposition, which is that they invest in technology for the long-term. They’re technology heavy for millennials, and they produce better returns. The trouble is I think the technology portion of their portfolio is 40%. The rest of it’s just in the normal …
JK: Standard, plain, vanilla stuff .
AK: I suppose 40% is better than nothing. I think …
JK: You know, the thing is, eight out of 10 of the top 10 American companies are now tech.
AK: Yeah, that’s right. They’ve got that 40% in Apple, Amazon, Facebook, all those things.
JK: They’ll get creamed if there’s a tech titan sell-off. If you’re talking about super, long-term, it’s the way to go. I think they should be given a shot.
JK: You were looking at Alan Finkel’s Energy Report. I just have one question about the Energy Report and Alan Finkel. Having watched all these reports, the Henry Report, whatever else you got, will the Government pick it up or will they cherry pick it or will they put it on the shelf?
AK: The Government is trying to pick it up, let’s put it that way.
JK: Do you reckon?
AK: Josh Frydenberg, the energy minister, actually sent me this morning his PowerPoint presentation to the party room on Tuesday night.
JK: Yeah. What does that say?
AK: I don’t think he’s just sent it to me … I think he’s sent it to a few people.
JK: What does it say about coal?
AK: It says, basically what he’s trying to do, to sell to the party room, is that under the Finkel Reforms, coal fired power stations are possible. They’re all hot about that. Tony Abbott and the rest of them, they want coal fired power stations for some reason. They won’t vote for it unless there’s a policy that says we can have coal fired power stations. He’s saying it’s possible.
AK: Finkel’s Report attempts to remove the question of what the fuel is and says focus on emissions. So let’s focus on meeting our targets, not focus on whether it’s renewable, solar, wind or coal or gas, right?
AK: I was actually reading the other night the Shergold Report from 2007, which was …
JK: Peter Shergold’s … Yeah. I remember.
AK: He wasn’t the chief scientist, he was the chief public servant of the country. He had 12 heavyweights from industry and the public service behind him. They sat down and they produced a report that said, “We need an emissions trading scheme.”
JK: That was under John Howard?
AK: Yeah, that’s right. He reported in early 2007. Recommended an emissions trading scheme. John Howard said, “Okay. We’ll do that.” Howard went to the 2007 election with an emissions trading scheme.
So did the Labour Party. For two years, we had the prospect of bipartisan policy in the policy until Tony Abbott appeared at the end of 2009. That was the end of that, right?
JK: Here we are, a decade later, and it’s got to be sitting behind the rest of the world now.
AK: Here we are, a decade later with no investment, or very little investment, and what Josh Frydenberg’s presentation points out is that electricity prices in Australia have doubled, because there’s been no investment. And the gas price sets the electricity price. Because gas fired power is now the marginal price of electricity, and gas prices have soared.
JK: Have soared, yeah.
AK: Because we’re exporting it all. It’s been a double cluster something.
JK: There’s a gorgeous little investment story in the middle of all this. Cory Bernardi, he of the, I don’t believe in any of this stuff fame, guess what? He’s got a solar powered roof.
AK: Does he just?
JK: He does, in Adelaide. They asked him, “What are you doing with this solar powered roof?” He said, “Don’t take it for one moment that I believe all this climate stuff. I just happen to have one. I had no choice.” Isn’t that fascinating?
AK: Or his wife made him do it.
JK: I know what made him do it. Economics made him do it.
AK: I’m surprised he didn’t say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
JK: He did the numbers, and he realised it was cheaper. I mean this is the whole thing.
AK: Yeah. Tell me about Deborah Thomas.
JK: Oh right. First of all, we’ll remind everyone who she is. She’s the CEO, or was the CEO, of Ardent Leisure and Ardent Leisure owned Dreamworld. Dreamworld, of course it owns many things, but Dreamworld unfortunately was the theme park where four people were killed last year on her watch. Now, she had a hard time because she went in there two years ago, very controversial, lots of institutional investors said she doesn’t have the scores on the board to run a public company like this. She was defended by her chairman at the time. She did very poorly actually, it turns out. She deserved a chance.
AK: As I recall, you felt quite sorry for her.
JK: I did feel sorry for her.
AK: You were a bit in her corner.
JK: I was in her corner.
AK: As I recall.
JK: I think there’s no two ways about it. The fact that she was female and that she had edited Australian Women’s Weekly, so as a fellow journo, I felt empathy.
AK: My wife used to work for the Women’s Weekly. There you are.
JK: There you are. You see.
AK: Not for Deborah Thomas however.
JK: Both of us had … You could see how we might have some … Be supporting her. Anyway, unfortunately, of course, after the incident at Dreamworld, she really did very badly in how she handled that. She really made a mess of the PR side of it. Then, she said a few months ago, “I’m resigning, but I’m staying in the company.” Now, this week, she announced that she is actually leaving and she’s getting a payout. It’s not a gigantic payout by the standards of CEOs, 730,000 is not a big payout for for an ASX CEO. Unfortunately, she’s taking 3,000 a day in attending the coronial inquiry into the Dreamworld. I got to say, Deborah Thomas, on the PR front, has had so many losses I couldn’t support her any longer.
AK: There you go. Deborah Thomas has lost James Kirby.
JK: She has and not just me. Many others, not to mention Gary Weiss who has subpoenaed an EGM. He’ll clear out that whole board.
AK: Gary’s trying to get on the board, right?
JK: Yeah, he is. Activist investor.
AK: He wants to fix the place up.
JK: He’ll shake it up big time, because the assets are probably perfectly good except for Dreamworld, which they should just give up and change the name.
AK: Yeah, yeah. That’s a good idea.
JK: I mean you don’t have to pay me a lot for that idea…
AK: What to?
JK: You don’t have to pay me a lot to tell them that.
JK: I don’t know. Anything but Dreamworld. Anything, something new. Waterworld.
AK: How about Disneyland?
JK: What else did we have? Ten and Uber. Let’s do Uber first.
JK: I had a piece in the Wealth section on Tuesday on Uber. I must say, these pieces on Uber, they rate their socks off. Everyone’s really interested in it as a company and as a phenomena. This week, the main story was that … What’s the boss’ name again?
AK: Travis Kalanick.
JK: Kalanick. He was …
AK: He’s gone on …
JK: He’s gone.
JK: He’s gone on indefinite thing.
AK: He’s gone on long service leave because he appears to be a dickhead.
JK: He appears to be a psycho, yeah. Yeah, and the people around him too. I mean the whole cabal. Here’s the thing. I wonder, will he come back? Like Steve Jobs.
AK: It’s indefinite? I think it’s very interesting, but he also controls …
JK: He’s not gone though.
AK: He controls the company.
JK: Yeah. Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple, and came back.
AK: He was a dickhead too, apparently.
JK: There are different types …
AK: He was a genius. I mean I don’t know. Jobs was a genius.
JK: The line between the CEO-psycho and the brilliant CEO is very thin, Alan. It is.
AK: I know.
JK: As we both know.
AK: Between genius and madness.
JK: That’s the corporate side, folks. The other side that’s interesting is when I run these pieces on Uber, which often done by different writers, this one was done by Clay Carter, lots of people wrote in and said, “It’s not just the company that can’t make money,” because it’s losing. “You can’t make money as an Uber driver,” because you’ve got to get a car that’s to their standard. People get a novated lease, which is very, very hard to make money out of a novated lease, and then you’re going to just drive like a taxi driver. You’ve got to drive for hours and hours and hours and hours. What really happens is people rock up and say, “This sounds great.” They go and get the novated lease. They get the car, and they don’t drive it enough. It’s kind of like the …
AK: I was getting UberEATS for a while.
AK: Half the time, it was done on bicycle and the food was cold.
JK: They don’t have to use a car, huh?
AK: No it was UberEATS on a bicycle. You watch your app and you see, you watch the little black dot, the food …
JK: It’s coming very slowly.
AK: Coming towards you, thinking, oh bloody hell. He’s on a bike, geez.
JK: Hey. You know we mentioned that Mary Meeker internet trends?
JK: The amazing Mary Meeker internet trends. The biggest ride sharing economy in the world is China, for both car and bicycle. There you are.
AK: There you are.
JK: There’s ride sharing in bicycles too.
AK: Ride sharing in bicycles, getting a dink. Getting a dink. Remember dinks?
JK: No. I have no idea what you’re talking about.
AK: D-I-N-K, James.
JK: Do you mean in a car? No?
AK: No, no. On a bicycle. Didn’t you do this in Ireland?
AK: If you put someone on your bike with you, that’s giving them a dink.
JK: Oh never heard of …
AK: On the bike.
JK: No, sorry. Little Australian colloquialism that passed me by.
AK: Our older listeners will know. Probably the millennial listeners will go, like you, “What the hell’s he talking about?”
JK: Their eyes will glaze over.
AK: Yeah. Anyway, so …
JK: Moving from dinks and ride sharing.
AK: Let’s get into the tangled thickets of Ten Network.
AK: Oh no, Ethereum.
JK: Oh Ethereum, yeah. Actually yes, you must tell us about Ethereum.
AK: I just wanted to talk about Ethereum, because it’s the other Bitcoin. There’s about, I think, there’s about two dozen cryptocurrencies now.
AK: I actually had coffee the other day with someone who is trading cryptocurrencies.
JK: Oh cryptocurrencies.
AK: He’s not trading Bitcoin and Ethereum, because they’re too boring now.
JK: Oh I thought they’d be too expensive now. Yeah.
AK: They’re expensive, but also they’re boring because they don’t jump around enough. This bloke’s trading the other ones, the little ones.
JK: They’re maturing.
AK: They’re all over the place, and he’s making an absolute fortune. He’s waking up in the middle of the night, trading them. God help him. Anyway, so …
JK: What is Ethereum?
AK: Ethereum is a new and improved version of Bitcoin. It’s a platform that allows people to create money called Ethers. The money is called Ether.
Also, it allows contracts to be exchanged. It’s a sort of a blockchain contract settlement platform, as well as a currency. A lot of people are saying that it’s going to be the one that …
JK: The one that wins.
AK: The one that’s serious, because Bitcoin is being used a bit too much for crime.
JK: Yeah. That was its origins, wasn’t it really? Yeah.
AK: Sort of.
AK: I mean Bitcoin’s gone up to about $ 3,000, US dollars, a pop. That’s partly because there’s going to be limited to 21 million of them, and they’re very hard to mine. Ethereum is also hard to mine, but I think there’s going to be more of them.
JK: Just explain when you say mine, it’s not digging, of course, it’s …
AK: I spoke to a bloke this week who …
AK: Mines Ethereums or Ethers.
JK: Yeah. From his kitchen probably.
AK: No, no. He’s had to have a house full of computers.
JK: Yeah, right.
AK: He’s got this most amazing array of computers that do 21 … Hang on, let me remember this. 23 trillion calculations per second.
AK: That’s what you have to do. In order to mine these things, you have to be able to do 23 trillion calculations a second. He said it’s like a lottery. You do this stuff and, every now and again, you’ll win an Ether.
AK: He called it like a lottery. Anyway, it sounds crazy, I know.
JK: It does sound crazy, but it’s backed by …
AK: Something is going on here.
AK: Something big is happening.
AK: These are currencies. One bloke I spoke to is issuing a card, which you can use in Woolworths or Coles that has Bitcoins on it. You can actually …
JK: I mentioned that Larry Kestelman, he accepts Bitcoin but it’s a publicity stunt for him. He accepts Bitcoin. He’d probably fall off his chair if someone rocked up with them, but people are trying. People are innovating here and there.
AK: The thing is these things are really the first truly international currencies, you know? The US dollar is the reserve currency, but it’s not … You can’t really spend it everywhere. Eventually if these things take on, you’ll just be able to spend Bitcoins or Ethers or whatever it is, wherever you go.
JK: Especially if you have a cashless, de facto cashless society.
AK: Precisely. We kind of do.
JK: It will be interesting.
AK: Speaking of cashless, Ten Network.
JK: Cashless, yeah.
AK: Ten Network.
JK: It’s lost 200 million in six months.
AK: Is a cashless society.
JK: It’s a cashless television station. Mind you, it has some wins. It has Big Bash, which I love, and Cricket Australia will be in trouble, by the way, if it goes under. They need competitive tension.
AK: Won’t someone else pick it up?
JK: Yeah, but they need competitive tension in the bidding process.
AK: Oh they do.
JK: Between Ten and Nine.
AK: That’s true.
JK: There’s an unlikely, unthought of sequence but the question is …
AK: We wouldn’t be able to watch I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, which is the highlight of the watching year.
JK: And Survivor and a lot of other, what shall we say, popular programmes. Thing is, I don’t know. Will it survive? What form will it survive in?
AK: I suppose the question is whether you believe that it’s actually broke, or is there something approaching shenanigans going on? Which is not to do with the fact that it’s broke. From everything that I’ve seen, they were okay. They were about to turn it around.
JK: Oh they were losing 200 million every six months.
AK: I know, and that’s right.
JK: The share price was 16 cents.
AK: I know, and management always say, “It’s just a hump. As soon as we’re over the hump, it’ll be all right.”
JK: It looks now like Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, certainly look like the early contenders, don’t they? They’ve done this deal that they act exclusively.
AK: Having themselves put it into receivership, or into administration.
JK: We’ll see where it goes.
AK: What they’ve done is they’ve gone up to the top of the building, they’ve pushed Ten Network off the thing and they’ve caught the lift down. They’re waiting at the lift to catch it as it falls, having pushed it off the top. I think that’s quite interesting.
JK: It is indeed. If you’re a shareholder, you’ll be watching this very, very closely, won’t you Alan? Oh right, we might …
AK: Shareholders are going to lose their 16 cents, you can say that for sure.
JK: Yes. Oh Alan, before we go, I meant to mention, we do have a question … At least, we have this week’s question from our listeners. This one’s from Murray, and he talks about the business cycle, real estate cycles. He says that he’s looking for commentary on, what he says, is the bellwether metrics for transition from one phase of the business cycle to the next, and tips on sector rotation. The question from Murray is, how do you, I suppose, play a market through its various phases? It’s interesting. I mean I’ll just go off the hip on property. There’s no two ways about it. I think everyone’s of the opinion that we’re at the top of the property market, residential property market, right now.
I imagine the thing in property market now is not to sell into a falling market. If anyone’s in there, they’re going to have to talk about refinancing, maybe taking advantage of how low rates are at the moment. Perhaps using their super in some way, because you can do that. That’s still allowed. Also, even to fix, if you haven’t fixed, I reckon if you haven’t fixed, you still should in this market. I mean the rates are still below … Anything like 6 to 9 is probably our long-term average and they’re still well below that, commercial markets. That would be my call on sector rotation or dealing with cycles in property.
AK: I presume, in the share market, he’s talking sector rotation in the share market. The …
JK: Where are we now?
AK: What you might call the bellwether metric is to go from the cyclicals to defensives on the share market. What that means is to transition out of stocks that are tied to the cycles, such as resources stocks, construction stocks, those sort of things, into defensives, such as banks and other high yielding stocks.
JK: Construction would be ones that are topping out, you would think, at the moment?
AK: You would think so.
AK: They definitely are. There’s that. Also, you need to think about interest rates because as interest rates came down, banks really benefited. Other high yield stocks, such as Transurban, Telstra and so on, they all benefited as interest rates came down.
As interest rates go up, the reverse is likely to occur. A lot of what Murray calls bellwether metrics have broken down a bit, and don’t really apply anymore. I mean the other thing to question mark is at what point of the cycle is the Australian economy? It’s a bit hard to know. It still looks pretty soft, but there are signs that it’s turning. It may be we’re at the bottom now, which is a bit after the US and a bit after other parts of the world.
JK: We’re at the bottom of the economic cycle.
AK: I would say so.
JK: Yeah, right. That would suggest the broader share market should go well from here.
JK: You’re very sceptical after 10 flat years.
AK: I think the Australian economy is going to be soft for a while. It maybe at the bottom, but it’s not going to really recover much. I think there are much better parts of the world. My tip on sector rotation would be to invest in Europe and India, not Australia.
AK: Which are definitely going well.
AK: More so than Australia.
JK: Definitely have seen the bottom, especially Europe.
AK: Look, any other questions, we’d love to hear them, firstname.lastname@example.org. Yes, that is my website address. Thank you very much, email@example.com. That will go straight to Phoebe, my daughter, who will answer you and also pass on the question to us. I reckon we should leave it there for today, James. Don’t forget you can subscribe to The Money Café on Apple Podcasts or your app of choice. While you’re there, it’s super helpful if you can leave a review or a rating because it helps other listeners to find the show. Until next week, I’m AK:, publisher of the Constant Investor.
JK: I’m James Kirby, wealth editor at The Australian.
AK: Talk to you next week.