Winter is coming!

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WinterNot just in Westeros for Game of Thrones fans. There is undoubtedly a chill in the air now and winter is officially upon us. But as the days grow shorter and the air gets cooler there are some things you do that can push up costs.

Winter is often a time that that sees expenses escalate.

There are some increased costs during winter that you can’t do a lot about. For example, it gets darker earlier so we turn on our lights earlier, which uses more power. We tend to wear more and heavier clothes during winter, so our washing load increases using more washing powder, water and electricity. We put heaters on in the mornings and evenings on those cold days. We tend to linger in the warm shower and use more hot water.

But if you are careful, you can minimise the impact and costs of some of other things. There are some simple measures you can take which reduce the impact of some of your winter expenses. You just need to watch out for certain things and take appropriate action.

These are just a few things that might help to keep down costs over winter:

  • Lights: Unless it’s particularly cold or overcast, keep your blinds and curtains undrawn for as long as possible to take advantage of as much natural light as you can. Change to energy efficient bulbs. Also, it may sound obvious, but turn off lights in rooms you are not using.


Lights 3Keep in the warmth: If you are able, have your north facing windows open during sunny days so some of the daytime heat can come inside. As soon as it starts to get dark, close your windows, or if you like to let in fresh air, leave them slightly open. Once dark, draw curtains or close blinds to keep in the heat.

  • Stop the cold coming in: Go around your house to see if you can find cold spots or from where cold air is coming in. Use draft stoppers at the bottom of doors. Heavy curtains on windows can also help keep the cold at bay. Stopping the cold from coming into your house in the first place can cut down on heating costs.
  • Layer up: Put on another jumper, put on warm socks and slippers, put on a scarf and beanie if you need to. Consider adding more clothes before you switch on a heater.

Winter clothes

  • Use woollen underlays: Replace your electric blanket with a woollen underlay. It will provide an extra layer of warmth in the bed during winter and in summer, just turn it upside down with the smooth side up.
  • Floor rugs: Thick rugs can be nice and warm underfoot, and will also help to provide a layer of insulation on the floor. These can be put away during the summer months if required.


  • Close doors: Close doors to colder rooms such as laundries, bathrooms and garages to stop the colder air from these rooms moving into warmer living areas. Tiled areas generally tend to be colder.
  • Use smaller heaters: Use smaller localised heaters rather than whole room heaters, as these take longer to heat up and use more power while doing so.
  • Baths and showers: If you live with other people in the same place, try and have your baths or showers close together so the water going through the pipes doesn’t have time to cool and then need to reheat when the next person has a bath or shower and the room is still warm with retained heat.
  • Go gas: Gas heaters are more cost effective than electric ones if you have access to gas.
  • Adjust your refrigerator thermostat: If your refrigerator has an adjustable thermostat you can adjust the temperature to allow for the cooler room temperatures. This might be a good time to check the seals as well.
  • Insulation: This is a larger initial expense and applies mostly to home owners, but adding insulation at least into your roof can knock a few degrees off during both winter and summer by keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Insulation in the walls will also help a great deal, but can usually only be done during construction, so consider putting this in if you are building a new home or undertaking structural renovations.
  • Double glazing windows: Similarly, windows that are double glazed can be very effective at keeping in warmth in winter and coolness in summer, but like installing insulation, this can be costly. Again, something to consider when renovating or do a few windows at a time, particularly south facing ones, until they’re all done.
  • Buy food in season: Winter is a perfect time for comfort foods such as hearty soups, stews and casseroles, as it’s the season for all those filling vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions and similar root vegetables and tubers. These vegetables also roast very well for some hot roast dinners. Make enough for more than one meal and freeze the rest for future meals or bring some to work for lunch.


Your health is your wealth: Citrus fruit are in abundance during winter and are full of the vitamins and minerals you need to help keep those colds and flus at bay. Consider investing in a juicer or one of those magic bullet blenders for healthy start citrus fruit smoothies and juices. Add berries for an even bigger antioxidant boost. Prevention is better than cure, so try to avoid those doctor’s bills and medications by not getting sick in the first place. Supplements like vitamin C, Echinacea, garlic tablets and olive leaf extract can also act as a preventative for many viral infections such as colds and flus.

Although costs tend to go up over winter there are still ways to cope comfortably with the colder weather without spending a fortune.

You can still have a snug and warm but cost effective and energy efficient house. Just taking sensible measures can cut costs during our colder months.

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The gross misallocation of capital

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Whether you participate in it or not, you cannot help but be aware of Australia’s real estate market, as there is always a lot of news about what happens in this market.

You might even think that all the most recent activity in real estate is a good thing. It’s building more homes for people and it’s employing people. That’s all good right?

The answer is a little bit more complex than that. Yes, a great deal of people is employed in the construction and real estate industry. This is encouraged by governments at all levels because firstly it generates income for them and it also gives the impression of economic activity. Local Councils receive income from increased rates and development fees. State governments receive stamp duties from property transfers. Federal governments can count construction as GDP activity and point to the number of people currently employed by the construction sector.

Capital 2

But, what exactly is real estate and property? At its most basic level, it is shelter, one of our fundamental needs. It’s up there with nutrition and hydration. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety (security) rates just under physiological (food, water) in order of importance.


Yet in Australia, it has become an asset class that relies on constant increases. Once upon a time, people held real estate for yield. Now they hold it for capital gain. And this has had a disastrous effect on households and our entire economy, particularly on our private debt levels.

People have bought into property in the expectation that property will always rise. This is not actually the case (see previous post). Constantly rising property prices are only a feature of the past 50 or so years, it’s not something that has happened consistently in the past. Not before credit and debt became the predominant measure of an economy’s growth anyway. This has benefitted property and associated industries greatly but at the expense of other more productive businesses.

To fully understand why all this investment in Australian property is not necessarily a good thing, it is first important to understand how a traditional business works.

A traditional business usually creates a good or service at a particular price, and then it sells it at a higher price that will hopefully include enough income to cover the cost of the original product or service, the associated expenses in creating this product or service, and profit. The whole business model implies trade, which has existed for many thousands of years.

If the business does not consistently generate a profit, it will eventually go out of business and cease to exist. Our federal governments rely on businesses making a profit as their revenues are reliant on taxes charged on this profit.

A very important component of a traditional business, from the largest multinationals to the smallest micro business, is that it also employs people in the foreseeable future as the business continues to create the product or service to sell to repeat or new customers. If it’s a good product, it potentially has the whole world as its market.

Now look at property and housing construction. A number of people are employed at the start of the housing construction, from architects to builders and all the services required to construct the dwelling. However, once the house is complete, there is no more ongoing employment on a regular basis.

If the dwelling is for investment, at best it may provide ongoing employment for a property manager. Yes, it will have the occasional need for a tradesperson, but not enough to keep them gainfully employed indefinitely. And of course a whole group of people won’t be employed at all if the investment property in question is an existing house rather than a new one requiring construction.

What’s important to realise is that property is a non-productive consumption item at the end of the day.

At this point in time, there are trillions of dollars tied up in Australian real estate. That is a lot of money to be tied up in what is essentially a consumption item that provides shelter, a basic human requirement, but does not provide ongoing jobs or employ people gainfully. You cannot keep on constructing buildings ad infinitum.

Granted, given our love affair with property, a number of complementary businesses have sprung up to provide various services, including real estate agents, property managers, buyer’s agents, investment and financial advisers, property commentators, educators and organisations that do nothing but provide property statistics, to name but a few. Yes, a whole industry has grown reliant on the property markets, particularly for investors.

There are also myriad property spruikers touting different ways of investing in property from property options, no money down deals, instalment contracts (rent to buy) to buying for development, all to try and get ever more productive dollars into this unproductive asset class.

Middleman 1

However many of these businesses do not even add value to the basic product of property. They’re just another unneeded layer adding their percentage to the final price.

And with lowering interest rates, more people are being encouraged to put yet more borrowed funds into housing (as well of course, into other consumption items).

There’s an implacable belief by Australians that property doubles every seven to 10 years. It doesn’t.

This is coupled with the second belief that property always goes up. And once again, no it doesn’t.

Compounding the problem further, interest rates are being kept artificially low, ostensibly to stimulate demand and investment, but in reality causing ever more resources to pour into housing.

And to top it all off, there are the extraordinarily generous tax breaks given as a reward to people who make a loss on their investment. The most generous in the world in fact, by allowing the losses made on investment properties to be offset against ALL income, rather than just the income received from property. A tax break unavailable to other businesses.

I’m sorry, but isn’t the whole idea of investing to make money? Call it speculation or gambling, hoping that capital gain will put your investment in the black, but don’t call it investing. I call it the BHP strategy – buy property, hold it and pray that the prices will go up.

Of course, capital gain isn’t capital gain until it’s locked in, that is, the asset is sold and the value realised. After all, what goes up can also go down, but that’s a story for another post.

Are you starting to understand the case of gross misallocation of capital into a very unproductive area?

CapitalInstead these funds could be put to good use in real businesses creating real products and real wealth by providing a continuous stream of goods and services and continually employing people.

At the end of the day, real wealth can only be produced by real business creating a good or service. If too much wealth is created simply by virtue of capital gain, without any real labour or transformation of raw materials into a finished product, the economy is impacted and real wealth starts to disappear as wage growth slows. This benefits nobody but the owners of the property, at the expense of the real producers.

Eventually the economy stagnates as real productivity falls along with the aforementioned lack of wage growth and our standard of living drops.

We’re not going to create wealth if all we do is sell property to each other. That would indeed be a gross misallocation of capital of the highest order.

Owl 1




A Different Type of Easter Egg

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So, Easter has come and gone. You’ve enjoyed your four day long weekend, done the obligatory egg hunts with the children, overindulged in chocolate and you’ve just finished your last Easter egg. Now, it might be time to consider a different type of egg. Your superannuation or retirement nest egg.

Most people don’t think about their superannuation retirement nest eggs until retirement is almost imminent.

Many people, particularly young people, are busy living their lives and think that their retirement is such a long way off in the future, so they don’t pay any attention to their superannuation or think they’ll focus on it when they’re closer to retirement.

Because it’s “invisible money”, money that you don’t really see regularly and can’t easily get your hands on, it’s often not on our radar.

But the sooner you start thinking about your retirement and your superannuation or other payout, the more time you have to be able to grow it. You have many options earlier on, but they become more limited as time passes and it’s often too late if you’re retiring in a couple of years.

With many people finding they will not have sufficient funds in their superannuation upon retirement, you might like to think about the lifestyle you would like to have in retirement and ask yourself a few questions.

Do you want better than just the basic lifestyle that some experts say will be the norm for many retirees?

Do you think you might not have enough in your superannuation to last you throughout your retirement?

What is your magic number? That is, how much would you like to receive annually in order to have a comfortable retirement?

How do you envisage your lifestyle? Do you want to travel, around Australia or overseas, or are you happy just to live in your beachside or country cottage? Do you want to live in the city, a regional area or even overseas?

You might not be ready to retire when you reach your retirement age. You could continue working if you wanted to, particularly if you don’t have a lot in your superannuation. Perhaps you could supplement your income by working at something you really love or at something you’ve always wanted to do.

Alternatively, you could volunteer at charity shops or become an official greeter at airports or be a tour guide in your city.

Some things to consider for your retirement:

Your number: Calculate your magic number as per above, or know what lump sum you require to provide you with the income you need. Come up with some ideas on how you are going to attain this figure.

  • Take an interest: If you have an employer paid superannuation fund, go through your statement every time you get one. How is your fund performing? Could you change to another better performing one, either within the fund or with another provider? How much are your annual fees? Is your insurance adequate?
  • Boost your superannuation contributions: As soon as you start working, or as soon as you can, salary-sacrifice another one percent of your before-tax salary into your superannuation. Consider increasing this percentage regularly. Now is a good time to look at lump sum payments, before the end of financial year.
  • Alternative and passive income: Start looking at how you can create alternative streams of income in addition to your job, preferably passive, that can continue after you retire.
  • Continuously evaluate your fund: There are a number of sites that can compare your fund with other funds so you can monitor performance.

Statistically, an overwhelming number of people will not have sufficient funds in their super fund when they retire, facing the risk of running out funds before running out of retirement.

Considering our extended life expectancies, we will require more money when we retire rather than less. The earlier you can address this, the better.

You don’t want to be in the situation where you’re planning to retire in five years and realise you won’t have sufficient funds in your superannuation account.

Owl 1




Two big property myths

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Myth 1 – Property prices double every 7 to 10 years.

There are a lot of property myths out there about Australian property, but one of the most pervasive is that property supposedly doubles every seven to 10 years. But does it really?

Anybody who bought property in the past 45 or so years has been the beneficiary of the huge loosening of credit brought about by US President Johnson in 1968 and US President Nixon in 1971 decoupling and then severing the link between the US dollar and gold. Prior to this, under the Bretton Woods agreement in 1944 the US dollar was backed by gold. The world’s currencies were also indirectly backed by gold, by virtue of the fact that the world’s currencies were valued against the US dollar on the exchange rate.

That all changed when the gold link was severed. What that did, in essence, was to change the economy from gold backed to a credit backed and driven economy. This meant the economy would only grow if credit was increasing, so people were greatly encouraged to accumulate more debt by governments and central bankers. And many people were happy to oblige.

This was never going to continue indefinitely. And in this low inflation, low interest environment, it is now starting to pull back.

When looking at Australian house prices from about 1880 until late 1960’s/early 1970’s, prices were relatively flat, when adjusted for inflation. Once credit was loosened however, from the late 1960’s onward, house prices went parabolic over and above the inflation rates. The gains seen over the past 45 or so years are a product of this huge credit expansion.

Pretty much anybody who purchased a house in that time benefitted from increasing property values. Unless they were actually located over a mine shaft, too close to the edge of an eroding cliff, bought at the top of a local bubble, eg. Gold Coast real estate during the 1970’s and 1980’s or they simply paid too much in the first place (which eventually corrected due to increasing prices), prices generally went up far in excess of the inflation rate.

The people who benefitted from this windfall weren’t geniuses, they were just in the right place at the right time. But many thought they were because they made money each time they sold and because they didn’t understand the underlying parameters that allowed this to occur.

So the myth of property prices doubling every seven to 10 years was born. The fact that this had only happened over the past 45 or so years, didn’t factor into the thinking. “Just over the past 45 years” somehow became “Always”.

Myths graph

There were even pretty graphs with a starting year point and an ending year point to support this “fact”, but once again, the data was extrapolated and prices averaged out over the time frame, rather than show actual annual prices for the period in question. And more often than not, these were not adjusted for inflation. As previously mentioned, property prices stayed fairly flat from 1880 until the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. They certainly didn’t double, for example, from 1910 to 1920 or 1930 to 1940, but the graphs made it appear as though it did.

Now, however, in the current period of low inflation and low interest rates, I believe property prices are reverting back to the more normal mean of only increasing in line with inflation.

Changing demographics as baby boomers retire and change from spenders into savers, will impact on house prices as well, particularly when they start to sell their assets to fund their retirement. Not just prices for property, but shares and businesses as well.

The glut of flats being built in and around Australia’s capital cities will also have a dampening effect on housing prices, particularly in attached dwellings.

Property price corrections could happen as soon as the 2017-2018 financial year, if not even sooner. This glut is mostly investor style stock in the form of tiny one or two bedroom flats. Some are so small you don’t need to bring your cat with you on inspection to know that you won’t be able to swing it in there. This represents a finite and small market. There are not many that have been designed for owner occupiers or families.

Myths swinging cat

The largest Australian demographic is still families with children, making up nearly half of households, and household sizes are also increasing, not decreasing. Of the other half of singles and couples not all of  them necessarily want to live in a flat. According to Matusik the demand for this type of property represents a much smaller percentage than that for detached, semi-detached (with a garden) or small lot housing suitable for families with children and/or pets. And not a great deal is being built for aged care or people who want to age in place with single level, no stairs and no lift dwellings, although this is changing slowly.

I can see a time very soon when even those who have managed to purchase and settle on these flats, will tire of low, no or even negative capital gain, low rental yields and longer vacancies due to the glut. However they still have to fork out every month to pay for the expenses.

It doesn’t help that our greedy and lazy Councils and state governments are only too happy to keep adding more and more blocks of flats. The incentive for them is to keep this gravy train rolling on as long as it can as it represents the biggest return for them.

The key here is the long term. In the short term, prices may rise but they can also fall. Capital gain only really exists if it is a realised capital gain.

Which brings us to our next myth.

Myth 2 – Australia property prices never fall.

The way the global economies are at the moment, there is no guarantee that prices will remain stable, let alone increase any time soon. And with the glut of flats coming into the market in a number of capital cities, most likely just as the global market enters a serious downturn, falling real estate prices are a very real option, particularly from investors exiting the market. As previously mentioned, when they are not seeing any real capital gain (after inflation) and thanks to the glut, have very low yields and longer vacancy periods, but still have to put their hand in their pocket every month for expenses, they’ll start to sell.

Myths empty pocket

Real estate, after all, is a non-productive consumption item.

What goes up can also come down. What people don’t seem to realise is that unless any capital gain is locked in or realised (ie. sold at the highest valuation price), it’s not real capital gain. You cannot rely on the greater fool theory forever. This is the theory that a greater fool will come along and pay you more for your “asset” than you paid for it initially. The banks have been complicit in this, allowing borrowing against any increase in equity so the debt load is constantly increasing. This strategy is also pushed by property spruikers as a means of increasing your property portfolio. It’s amazing how many interviews I’ve heard where a guest is introduced as a property investor with an “X” million dollar property portfolio.

Yep, they might “own” $2m worth of property, but if it’s secured against a debt of $2.5m, that’s hardly a sound financial position to be in. If and when that happens, the friendly bank won’t be so friendly any more.

The problem is that, as previously mentioned, housing is a non-productive consumption item whose purpose is to provide shelter, but is being sold as an investment item. Refer to the aforementioned paragraph on investor quality blocks of tiny one or two bedroom flats being built in just about every Australian capital inner city. These are not attractive for families who generally require more bedrooms and prefer detached, semi-detached with garden or small lot housing.

I feel for those who have been suckered in to buying one of these off the plan “disaster waiting to happen” flats, particularly if they can’t settle when the time comes.

As well as property not doubling every seven to 10 years over a long period of time, so is it entirely possible that Australian property prices can actually fall. And this is even more likely at this particular juncture.

We are entering a deflationary period, a period of asset price falls. The reason the massive money printing or quantitative easing programs we have seen over the past few years by many countries including the US, Japan, Europe and UK, to name but a few, have not succeeded in increasing asset prices consistently, kick starting the economy or causing massive inflation or even hyperinflation is that this money printing has just stopped the deflationary forces from having their full effect.

There is a train of thought, particularly amongst politicians and central bankers that inflation is good but deflation is bad. But I disagree that inflation is bad. Before the turn of the last century, and incidentally before the proliferation of central banks, deflation was as much a part of an economy as inflation. Before the 1900’s periods of inflation was generally always matched with periods of deflation.

It was only when central banks decided that deflation was a bad thing and we should only have inflation, that we have had persistent inflation. Inflation has only been a feature of modern economies from about the 1910’s onwards (incidentally, the US Federal Reserve Bank came into being in 1913).

Why is deflation the enemy? Deflationary periods are useful to dampen mal-investments and bring the economy back into equilibrium.

Myths Japan 2

Japan is entering its third lost “decade” of deflationary period. Asset prices (property, stocks and businesses) are about half the value they were during the 1980’s and have never recovered those highs. The various governments of the day have tried desperately to stimulate inflation and asset price growth through massive quantitative easing (far greater than the US) and zero and negative interest rate policies. It hasn’t worked, the inflation rate is still negligible and asset prices are still languishing. And yet Japan is still ticking along nicely and they’re in no immediate economic trouble. Why? Because inflation isn’t needed!

And why are our politicians and central banks so desperate to see inflation? Because it increases asset prices, which brings about the so called “wealth effect”. When asset prices are rising, people feel wealthier and more secure and this supposedly makes people spend more. And why is this a good thing? Because under a fiat monetary system (pretty much all developed nations and most developing nations) in order for the economy to grow, we need to borrow more and get further and further into debt. In other words consume today with tomorrow’s income.

The markets can only be gamed for so long before they revert back to the mean. We are probably now entering an extended deflationary period and sluggish global economic growth, after more than 100 years of constant inflation. Get used to it, this is most likely the new normal.

Oh, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. In a properly functioning economy, all assets, including property, only rise in line with inflation. Maybe we’re reverting to the mean on that too.

Myths inflation

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New Year, New Money Habits

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Resolutions 1

As January makes its way into February, it must catch some people by surprise at how quickly the year is passing. How many people set themselves New Year’s resolutions at the start of the year? How many people are sticking to their resolutions and how many have already broken theirs? How many made resolutions to get their finances under control, but are still struggling?

Getting finances in order is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions.

People routinely start the year intending to save more money, pay down debt or to start investing or a combination of these.

But unless they can define what it is they want and have a solid plan in place, it can be easy to let old habits take over and then they’re back to square one and nothing is achieved.

Habits 2It’s time to give this some thought and put practices and habits in place so you end the year better off financially than how you started it.

Firstly, be clear and know what the end goal is and what the outcome is that you want to achieve.

If you are saving, what is it you are saving for, a house, a car, a holiday or just to have some spare emergency cash?

If you want to pay off your debts, what are they, how many are there, how much extra can you contribute towards paying them off and can you avoid adding more debts?

If you want to start investing, for what is it going to be? If for retirement, how long have you got until then, and are you a risk taker or risk averse? How much can you put aside regularly to invest? Are you prepared for the risk?

When your goals are more defined, your path and the definite actions you need to take also become clearer.

Here are some tips on getting finances in order:

  • Saving: Set up a separate not easily accessed account and regularly transfer either a percentage of all income or a fixed amount into it.
  • Reduce or pay off debts: Write a list of all your debts. Work out how much extra can be put towards your debts. Choose the one you intend to pay off first and put the extra amount towards this debt until it’s been repaid. Do the same with the next debt.
  • Start investing: Are you a risk taker or risk averse? If you don’t like the volatility of the stock market and don’t want the responsibility of being a landlord, or you don’t have a lot to invest you might want to start with a property or equity trust into which you make regular contributions.
  • Have a plan: What amount do you need to save? What are your total debt repayments? How much will you need to retire? How can you make adjustments without compromising your lifestyle too much? If you answer these at least you will have a figure you know you need to work toward. Break this figure down to annual, quarterly, monthly and then weekly amounts.

Goals 7Meeting your financial goals should not be a difficult or time consuming task. If you keep it simple you’re more likely to attain it.

You will also be more likely to be successful if what you want to achieve is congruent or resonates with you. If you’re working towards something that you really want, then there’s more incentive for you to continue along the new path you have chosen for this year.

Persist with it, as it’s worth it when you have saved the amount you need for your special purchase, you no longer have any debts to worry about, your financial future now looks more secure or you have achieved your financial goal. That’s a great feeling and one New Year’s resolution you kept and achieved.

But the best news is that this doesn’t have to be a New Year’s resolution, you can start it at any time you like, whenever it suits you.

Habits 1

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The New Normal

Transparent BackgroundFalling interest rates

On Tuesday 2nd February 2016, the RBA once again left official interest rates on hold. This brought forth the usual chorus on how the economy is stalling or not growing sufficiently and further cuts are required to get it moving and the government and the RBA need to “do something”. The RBA has made it clear that they will take rates lower if they think it necessary.

Hmmm, what’s Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Right, so the last dozen plus interest rates haven’t worked at stimulating the economy, so gee, let’s punish the savers a bit more, reward the speculators and gamblers a bit more and CUT INTEREST RATES AGAIN! Maybe it will work THIS time.

Because it’s worked SO well in other countries. Look at Japan, Europe, Switzerland and Sweden with their NIRPs (negative interest rate policies). Look at the rest of the world with their ZIRPs (zero interest rate policies). Their economies are absolutely BOOMING. Oh wait, they’re not…

Even the recent US official interest rate rise of one quarter of one percent by the Federal Reserve Bank is unlikely to be followed by any others in the near future, and could possibly even be wound back. US debt levels, both private and public, are at record levels and because interest rates have been held too low for too long and the market is most likely unable to sustain any further rises.

And let’s not forget the law of diminishing returns, where each subsequent rate cut has a shorter effectiveness duration and smaller impact than the previous one. Let’s also not forget that the current official interest rate is lower than the emergency rate set during the GFC! So does that mean that the economy is now worse than it was during the GFC?

The reasons that the housing Ponzi scheme continues in Australia is partly because of artificially low interest rates (which in a low inflation environment means that real capital gains over the long term are unlikely to eventuate, but that’s another story), partly because our local and state governments are happy to keep the bubble going for as long as possible, but also because savers are getting so hammered by diminishing returns on their savings that they desperately need to find something else that will give them a return or yield that they are no longer getting in cash.

Unfortunately with no currency in the world any longer backed by gold, global economies can only grow if debt is increasing. So central (planners) bankers are keeping interest rates artificially low in order to encourage people to spend, spend, spend ever more, preferably getting into more and more debt in order to do so.

Reducing wages 5But because real wages are not rising or are stagnating, people aren’t increasing their spending.

It’s one of the reasons China is in so much trouble. China makes “things” that the rest of the world consumes. People aren’t buying so much of these “things” any more. It’s why, for example, the Baltic Dry Shipping Index is down at record lows. China invested huge amounts of (borrowed) money ramping up capacity on their factories. This incidentally greatly benefitted Australia during the GFC with our mining and commodity price boom and went a long way to helping us avoid the downturn that the rest of the world experienced. These factories are now actually operating at much lower capacity or sitting idle because there’s no demand. Look at forward orders for companies like Caterpillar which also tells the same story.

If people aren’t increasing their spending, then it doesn’t matter how low interest rates get. The economy isn’t going to budge. If people aren’t buying, companies have no need to increase capacity or make capital investments. So governments ramp up spending to make up the shortfall, going deeper and deeper into debt. Look at total debt increasing real time on this website Many countries have similar debt clocks, such as US –, UK – and Europe – to name but a few.

This will all come to a crashing halt in Australia when our public debt is so high (currently low by international standards, but growing faster than any developed country), that Australia loses it’s AAA credit rating and the foreign countries that that currently lend us the money to make up the shortfall in the current account deficit are no longer willing to lend to us.

Our banks also source a significant amount of their loan capital from overseas. Our (slightly) higher interest rates are still attractive to those lending to us, but this will change quickly if our interest rates drop to match the race to the bottom with the rest of the world.

Real interest rates will then rise regardless of what the official RBA rate is. We are going into debt to fund today’s consumption with tomorrow’s income. Income that is not in any way guaranteed.

Ageing demographics of most developed countries are a major factor in the decline of consumption. Baby Boomers are starting to retire. They are spending and investing less and as they retire they are selling assets and taking money out of the market so they can live. Just look at Japan to see how this will end up. They are ahead of many developed countries by 20 years demographically. They are entering their third lost “decade” and have had little to no capital growth since their property and stock markets hit their heights in the mid-1980s, despite the best efforts of their government and central bank.

There are also more and more people wanting and needing welfare, and unwilling to give up any of “their” entitlements (conveniently forgetting that in order for them to receive something, somebody else had to pay it), or actually pay or contribute towards any of it.

That’s another reason government debt is increasing. They cannot or are unwilling to roll back massive commitments in welfare, including their own. We are living well beyond our means as a country, and nobody is prepared to either make or take the hard decisions. We can either make the hard decisions ourselves and live with the consequences, or they will be made for us and we’ll still have to live with the consequences. This will not end well.

This slower growth is how it is likely to be from now on. Welcome to the new normal, Australia!

Here’s another article saying interest rates can rise regardless of the RBA

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Why Kate Winslet is Wrong

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Kate Winslet 3Jennifer Lawrence

Those of you who read the entertainment pages may have seen an interview recently with Kate Winslet about gender pay inequality in response to Jennifer Lawrence’s call for equal pay for male and female actors. Most people, but women in particular should be alarmed by what she said about not talking about money because it was “vulgar”.

However with the average gender wage disparity in Australia across all industries at almost 25% or about $290.90 a week on average, not talking about it does women an enormous disservice. This is a topic that very much needs to be discussed.

Women are routinely not paid the same as men for doing the same job, and it’s astonishing that this is still an issue and still happening in the 21st century. Surely we should have moved beyond this being an issue.

By not taking about it and sweeping it under the carpet we are tacitly agreeing with this and allowing this to continue. We do need to talk about this disparity, as women are greatly disadvantaged financially in general, but pay inequality makes this disadvantage worse.

Firstly, women have smaller balances in things like superannuation and savings accounts as a direct result of this inequality. In addition, women generally tend to predominantly have lower paying jobs.

Secondly, this is compounded by women usually taking time off from work to be the primary caregiver for children. This reduces their earning capacity and those years of not making superannuation contributions can make a big difference to the final payout figure.

Thirdly, women are also generally worse off financially after a divorce, particularly if there are children involved.

Finally, paradoxically women generally live longer than men statistically speaking, so therefore require more for their retirement, but due to the above factors, usually have less.

Not being fairly compensated only compounds these issues.

Pay Inequality

Here are some tips for women to try and help balance the equation and to offset this inequality:

  • Talk about money: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not the done thing to talk about money or it’s vulgar. This is the 21st century and this attitude that we don’t talk about money should not still exist. Money is not a taboo topic. Money impacts on every facet of your life, whether you realise it or not, or even whether you like it or not. Include children when talking about money so this attitude doesn’t persist. The best things in life might be free, but it won’t pay your bills.
  • Empower yourself with knowledge: Look at what the pay range is in your industry or line of work. Where do you sit in the range, salary wise? Discuss this with your supervisor at work and see how you can readdress the imbalance if you feel you fall under the norm.
  • Boost your super and savings: Consider salary sacrificing into your superannuation or pension fund and set up a separate savings account into which you regularly contribute, but you don’t use for spending. Use this for investing.
  • Boost your super through splitting contributions: If taking time off work to raise children, consider splitting your partner’s superannuation contribution between both your two super accounts, so that at least some contribution is being made into your superannuation account while you are not working and not in a position to make contributions. This will at least help to offset some of the management fees and hopefully help to increase the balance as well.
  • Look at creating other income streams: Your job should be just one avenue of income for you. Look at ways you can create alternatives through investments and creating small or micro businesses.
  • Have a plan: Knowing how much you would like to have upon retirement is a start. At least you will have a figure you know you need to work toward.

Money treeAverage superannuation balances for women have consistently lagged behind those for men since the establishment of Australia’s superannuation system.

Considering a woman’s longer lifespans, this is potentially disastrous.

According to Ross Clare in the Superannuation Account Balances by Age and Gender report, in 2014 the average superannuation balance for women was $54,916 while for men it was $98,535.

The average retirement balance in 2014 for women was $138,150, as opposed to $292,500 for men, a large discrepancy.

The report also noted that average balance disparities between men and women emerge at relatively early ages. One of the main contributing factors for this is most likely to be gender wage inequality.

Isn’t it time we addressed this imbalance?

Some Superannuation Figures

Gender pay inequality – a case study

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The Australian Economy & it’s Effect on Housing

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Investing 7

A recent real estate article outlined why real estate in Australia was unlikely to crash. It then went on to list a number of reasons about Australia’s economy to support this argument. There were a couple of factors I agreed with, but a number of things were so wildly inaccurate I felt I had to respond. This is my responses to each point made. It doesn’t mean that Australian property prices will crash soon. But it doesn’t mean they won’t ever crash either, at some stage.

The bold text at the beginning of each point is a point in the article for a non crash. The text after the bold is my response.

  1. A depression or a severe recession unlikely. I and many other contrarian commentators disagree. I think a global depression or severe recession could be as likely as next year (2016). The world’s economies are slowing and the pace since the GFC has been lacklustre to say the least. There are too many variables to list here and include factors such as the Baltic Dry Index, which incidentally is at its lowest levels in decades, but any or all of these can impact on Australia’s and the global economies. Given the amount of money many countries have printed we should have absolutely booming economies, but we don’t. We instead have sluggish growth and many countries failing to get traction and slipping into and out of recession. The very thing that saved us during the GFC, China, is now the thing that will impact the most on us due to their slowing economy. Whatever happens outside Australia will impact on Australia internally. Even the IMF is continually adjusting growth figures down.
  2. Unemployment levels low. Now seriously! Does any thinking person still believe the data massaged, manipulated, “seasonally adjusted”, watered down, made politically more palatable figure the ABS releases as the unemployment rate is in any way accurate? The official figure is not measured the way it used to be, even as recently as the 1970’s. The Roy Morgan Research Study releases parallel unemployment level figures to the ABS. It’s figures paint a less rosy picture with unemployment at nearly 9% and the combined unemployed and underemployed figures as high as 17.4%.
  3. Interest rates rising. This one I agree with. Interest rates are unlikely to rise anytime soon. Actually, to quantify that, “official” interest rates are unlikely to rise soon. We should ask ourselves why interest rates are so low. Lowering interest rates are usually used by central bankers when a country’s economy is slowing or tanking, to try and stimulate it because confidence in the economy is low. Regardless of the fact that the last dozen interest rate cuts have not stimulated the economy and with each subsequent cut, the law of diminishing returns come into play (the effect is shorter and less effective), the RBA will likely cut interest rates again as our economy once again falters. There is a race to the bottom with low, zero or even negative interest rates thanks to currency wars and no country can actually afford to raise their official interest rates. The world’s economies are carrying so much debt, it is unlikely they can sustain an official interest rate rise, despite the US Federal Reserve Bank raising interest rates one whole quarter of one percent this month (December 2015). Also, it’s not the job of the RBA to “save” those who borrowed too much and then find themselves over their heads when real interest rates rise (see point 5 below).
  4. A huge oversupply of properties. This is most certainly the case in most major capital cities, as rent seekers try to find yield due to low interest rates, and look for it through other means, such as multiple dwelling development to maximise returns. This of course leads to a glut of attached stock, such as we are seeing in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and possibly even Perth, which also has a glut of commercial property. Several commentators are on record as saying we are building too much of the wrong stock. The type of housing of which we need more is detached housing, small lot housing, aged care housing and housing that allow people to age in their own single level, no stair homes. These are not being built, as our Councils and state governments have become lazy and dependent on the easy money to be made from constructing block after block of flats.
  5. Credit market illiquidity or a credit squeeze. Australians currently hold record debt (which I will expand upon further in point 11). This has been possible due to foreigners being willing to lend more to Australian banks, partly due to our higher interest rates. When our interest rates drop too low, or global events make foreign investors nervous and are then no longer willing to lend money to Australia, real interest rates could rise above and beyond the level the RBA has set official interest rates. This has already happened in part due to the tightening lending criteria set by APRA. If public debt (government spending) becomes too high, it will make us unattractive to lend money to for the rest of the world. That coupled with high personal debt could threaten our AAA credit rating and real interest rates will rise regardless of what the official interest rate is. The ability of our banks to access foreign funds for lending is entirely outside of their control and as availability tightens, real interest rates rise.
  6. Robust population growth. Australia’s birth rate fell to 1.8 children per couple according to the most recent figures. It is heading to its lowest level in 20 years at 1.7 children per couple. We are not even replacing ourselves. Immigration is also slowing, and the type of immigrants are usually families. Families have lower housing requirements than singles, ie. one house can house a number of people just as easily as it can house a single person. This put downward pressure on housing requirements with less housing and rentals required.
  7. A healthy economy. Really? Based on what? Thanks to a slowing China, our mining boom is over, with record low commodity prices. We have a negligible manufacturing industry. Our service industries are struggling. Our governments and politicians would like to replace the mining boom with a construction boom, but all we build are more and more blocks of flats. How does property provide the long term productivity and ongoing employment that a real business provides? Once it’s built, it doesn’t employ many people consistently. We are not going to become wealthy selling properties to each other. This relies on the greater fool theory and eventually there is no greater fool. As the real unemployment and underemployed figures show, our economy is not really doing that great.
  8. A sound banking system. Once again, seriously! Our banks are overexposed to property, with some banks holding as much as 70% of its loans against property. Their investment in business, particularly small business, the real powerhouse employer, is negligible. They have belatedly begun to realise that if there are no businesses, there are no people to actually buy all these properties that are being built. How many people know that at least Westpac, Commonwealth, National Australia Bank, Bankwest and AMP among others, required bailout funds during the GFC under the US government’s TARP program? How many people realise that there was such a run on Australian banks during the GFC, that the Royal Australian Mint had to do emergency print runs to print more money because the banks were 24 hours away from running out of depositor’s money? Australian banks sound? Those in the know definitely know better, but it suits the banks, central banks and politicians to keep up that illusion.Bank 4
  9. Business confidence. This can change in an instant. All it will take is a black swan event, or something that is outside our control, such as acts of terrorism, acts of war (we have a threat right on our doorstep with China and its claim of sovereignty over parts of the China Sea) or something else that is unexpected and the confidence mood will swing the other way. Australia is a commodity producing country, just like Canada and Brazil. These two countries are currently in recession, and Japan just went into recession again.
  10. Consumer confidence. Ditto as for business confidence.
  11. A healthy level of household debt. And again, seriously, are you kidding! We currently hold record levels of household debt. We have half as much again as we had during the GFC, which was a debt crisis. A recent Barclays survey listed Australian households as amongst the most indebted in the world. The ABS reported Australian personal debt reached record levels at $1.8 trillion for the country, or nearly $80,000 for every person. Household debt as a percentage of disposable income is at all-time highs at over 175%. That is definitely NOT a healthy level of household debt. The number of mortgaged homes is increasing and the number of homes owned outright is decreasing. Based on these facts and figures, if some households have no debt, it means that others are extremely overleveraged and overexposed and extremely vulnerable to a downturn.Australian debt
  12. Property prices growth slowing. Property prices growth is slowing, and I believe we are reverting back to the mean of property prices increasing in line with inflation, which is what it does in a properly functioning economy. As we are now in what is most likely a low inflation and low interest rate environment, and which is unlikely to change in the near future, we are making our way back to the new normal. The parabolic capital gain asset price rises are only a product of the past 46 years since the decoupling of currencies from gold and the easy availability of credit. Before that, property prices, adjusted for inflation, were fairly flat.

The point is, nobody knows what is going to happen in the future. We are in uncharted territory, we do not have any precedent for what might happen next apart from the fact that no fiat currency has ever lasted beyond a couple of generations and creating money ex nihilo and ad infinitum has always ended badly throughout history. Maybe property prices will crash and maybe they won’t. We could continue on as we have been for another 20 years, or it could all collapse in a heap next week. We do have a very large investment stake in what is essentially a non-productive consumption item and we are not immune from corrections. However, as economist, John Maynard Keynes observed, the market has the ability to remain irrational longer than we can stay solvent.

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Get organised for Christmas NOW

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Christmas tree 2

This may not be what people, especially parents, want to hear just after the September/October school holidays – but it’s best to start budgeting for Christmas, which is now less than three months away.

Christmas could be a stressful time for some people’s budgets, and hip pockets if you don’t prepare yourself for it and give yourself enough time.

Many people, especially parents with younger children, could easily overspend and exceed their budget during the Christmas season if they didn’t plan for it early enough.

If you leave it until the last minute you could end up putting most or all your Christmas purchases on credit card and then suffer from bill shock when the statement arrives in January.

Quite often your ‘friendly’ bank will offer you a holiday reprieve by allowing you to defer for a month the repayment that would normally be due in January.

But don’t be fooled, that ‘bill holiday’ will cost you more in interest and the bank is not doing this to be nice, it will end up as more profit for them.

This is made worse if the whole balance is not paid off at the end of each month; you end up paying interest on your interest. For many people, this is a reality, with many people carrying credit card debt for many years, in some cases long after the item originally purchased has broken or stopped working and been thrown away.

So, ideally, the earlier you start planning for events like Christmas and even birthdays and anniversaries, the better. But with a bit of planning and saving, it’s not too late to get control of your finances for Christmas.

Here are some tips to help you prepare now for Christmas spending:

  • Prepare lists of what you need to buy: That includes gifts, food and entertainment, postage for gifts and cards as well as tree decorations and holiday plans.
  • Budget for the costs: Work out the costs of these items to give you a total amount as a guide and add five to 10 per cent for unexpected expenses.
  • Put money aside: Work out how many pay days you have left until Christmas and then divide your expenses by days – now try to save that much each pay, preferably into a separate or Christmas account.
  • Sales: Take advantage of sales – if you see an item from one of your Christmas lists on special, buy it when you can.

An alarming number of Australians have an even more alarming amount of debt. A lot of debt is tied up in housing, or so called “good debt”, which is a large risk in itself, should property prices start to head downward.

But a large amount of debt is also consumer debt, or so called “bad debt”, which is also worrisome.

Debt levels have reached record highs with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that Australian personal debt levels are now just under $1.8 trillion for the country – or nearly $80,000 for every Australian.

A recent Barclays survey lists Australian households amongst the most indebted in the world.

It would be good to remember that all or any debt, whether good or bad debt, is a claim on future income for today’s consumption.

If you don’t have a buffer in place or allow for adverse instances should circumstances change, you can be caught short and have to make quick financial decisions which could have devastating consequences and impact you for many years.

Christmas presents

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Zero interest rate policy is a disaster

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Interest rate 2

It is, quite frankly, astonishing how the world’s economies and markets reacted recently to the possibility that the US Federal Reserve MIGHT, and that’s the key word here, MIGHT, have raised interest rates during September.

Stocks and commodity prices crashed and volatility increased massively at the possibility of a ONE QUARTER OF ONE PERCENT official interest rate rise by the US central bank.

Seriously!?!  Are the world’s economies so fragile, that the thought of a 0.25 interest rate rise in the US sends everything and everyone into a tailspin?

This is what happens when official interest rates are kept too low for too long. The world has come to rely on cheap credit to keep it going. If it is to be used at all (and I don’t think any central bank should ever artificially lower interest rates to stimulate an economy), it should only be used sparingly for a very short period of time.

Now, because it’s become so cheap to borrow money, global debt levels are at record highs, even high than before the GFC. Because investors cannot get a decent return on their cash, they move into riskier and riskier “investments” to try and get a yield, quite often using borrowed money, because after all, it’s cheap to borrow.

It doesn’t help any that quite often this borrowed cheap money wasn’t actually put to productive good use, it was instead used to buy back shares, boost director salaries and bonuses in the case of listed companies, or used for dubious and speculative ventures by others.

It has now been seven years since the GFC and interest rates are still incredibly low, or effectively at zero or even negative in some countries when inflation is taken into account, and they are still at “emergency” levels.

Shouldn’t it be patently obvious by now that the zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) or ultra low interest rates don’t work? Neither does stimulus, money printing, quantitative easing or whatever you want to call it, which was only possible due to these low interest rates.


Einstein has been credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Central banks think they can control an entire economy and get it to do what it wants. So it keeps cutting interest rates, and then when the short term boost it provides wears off, they cut them again. And again. And again.

But due to the law of diminishing returns, each interest rate cut has shorter and shorter impacts, until it doesn’t have any more effect.

And our central banks sit there wondering what more they can do, not realising they are one of the major contributors to the problem. And we look to them to fix the problem that THEY helped create in the first place.

Now THAT is insanity!

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