Budget

How efficiently does your NSW council operate?

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Who has ever bothered to read the annual reports published by the local councils? Have we ever brought our local councillors to task on costs? For instance, why does household waste removal cost 2x as much in Woollahra as it does in Penrith? Of course, income disparity is one factor but is there a luxury element to garbage disposal in the wealthy suburbs? Garbage collection is just garbage collection, no? Of course, the distances travelled by garbage trucks might be a factor. Yet Waverley costs $17,500/hectare for annual rubbish disposal whereas Hornsby (arguably national parks don’t make it apples for apples comparisons) is $511/ha. Lane Cove has a similar area to Waverley but costs only $4,709/ha. Someone is making some serious coin on the collections in some council areas based off annual escalations one would think.

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Why does the City of Sydney council have a $924/resident cost per council staff versus $277 in Liverpool? Or on an area basis, why does it cost $83,000/ha in Sydney vs a similarly populated Parramatta at $12,300/ha?

Staff ha.png30% of Clover Moore’s budget is allocated to council staff. Councils in Hornsby, The Hills and Camden are less than 20%. Cumberland and Liverpool councils have around 50% of the budget allocated to staff.

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The City of Sydney rakes in $757mn pa or $3,154 per 240,000 odd residents. Mosman pulls in just under $50mn or $1,600 per 31,000 residents. Blacktown pulls in $640mn revenue per annum across 366,534 residents.

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Did we realise the collective equity base of our Sydney metro councils exceeds $66bn? $21bn of that in Sydney. How well are those assets being managed? There are some lazy balance sheets and even lazier investment strategies for all the collective billions sitting in those accounts.

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So next time you attend your council meeting, perhaps you can ask what the investment strategies are among the millions of your monies raised has been allocated?

 

We should be thinking of merging more councils. Plenty of inefficiencies to be squeezed out and plenty of opportunities to lower rates to the residents. Get off the high horse on declaring climate emergencies and look at streamlining services that really benefit those they serve.

Economic growth is an unnecessary evil, Jacinda Ardern is right to deprioritise it

This was the headline of an article CM spotted today. Of course CM wouldn’t dream of writing something that daft. To think social wellness can be achieved, let alone sustained without attention to economic growth. Magic pixie dust perhaps? Even though CM debunked the relative aspects of the Wellness Budget being considerably inferior to Australia, the left were quick to lavish praise on the the new matriarch of the woke. She is like the Obama of the Southern Hemisphere. Even regressives are progressive in the eyes of the left.

Note the NZ budget forecasts a 25% lift in tax revenues out to 2023. Income tax will rise 29.9% over the same period. Indirect taxes will jump 28.3%. That on a slowing economy and a rising unemployment rate will mean incremental taxes sting at the margin. Their data, not CMs.

Of course if the idea is to de-prioritize the economy, it can only mean that taxes as a % of GDP rise. Indeed they do from 30.6% this year to 31.1% by 2023. Compare that to 25.2% falling to 25.0% in Australia over the same period.

Effectively Australia gets way more bang for the buck on providing wellness initiatives with lower burdens on the taxpayer because that’s what happens when the economy IS prioritized. Spending on social wellbeing rises as the economy expands.

If unemployment rises (as forecast by the NZ budget) over coming years, one can imagine that wellbeing by its strictest definition should fall. One loses a job, household income falls and wellbeing declines with it, unless welfare is on a par.

Presumably if Ardern’s deprioritized economic growth leads to worse economic outcomes, she can be guaranteed that wellbeing won’t be sustainable without more shared misery in terms of debt (rising) and deficits.

As Friedrich von Hayek once said, “if socialists understood economics they wouldn’t be socialists.”

Such is the madness of the left that they believe yet again that feelings are more important than facts. Even though as “woke” as many paint Ardern, her neighbour across the ditch is already there and expected to continue to outperform. That’s because economic growth is the priority. Yet don’t expect Scott Morrison to receive any praise. He is the wrong gender, skin colour and religious affiliation for starters.

Ardern is unlikely to stop the 35,000 odd Kiwis that migrated to Australia last year but she maybe lucky in doubling the 40 (yes, forty) Aussies who left the land down under to live in NZ in 2018.

Cate Faehrmann plays investor for a day

Investment managers have difficult jobs. They have to forecast a whole plethora of variables from global economic growth, currencies, commodity prices and micro level corporate industries. If governments can provide ironclad policy certainty, investment choices become relatively easier. Unfortunately, perfect information detracts from performance because things get priced almost instantaneously.

It might be nice that 415 funds all call for a ratification of Paris Climate Accord (which means nothing in practice as the US isn’t a signatory and its emissions have fallen while China is a signatory and emissions continue to rise) but truth be told,  it sounds what is commonly termed in financial circles as “talking one’s book.” NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann pretends to understand finance in her latest piece.

While these 415 firms might represent $32 trillion in assets under management (AUM), the truth is not all of those funds are spoken for in terms of climate-related investments. Investment advisors by their very nature have very diverse client bases. They cover basic low-risk pension (i.e. stable income) funds all the way to riskier return profiles for clients that want more exposure to certain themes or countries. If clients aren’t interested in buying climate funds, the asset managers don’t gather fees. Pretty simple.

Much of the fund industry has focused on ESG (environment, social responsibility & governance) since its inception in 2005. ESG represents around $20 trillion of global AUM, or 25% of total professionally managed funds. Therefore the other 75% of monies are deployed without this in mind. In reality, this is done because investment managers must hunt for the best returns, not those which sacrifice profitability for virtue. If NAB offered you a 10% 1-yr deposit and no solar panels on the HQ roof and Westpac offered a 1% 1-yr deposit because it did, would you invest in the latter based on its ecomentalism?

Let’s take the world’s largest public pension fund (2 million members), California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) which is a cosignatory to this demand for climate action. Apart from the fact that this $380bn fund has been so poorly managed (marked to market unfunded liabilities are c.US$1 trillion), its portfolio consists of widespread ownership of met coal, petroleum and other mining assets. It owns bonds in fossil-fuel producing nations such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as highly environmentally unfriendly aluminium smelters in the world’s biggest polluter, China. So there goes the rhetoric of “demanding” Paris is ratified, that we shift to a low carbon economy and we force companies to report their carbon commitments.

It is frightening that some members of our political class believe that investment managers which collaborate in groupthink are worthy of listening to. On the contrary, the performance of many must be sub par. It is a sad reality that 80% of large-cap fund managers fail to outperform the index on a regular basis. So praying for governments to backstop investments they deployed capital into shows more desperation than innovation.

Maybe we should think of Adani as a classic example of investment at work. While Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government is backflipping on the Adani Carmichael coal mine after the electoral drubbing handed out to federal colleagues, the voluntary infrastructure tax is a cynical way to try to make the project less financially viable. After 8 years of ridiculous and onerous environmental approvals, Adani probably think it only needs to wait til October 2020 when an election will wipe out Queensland Labor from government and the infrastructure tax will be repealed soon after.

CM has long held that the non-ESG names are the place to invest. Most of the auto-pilot, brain dead, virtue signalling group think money has been poured into ESG. All non-ESG companies care about is profitability, not focusing on all the soft cuddly things they do displayed on the corporate lobby TV screens on a loop. Sadly when markets inevitably implode, investors always seek safe havens to limit the damage. As so much money is collectively invested together, so the bigger the stampede to the relatively attractive values provided by the stocks that have been cast aside by “woke” investors.

NZ Wellbeing Budget? Kiwis still better off in Australia

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NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s Wellness Budget is receiving lots of accolades. A true leader! Champagne socialist Sir Richard Branson also praised her saying other countries should take note. The idea that a budget should be solely based on economics is not progressive and more should be directed at “well-being”. That is not to say this budget is not “well-intentioned”. However, the statistics compared to across the ditch do not fare well on relative terms.

Comparing her newest policies versus Australia reveals the kangaroos get better access to social services than the kiwis. How surprising that none of the mainstream media bothered to look at the budget numbers on a like for like basis? Just praise her because she represents their ideal version of a socialist leader.  CM has looked through both budgets and adjusted for currency to make for easier like-for-like comparisons.

When it comes to health spending per capita (currency adjusted), Australia is expected to climb from A$3,324 in 2019 to A$3,568 in 2022. NZ is expected to go up slightly from A$3,516 to A$3,561 respectively.

On social security and welfare, Australia is expected to pay out A$7,322 per capita in 2019, growing to A$7,977. NZ, on the other hand, is forecast to go from A$5,573 per head to A$6,489.

On mental health, Australia forked out around A$9.1bn exclusively on these services reaching 4.2m citizens last year. NZ is planning on spending A$45.1m in 2019 with a total of A$428m by 2023/24 to hit 325,000 people on frontline services for mental health. While the move is a positive one, NZ will allocate A$1.78bn to mental health as a whole over 5 years. On an annualised basis, Australia will still allocate 5x the NZ amount to mental health per capita. So much for wellbeing.

On education, NZ plans to increase per capita spending 7.9% between 2019 and 2022 whereas Australia will lift it 12.5% over the same period. NZ spends around 2x Australia per capita on education although PISA scores between 2006 and 2015 are virtually identical (and both heading south)

On public housing, Ardern can claim a victory. Australia is expected to cut spending per capita from A$240 in 2019 to A$194 in 2022 when NZ will go from A$137 to A$282. Although let’s hope Ardern has more success than her KiwiBuild policy. The Australian’s Judith Sloan rightly pointed out,

“Ardern also has stumbled with other policies, most notably KiwiBuild. The pledge was to build 100,000 additional affordable homes by 2028.

It has since been modified to facili­tation by the government to help build new homes. Moreover, the definition of afford­ability has been altered from between $NZ350,000 ($340,000) and $NZ450,000 to $NZ650,000.

What started off as an ill-considered public housing project has turned out to be an extremely unsuccessful private real estate scam. The government estimated that there would be 1000 homes built last year under KiwiBuild; it turned out to be 47.”

In the process, NZ’s national debt per capita will grow from A$21,550 in 2019 to A$25,206 by 2022. Australia will climb from A$22,764 to A$23,293.

Look at page 119 of the NZ Wellbeing Budget, we can see the government is forecasting the economy to slow and unemployment to rise.

As we wrote several weeks ago, the statistics that Aussies are about to pack their bags and head of to NZ are not supported. CM wrote,

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 568,000 New Zealanders in Australia, or more than double the total 3-decades ago. Therefore more than 11% of the Kiwi population lives in Australia. At last census count, 35,000 New Zealanders migrated to Australia in 2018.

According to the New Zealand Statistics Bureau, 38,700 Aussies live in New Zealand. In the January 2018 year, 24,900 migrants arrived from Australia and a similar number departed for Australia.

Stats NZ stated, “Over half of migrants arriving from Australia are actually returning Kiwis who have been living across the Tasman for more than a year…The number of migrants going back and forth to Australia in the past year almost balanced each other out – the net gain was just 40 people in the last 12 months.”

As socialists love to point out, “feelings matter far more than facts“. Just goes to show how easily people will fall for a catchy headline, rather than judge it on its merits. Time the “woke” wake up from this slumber. By all means, celebrate more recognition of higher mental health spending but best put it in perspective. Jacinda Ardern is ordinary.

In rare support of Nike

Who could forget Nike’s political stunt in favour of the kneelers supporting BLM? Recall the millions it paid Colin Kaepernick to tell us about the bravery of those sacrificing everything if they believed in it. Social justice is a thang at Nike, at least among the marketing department. Naturally, it provoked a lot of anger from real Americans who served their country, some who paid for it with their lives. Taya Kyle, the war widow of legendary sniper Chris Kyle, wrote a stern letter to Nike which was on the mark.

Now some are taking Nike to task over the sponsorship contracts it holds with superstars, especially females. Nike does not appear to sacrifice everything, especially when it believes it.

Six-time track and field Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix penned an op-ed to The NY Times telling of the cold realities of re-contracting while considering having a child. Sadly the Nike contracting team is probably staffed with icy cold hard-nosed realists compared to the cuddly socially active marketing department.

33-yo Felix said Nike wanted to contract her 70% less after her pregnancy. She wanted the original value to stay in force even if she suffered slight underperformance in the months after childbirth. Her request is totally understandable. Surely Nike could have done some celebrity mother and child adverts to pluck at the heartstrings of the average person? Get all those mothers with newborns to sport a pair of Nike kicks and leotards as they push their strollers to yoga. Just the sort of mush that a marketing department craves.

High-end endorsements are extremely hard to get. The bigger the payout the higher the pressure and expectations thrust upon the star. Contracts are driven by athletic performance and the ability to drive sales off the back of it. These performance-based targets are likely to be written clearly in black and white. It sounds like Felix needed a much better sports agent to negotiate such clauses. Serena Williams had a child and her Nike endorsements rolled on unaffected. The tennis champ even narrated a “dream crazier” advert solely looking at women in sport.

Is Felix’s 70% haircut anything more than Nike’s endorsement team taking a view on her future performance when it comes to which brand ambassadors will keep driving sales? It must have made a judgement call that Felix was past her prime. If we looked at all the females sponsored by Nike, what rank is she within the long list of names? Usain Bolt hung up his golden boots at age 30.

It is unclear how many millions that Felix received from Nike every year. Sponsorship is slightly different from employment. There are lots of caveats in sports contracts which ensure that athletes behave responsibly “outside” the game to reflect the values of the organisation. One might feel some pity that the choice to have a child ruined her contract terms but Nike has not done anything illegal.

It is unlikely that any two Nike superstar endorsement contracts are the same. Michael Jordan ended up with his own brand within Nike. Undoubtedly he was paid better than an up and coming college NFL star. It is most likely that Serena Williams’ contract had many different term and conditions to Allyson Felix. If Felix signed her contract she took on all of the legalities within it, including the fine print. Unlike an employment contract, sponsorships terms can change on a whim.

The Nike sponsorship Rolodex is undoubtedly littered with stars – male and female – in their 30s, re-contracted at far lower rates than when they were in their prime. Felix wouldn’t be alone. Age, rather than maternity was probably the bigger driver for the Nike decision makers. The world of sports is brutal. Unless one is a Valentino Rossi of MotoGP fame, a Roger Federer/Serena Williams in tennis or an Usain Bolt in track & field, ongoing sponsorship tends to fade as these stars get put out to pasture.

Yet we are not Nike and we do not have the full facts of how it grants its limited marketing dollars. Perhaps we should ask why Adidas or Puma aren’t beating a path to Felix’s door to contract her and get some mileage out of the controversy? Nike knows the endorsement field probably better than most. The risk of her defection is minimal at best, therefore, Nike can drive hard bargains. Take it or leave it.

Your ABC – shocking inefficiency created by demotivated staff

While it might seem like another beat up on the ABC, we need to take a long hard look at how it operates. How is it TVNZ can operate as a self funded government entity which collects a currency adjusted 1/4 the ABC’s revenue on 1/8th staff? How many people actually understand their ABC?

Salary increases and budget increases have a 90.34% R-squared correlation meaning that budget increases tend to lead to paying higher salaries.

While some may talk about “good” content, sadly ABC’s ratings have slid considerably for over a decade in regional and metro areas. TVNZ’s have risen. So hard core left has the ABC shifted that it has created a narrower audience. The MD openly stated that if Australians wanted to protect the ABC they shouldn’t vote LNP. So much for respecting its charter which bans political bias.

TVNZ must cater to the free market for advertising dollars therefore content must meet the audience needs. It’s simple. ABC should follow suit.

Throwing more money at the ABC has not solved ratings problems. One guesses that diverting more tax dollars at kids programs that disparage white privilege, comedy shows that openly call conservative politicians “c*nts” during by-elections and producers that allows indigenous comedians to defecate on a white woman probably has a very narrow audience. Content IS the problem.

Look at The Guardian as case in point of journalism that fails to address market needs. It is free and in recent years gone cap in hand for donations because its user base aren’t prepared to stump up cash to support it. Do we need a public broadcaster to subsidize views of the left? The Guardian is simply competing in the “same” area as the ABC. ABC starves The Guardian of oxygen because we as taxpayers fully fund it. The ABC crowds out left leaning media.

Look no further than CNN. It has doubled, even trebled down on its unhinged bias. The ratings have plummeted. Fox on the other hand has risen. Whether one likes the content of Fox is irrelevant. Advertisers go there because the reach is self evident.

Moan all you want about Murdoch. His users pay and the ratings are up. Don’t shoot him if his product sells. Try self reflection. The Sydney Morning Herald tried to tell users its product was worth subscribing to. Unfortunately it ignored slumping readership and ended up being acquired by Nine Network. If you don’t cater to your audience, they won’t support you.

Staff levels at the ABC have never been higher. Ratings never been lower. Lifting the budget hasn’t caused any change. Cutting dollars will cause much needed restructuring. It is like feeding a dying patient with more morphine hoping to numb the pain. Unfortunately the body grows resistance to that. ABC staff feel this.

In the 2018 annual report, the ABC staff survey revealed engagement is at 46%, 6% below the previous survey. This puts in the bottom quartile of all ANZ businesses. #Reform desperately needed.

ABC staff complained that management doesn’t do enough to get rid of under-performers. Another clear signal that state-sponsored mediocrity is tolerated.

The culture of the organization won’t be turned around by management unless it is given a reality check of being rapidly withdrawn from the taxpayer teat. That way the c.70% of staff dedicated to content can finally listen to what the broader public want to consume rather than the echo chamber they live in. By the way, those who love the ABC needn’t worry. The limited number of good programs will stay if the audiences demand them. The unhinged radical left programming can be cut with little loss to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.

Cut the crap

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Labor Party MP Richard Marles posted this picture to his Facebook page pointing to the threat of the 2014 budget ahead of the 2013 election. It is all on the public record to see that this is blatant rubbish. Of course, the hope is that the “stupid” voters will not bother to fact check these claims 2 days ahead of an election. CM was fascinated to see how these numbers stack up against the actual budget papers. Complete fiction.

Entire health spending in 2013-14 was $64.6bn. In the 2014-15 projection, it was $68.1bn. Up $3.5bn. How does Labor get to -$57bn? In 2018-19, health spending was $78.8bn. The budget paper notes, “The increase in expenses of 6.8 per cent in real terms from 2013-14 to 2014-15 reflects the Commonwealth’s commitment to provide additional hospital funding from 2014-15 under current agreements with the States.

Education spending was $29.75bn in 2013-14 and projected $30.39bn the following year. (+$640mn). Technically if $30bn was cut from schools there would be no budget at all. In 2018-19, education spending was $34.7bn.

Government school spending in 2013-14 was $2.8bn which leapt to $5.1bn in the 2014-15 budget. In 2018-19 it was $7.7bn.

Indigenous Affairs welfare fell by $104m in the 2014-15 budget. In 2018-19, this budget was DOUBLE the 2014-15 number at $2.1bn.

ABC spending (split into TV & Radio – refer page 6-39) went up $18mn not -$35.5mn. In 2018-19 the budget was $1.03bn. As CM has written before, the ABC is a shoddily run organisation. Staff engagement at the ABC is 46%, down 6% from the previous survey. It isn’t a money problem. It is a management problem.

On page 6-11, income support for seniors went  UP from $39.5bn to $42.1bn). In 2018-19 it was $46.8bn. Total assistance to the aged went UP from $54.98bn to $57.97bn in 2014-15. In 2018-19 that sum was $66.77bn.

Welcome to pre-election political accounting 101.