CPAs see business and economic sentiment rising - along with doubts

CONFIDENCE in Australia’s economic outlook has increased over the past six weeks but accountants are still more likely to be worried, according to a new survey by professional accounting body, CPA Australia.

In early October, CPA Australia surveyed 144 accounting professionals as part of a longitudinal survey of economic and business sentiment, coinciding with the implementation of the National COVID-19 Response Plan. CPA Australia's previous survey was conducted in August.

“General economic sentiment has lifted, which is positive, however accountants remain more likely to be pessimistic notwithstanding rising vaccination rates,” CPA Australia chief executive Andrew Hunter said.

“We think this reflects ongoing uncertainty about re-opening requirements and what they’ll mean for businesses, their employees and customers, as well as how future outbreaks will be managed.” 

About 32 percent of respondents are confident in the performance of the Australian economy over the next three months, compared with 20 percent in August, while 42 percent are worried compared with 51 percent in August.

The level of optimism increases as longer outlook periods are considered. About 44 percent expressed confidence in the state of the economy in 12 months time,  up from 30 percent in August.

CONFIDENCE OVER NEXT THREE MONTHS

Respondents were more enthusiastic when it came to their own workplaces. About 68 percent were fairly or extremely confident in the performance of their business over the next three months. Only 14 percent are fairly or extremely worried.

About 31 percent of respondents expect their business’s or employer’s revenue to increase this month, compared with 29 percent in August. Meanwhile, 44 percent expect revenue to decrease, which was the same in August.

In an unexpected result, less than one third of respondents (28.5%) reported that government business supports have had a positive or very positive impact on their business and business clients.

“This surprised me, and I can’t say for certain why respondents feel this way," Mr Hunter said. "But from talking with members and businesses, I’d suggest that it’s a consequence of challenges associated with the design, roll-out and administration of support and grant programs, and the fact that many businesses weren’t eligible despite experiencing difficulties.

“Issues such as these have left a sour taste in the mouth of many accountants. They’ve been the ones trying to make hastily designed and often vague support schemes workable for business. Our members have worked incredibly hard over the past 18 months assisting their clients or employers access this much needed support quickly.

“We encourage governments to consult early, openly and often with professional and industry associations on the design, structure and administration of support schemes before implementation. This will enhance their effectiveness once introduced.”

Respondents working in businesses remain very confident in their employer’s ability to repay any debts over the next three months. This is despite the closure of several grant programs since that time and the impending closure of others. Only 14 percent expect their business to have difficulty in repaying their debts over the next three months.

“The good news is that business solvency isn’t a major factor at this time," Mr Hunter said. "This suggests we don’t need to be overly concerned, at least for now, about an upcoming insolvency cliff after supports roll off. That said, we know many businesses will face very tough trading conditions for some time.”

SHORT TERM EMPLOYMENT OKAY

The short-term employment outlook is also positive. Respondents are now more likely than they were in August to expect their employer to increase employee numbers over the next three months (33% compared with 23%). Respondents were also more likely to forecast an increase in staff hours over the next three months, as well as work outsourced to contractors.

“Businesses in locked-down states are making plans for the return of customers," Mr Hunter said. "This increases the urgency for governments to provide answers about what they can and can’t do when they re-open.”

CPA Australia has previously published 10 questions businesses need answers to before re-opening, and is seeking answers to these from governments.

Although confidence in the economy, business and employment grew over the past two months, there remain numerous short-term challenges for businesses. The number one difficulty continues to be uncertainty around lockdowns, followed by attracting and retaining staff. About 62 percent of respondents also said border closures had a negative, or very negative, impact on their businesses.

“With international travel slated to resume in November under the National Response Plan, albeit slowly, this should alleviate some issues for businesses," Mr Hunter said. "However, relief may be way off yet for businesses in states which have said they may remain closed into the new year.”   

Although awareness of the National COVID-19 Response Plan has increased from CPA's previous survey, respondents were more likely than before to find it unclear, at 46 percent compared with 39 percent in August.

cpaaustralia.com.au

 

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Two out of three investors believe cryptocurrency will grow against the dollar

AUSTRALIAN financial pundits overwhelmingly believe that crypto currencies -- not particularly Bitcoin -- will continue to rise against the dollar and will also become a valuable asset in a diversified portfolio.

Research by international cryptocurrency platform Gemini has also found about 32 percent of investors said they would invest more when cryptocurrencies are regulated. About 34 percent said they would also invest when they have more information about such currencies.

However, Bitcoin's erratic moves confuse the issue. The meteoric rise and subsequent volatility of Bitcoin has many Aussies considering whether digital assets have a place in an investment portfolio, often comparing cryptocurrencies against more traditional asset classes, such as property.

Now, as concerns grow over inflation and an economic slump – motivating many investors to look for new ways to protect their assets – the latest survey reveals that 63 percent of Australian cryptocurrency enthusiasts view crypto as a valuable asset in a diversified portfolio, and 59 percent believe its value will outpace the dollar. 

The findings are derived from a survey of an independent panel of 1,010 Australians who have, or currently do, invest in crypto, commissioned by global crypto platform Gemini. Respondents comprised 55 percent of people who invest in crypto and 45 percent who have invested in crypto before.

The survey revealed that millennials, in particular, value cryptocurrency as an investment option: 72 percent of 25–34-year-olds believe it is a valuable asset in a diversified portfolio, compared with 57 percent of over-55s.

More than half (59%) of respondents believe crypto, like gold, will continue to grow against fiat currencies over the long term, while a further 8 percent believe crypto is a better investment than gold.

Gemini Asia-Pacific managing director, Jeremy Ng said, “Both cryptocurrency and gold are often seen as ways to hedge against inflation. Gold has historically been considered a safe-haven asset. However, Bitcoin and several other cryptocurrencies have experienced meteoric growth and offer unique, innovative features that make them stand out.

“Some cryptocurrencies have the potential to benefit investors by creating tools and resources that support the growth and exchange of value outside of traditional financial institutions, without the need for an intermediary. The blockchain technology that underlies crypto can be applied to a large range of industries, beyond simply money and finance," he said.

The total global cryptocurrency market cap in September 2020 was at around A$529 billion. As of September 2021, it was A$2.9 trillion -- according to the report Total Cryptocurrency Market Cap, 2021 (coinmarketcap.com/charts/) -- almost one trillion dollars more than Australia’s GDP as outline in an Austyrade report.

Given this exponential growth, Gemini has found through the survey that Aussies are torn when deciding whether it is too late to invest in Bitcoin at its current price (A$46,000 at the time of the survey), with 51 percent of respondents believing it was too late.

However, Mr Ng said crypto was still only in the early stages of development.

“We are beginning to see the gradual adoption of cryptocurrency into the mainstream," he said. "As technology continues to develop, so will money and the systems that underpin it. While fiat currency remains the dominant form of money, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that supports them may very well represent the next step in the evolution.”

Criticism levelled against fiat currency is that its perceivable worth is directly influenced by decisions made by central authorities, namely governments and central banks, making it susceptible to inflation. Most cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, are decentralised, meaning no single authority can dilute their value by simply issuing more. He said Bitcoin, in particular, was an appreciating asset due to its strictly limited supply, leading many people to hold rather than use it as a currency. Bitcoin is even being referred to as digital gold or Gold 2.0.

Respondents were also asked what factors would influence them to invest in cryptocurrency. Gemini found that Aussies were looking for increased education on the topic, with 34 percent of respondents who don’t invest in crypto saying they would invest once they had more information and could understand cryptocurrencies as an investment. One third (32 percent) of those who don’t invest in crypto said they would when it is regulated.

Despite the exciting growth and developments within the crypto space, Mr Ng caveats that investors shouldn’t look at their crypto investments as get-rich-quick opportunities.

“The cryptocurrency space is still in its early stages and is therefore subject to much more volatility than the traditional asset classes like the stock market," Mr Ng said. As a result, it is possible for individuals to see short-term losses.

"I personally recommend doing thorough research to understand the fundamentals and use-cases of crypto assets prior to investing, take a long-term investment view and never invest more than you can afford to lose.”

The Gemini digital currency platform was launched by the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, who are also billion dollar investors in Bitcoin. Its value has trebled since their investment. The Winklevoss twins are probably best known for winning a major settlement with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the technological origins of the social network.

 https://www.gemini.com/apac/australia

References:

 Respondents comprised 55% of people who invest in crypto and 45% who have invested in crypto.

Total Cryptocurrency Market Cap, 2021. coinmarketcap.com/charts/

 AusTrade, 2021 austrade.gov.au/benchmark-report/resilient-economy

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Small Business Ombudsman welcomes CBA announcement on least cost routing

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson has welcomed the announcement by the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) that it would automatically lower costs incurred by small businesses and family enterprises with a turnover of less than $250,000. 

The Ombudsman has repeatedly called on banks and other financial institutions to adopt what is known as least cost routing to slash the high and hidden costs associated with electronic card payments for small operators and family enterprises.

“I congratulate the Commonwealth Bank for hearing the feedback from the small business community and taking this first step which will help a section of the small business community. There is a lot more to be done though, and I urge all banks and financial institutions to address this critical issue,” Mr Billson said.  

“I also welcome the Commonwealth Bank’s announcement that it will waive three months of merchant fees for those small businesses hardest hit by COVID-19 lockdowns. This is a terrific early Christmas present.

“The use of cashless transactions, particularly tap-and-go payments, has dramatically increased due to COVID-19 and it is vital to ensure that all small businesses are being offered the lowest cost options from their service provider or financial institution," he said.

“Many small businesses and family enterprises already operating on tight margins and battling the disruption to their businesses caused by COVID-19 can’t afford the added burden of paying higher than necessary fees for their financial transactions.

“The cost of these higher and hidden charges across the economy is many millions of dollars – money that could be better put to work to grow business and employment prospects.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

 

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FSC applauds new 'Your Future, Your Super' initiatives to help consumers

THE Your Future, Your Super regulations released by the Federal Government yesterday are the "final piece of a significant reform package" that recently passed parliament and will improve the superannuation system for Australian consumers, according to the Financial Services Council (FSC).

FSC CEO Sally Loane said the centerpiece of the reform package was the implementation of ‘stapling’, which ensures superannuation consumers take their account with them from job to job, preventing the creation of duplicate accounts and protecting consumers from unnecessary fees.

Stapling was a recommendation from the Hayne Royal Commission and a reform the FSC has consistently supported.

“Every Australian with superannuation will benefit now that the regulations make stapling a reality. FSC analysis shows that stapling will save consumers up to $1.8 billion in fees in the first three years,” Ms Loane said. 

“The focus of the Your Future, Your Super reforms is to lower superannuation fees. The stapling reform and inclusion of fees in the performance assessment will ensure that superannuation funds not only have to lower their fees to attract new members but keep their fees low to pass the yearly assessments.

“The government’s approach incentivises all superannuation funds to be competitive on the key things that matter for consumers, fees and performance.

“The government has also recognised superannuation industry wide concerns with the design of portfolio holdings disclosure, and we welcome the decision to consult further to determine the best approach.

“We are pleased the release of the regulations will allow important Royal Commission recommendations to commence, benefitting all Australians with a superannuation fund,” Ms Loane said.

The FSC has more than 100 members representing Australia's retail and wholesale funds management businesses, superannuation funds, life insurers, financial advisory networks and licensed trustee companies. The pool of funds under management of FSC members is larger than Australia’s annual GDP or the capitalisation of the Australian Securities Exchange and is the fourth largest pool of managed funds in the world.

www.fsc.org.au

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Can super make Australia a renewables superpower?

By Leon Gettler >>

AUSTRALIA’s $3 trillion superannuation industry could turn Australia into a renewable energy powerhouse and steer the country closer to net zero emissions before 2050, it has been claimed.

Simon Sheikh, the founder of fossil-fuel-free super fund, Future Super, said the scope for super was immense.

Mr Sheikh said climate change was a major problem that needed to be addressed on a ‘warlike footing’ which meant using every lever available – whether that is the money in super accounts investing in renewable energy, or governments directly building projects and setting the regulatory frameworks for markets.

“A warlike footing means it all needs to happen and not in 2050,” Mr Sheikh told Talking Business

He said superannuation would play a big role. With $3 trillion worth of assets under its control, Australia’s superannuation sector was one of the largest pools of capital in the world that Australians actually control – as it is “their money and their super”.

SUPER CAN POWER RENEWABLE BASELOAD

Mr Sheikh said research from the University of Technology Sydney found that just 7.7 percent of Australian superannuation savings, between now and 2030, could fully fund the transition to a 100 percent renewable energy powered electricity grid.

“Clearly, superannuation is the pool of capital that needs to be unlocked to take action on climate change,” Mr Sheikh said.

“Starting now, we all switch our super to those providers that are investing in renewable energy.

“The big opportunity here of course is for governments to set the policy settings to such that they are attracting and pushing superannuation funds to invest in nation-building infrastructure.

“The investment community sees great opportunity in making money from the transition. Big transitions of whole economies and whole societies, moving from one energy system to another, create huge opportunities to deploy capital and so the investment community broadly I think is up for the challenge.”

Mr Sheikh said business was now clearly getting behind the push towards net zero emissions.

“Right now, I don’t think you can name any businesses in the ASX 100 that aren’t working feverishly on how they’re going to change their business model to work in a net zero world,” he said.

“You’ve got farmers lobbying out there and the farming community making big changes, you’ve got the business community out there making big changes, you’ve got individuals making big changes but at the moment, it’s happening without any co-ordination.”

SUPER FUNDS MAKE THE CLIMATE CASE

What’s needed he said, was for super funds to make their case for zero emissions, a price on carbon and the government to show some clear leadership on this issue.

Mr Sheikh said financial markets and superannuation funds create a space for the government to play a role. The companies and the super funds could put pressure on the government to adopt its net zero pledge ahead of 2050.

“When you’ve got the business sector taking action on climate change. The business community are a core constituency for the Liberal Party and the reality is, we can drive what businesses do,” Mr Sheikh said.

“That’s the power of our money. If we move our superannuation and demand our superannuation funds make investments in progressive causes like climate action, it means those super funds go and pressure the companies they’re investing in to say, ‘We’ve made a net zero pledge, where is your net zero pledge?’”  

www.futuresuper.com.au

www.leongettler.com  

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness.

 

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SMSFs help develop NDIS accommodation

By Leon Gettler >>

THE NEW area of investment for self-managed super funds (SMSFs) is National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) accommodation.

The SMSFs are investing in purpose-built accommodation for disabled people, with the government offering massive financial incentives for their investments. And the rent is paid by the Federal Government.

“Financially, it provides a yield that you cannot find with any other type of properties in Australia at the moment – and it’s a very ethical investment as you provide a much-needed type of accommodation which, most often, extracts young people out of retirement homes or wherever they had to live in the meantime,” Yannick Ieko, founder, CEO and senior lending strategist of the SMSF Loan Experts told Talking Business.

Mr Iecko said the yields were double digit and “north of 10 percent” and – depending on the accommodation, the structure of the investment and the disability concerned – it could be as high as 15 percent. 

A 20-year agreement with the Federal Government was also backing these investments, with 90 percent of the income paid by the government, making it an enticing investment.

 

UNDERSUPPLY OF DISABILITY HOUSING

Mr Iecko said there was a dramatic undersupply of NDIS accommodation.

“If you look at it from an investment perspective, you’ve got a massive pipeline of potential tenants or participants in the NDIS scheme that have been approved for housing and financial support. There are thousands of them,” Mr Iecko said.

“Those people at the moment are living with elderly parents who are not able to care for them in a way that would be ideal. They find themselves in retirement homes.

“That’s a common scenario, where you have young people who have suffered disability who find themselves in a retirement home environment – which is pretty depressing.

“There are a lot of sad stories that this is addressing alongside those massive returns.”

He said there had been tremendous progress on the lending front over the last six to nine months as valuation experts were now understanding more about these properties.

The key for the SMSF was to invest in a property located where there was an undersupply. Then, the moment participants move in, the government payment covers the loan repayment and any costs associated with the property.

“People are using this to deleverage aggressively, using the cash flow from these properties or to re-invest aggressively, depending on what stage they’re at in the investment cycle,” he said.

 

MATCH ACCOMMODATION TO DISABILITY

Mr Iecko said the specificity around the property purchase really came down to the type of disability of the participant.

Usually, people at the extreme end of the spectrum were those suffering a mental health disability, who had their own sets of challenges to deal with, such as rage and bipolar conditions – and these came with certain protocols.

On the flip side, participants tended not to move houses very often, which means they tended to be long term tenants. And there was income from the government.

That makes it a triple-A investment, according to Mr Iecko.

The scheme is also structured to help investors deal with challenges. Some houses, for example, were built with a break room, where a participant could have an episode, and the furniture might be bolted to the floor so that it could not be thrown around and hurt someone.

The additional costs for dwellings to be built to such specifications is around $50,000. And the properties need to be certified.

Mr Iecko said this was now a growth market for self-managed super funds and interest was growing.

“The level of interest is tremendous and it’s growing month to month,” he said.

www.smsfloanexperts.com.au

www.leongettler.com

 

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness

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Praemium takes the guesswork out of tracking company investment

By Leon Gettler >>

PRAEMIUM is changing the world of finance and it has an enormous potential market.

Praemium is a platform and ­financial-planning software provider that also conducts portfolio services. With banks retreating from wealth services in the wake of the Hayne Royal Commission, the market for Praemium is growing.

Praemium started as an off-platform service in 2001. From the earliest days, it had data feeds with all the stockbrokers in the country and, using optical character recognition software in those days, it could see what the transactions would be and construct the portfolio, what it was worth, what its unrealised capital gains were and the level of franking credits.

“That is why we are the best at corporate actions and tax and finance reporting,” Praemium CEO Michael Ohanessian told Talking Business.

“One of our greatest strategic resources is we have every corporate action on every listed company in Australia since 1985. We’ve actually configured all those corporate actions from every Australian company into our system.

“And because we service the last two international investment banks that still do wealth here, and that’s Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, we also do that exact same thing for about 5000 international securities, all those American companies and European companies and so on. And with a data base of all their information, all their corporate actions automatically configured into our system, so that is how we started.” 

‘UNIVERSAL’ INVESTING

Mr Ohanessian said Praemium did the reporting on 300,000 investor portfolios, including three of the four big banks.

He divided the investment landscape into Universe A and B.

Universe B was where the company would provide the information and the investor would take it to their accountant to work out what the tax was. Universe A was where companies like Praemium provided investors with the tax report that they provided for their clients.

Mr Ohanessian said working out what portfolios were worth was always a challenge, which is where Praemium has a distinct competitive advantage in the market place.

Praemium gave its clients the software to determine all the holdings and corporate actions. But for that to be correct, they needed to do the administration work to reconcile the data. That meant checking everything at all sources, from the registry to the bank.

“That’s the admin work that our clients have to do themselves to make our software 100 percent accurate, and therefore investment grade, and 100 percent right from a tax perspective,” Mr Ohanessian said.

“Then back in 2017, we started realising maybe we could do this for some of our clients and it’s just taken off.”

REMARKABLE GROWTH CURVE

Mr Ohanessian said in the last three and a half years, Praemium had gone from one client with a few portfolios to the market today, where 15 firms are using the Praemium service, with over 6000 portfolios and covering more than $16 billion worth of assets.

“For all those firms, we are taking away all of that pain of reconciliation and making sure it’s right,” he said.

Mr Ohanessian said this was a “game-changer”.

“We think the future potential is massive because every advice business out there has this pain and it’s inefficient for them – it’s not a good use of their time and it distracts them from what they need to be working on. And we are the best at operating our own software because we know it best,” he said.

Mr Ohanessian said because Praemium started out as an off-platform business 20 years ago, it’s in the firm’s DNA.

www.praemium.com

www.leongettler.com

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness

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