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James
Craig James - CommSec
Economy Expert
+ About Craig James
About Craig James

Craig James is CommSec’s Chief Economist.

On leaving school Craig James joined the (then) Rural Bank, whilst undertaking university studies. He received his Bachelor of Commerce (Economics) at University of NSW in 1984 and then a Master of Commerce (Economics) at the same university in 1988.

He remained at the Rural Bank, which became the State Bank over time and then Colonial, working in branches, Corporate, Planning and Economic Research.

He became chief economist of Colonial Group in September 1987, before becoming chief economist at CommSec in August 2000 with the Commonwealth takeover of Colonial.

In 2002 Craig had a sea-change, joining the Australian Financial Review. He had always wanted to pursue a role in journalism and enjoyed the role as an economic commentator and analysts, finding that he could pursue a journalistic-type role as well as doing more electronic media work at CommSec and rejoined the group in 2003.

On taking the reigns of chief economist at Colonial, Craig endeavoured to style their research in a “user-friendly” way – something that set their research apart and still does today. The approach has been successful in their media work and in promoting Colonial, and then CommSec, to the general public. CommSec is the most quoted economic group in the mainstream media.

CommSec economic reports are a bit different in that they devise tools such as the ‘Mums and Dads’ share index and the iPod index, and undertake research on the weather and demographic changes to show how they affect the economy.

Craig currently does around 2-3 regular TV crosses a day, ad hoc radio and newspaper interviews and writes regular commentaries as well as presenting to staff, clients and external organisations.

Outside work, Craig's main interests are athletics (cross country in winter), weight training, reading widely across a range of newspapers, magazines and electronic media, and trying to keep up with the children.

Investor signposts: All about inflation

Friday, January 20, 2017

By Craig James

In the coming week, inflation dominates the Australian economic calendar. In the US, a raft of indicators is released, including those covering economic growth, consumer confidence and home sales.

On Monday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases figures on lending finance. The lending finance data shows the value of new loans taken out across housing, personal, and lease and business loan categories. In October, new loans totalled $68.68 billion in October, down 5.8% over the year.

Also on Monday, CommSec will release the quarterly State of the States report – an assessment of the economic performance of state and territory economies.

On Tuesday, there’s just one indicator of note - the weekly series of consumer sentiment. Consumer confidence is holding just shy of four-month highs. But investors will also be interested in the reading on inflation expectations two years ahead, which is currently holding at a 13-month high.

On Wednesday, the main measure of inflation in Australia – the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – is scheduled for release. And the indications are that another low reading of inflation is on the cards. We are tipping a 0.7% lift in the headline rate of inflation, lifting the annual inflation rate to near 1.6%.

One factor that is an outlier, and may actually boost overall price growth, is the rising cost of petrol. Pump prices probably rose by 5.5% in the December quarter, adding around 0.2 percentage points to the quarterly CPI.

During the quarter, there are generally seasonal price increases in tobacco and the cost of domestic holidays and accommodation. Offsetting these price changes, lower prices are likely for pharmaceutical goods. Higher prices are likely for dwelling purchase, while rents may have been flat or lower in the quarter.

The Reserve Bank attempts to keep inflation between 2-3% over time. But when prices of goods like petrol are rising, the Bank tends to focus more on measures of “underlying” prices. We suspect that underlying price measures probably grew around 0.5% in the quarter with annual growth around 1.6%.

Should prices move in line with forecasts - that is, inflation stays low - the Reserve Bank will maintain its neutral policy stance when it comes to interest rates. It’s pretty clear that inflation has bottomed out and will be closely watched over 2017.

On Friday, the (ABS) will release more data on prices, this time figures on import and export prices and the Producer Price Indexes (PPI). These international price measures tend to be dominated by changes in the Australian dollar and iron ore, coal and oil prices while the PPI focuses on business inflation.

Overseas: Raft of US indicators including GDP

There are no key indicators to watch in China in the coming week so the US hogs the limelight. Economic growth data and home prices are the highlights.

The week kicks off on Tuesday with the release of the influential Richmond Federal Reserve index, existing home sales and the flash Markit Manufacturing PMI. Existing home sales may have eased by around 1.5% in December, while the manufacturing PMI should continue to show a healthy expansion with a reading around 54.0 in January.

On Wednesday, a key measure of home prices is released with the usual weekly data on mortgage applications. The Federal Housing Finance Agency index on home prices is likely to hold at around 5.5% annual growth.

On Thursday, four key data releases are scheduled to take place. Of key focus will be the new home sales release alongside the leading index for December. In addition, wholesale inventories, the Chicago Fed national activity index and the weekly data on claims for unemployment (jobless claims) are released.

On Friday, data on durable goods orders (a measure of business investment) is released together with the “flash” or advance measure of economic growth (GDP) in the US. Economists expect that the economy slowed to a 2.3% annual pace in the December quarter, down from 3.5% in the September quarter.

Also released on Friday is quarterly data on personal consumption and consumer sentiment.

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities 

The US earnings season moves into third gear in the coming week. On Monday, earnings are expected from 38 companies including McDonalds and Resmed.

On Tuesday, around 77 companies are to report including Johnson & Johnson, Alibaba Group, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, Alcoa and DR Horton.

On Wednesday, profit results are listed for 122 companies including AT&T, Boeing, Ebay, Fiat Chrysler and Novartis.

On Thursday, more than 190 companies are slated to release earnings including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Starbucks, Caterpillar, Unilever, PayPal, and Ford.

Closing out the week on Friday are just 28 companies scheduled to report, including Chevron, Colgate-Palmolive and Honeywell.

Please note: This week’s report was written by Savanth Sebastian, Senior Economist.
This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor signposts: Jobs in focus

Friday, January 13, 2017

By Craig James

Economic data releases over the coming week cover a variety of topics including consumer confidence and spending, housing activity and the job market. Thursday’s job figures are the highlight.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the release of the Overseas Arrivals and Departures publication from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Not only does the data cover tourism flows but also longer-term migration in and out of the country. A lower Australian dollar is encouraging more tourists to choose Australia over other destinations. Tourist arrivals are up 12.7% over the year while departures are up just 4.3%.

On Tuesday, there are three indicators of note: housing finance, new vehicle sales and the weekly series of consumer sentiment.

Based on data from the Bankers Association, the number of new home loans may have fallen 1.5% in November. In part, home buyers have become more wary about purchasing property. But there are also fewer homes on the market than a year ago, causing budding buyers to be more patient.

The vehicle sales data for December has already been released by the industry body – the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. The sales data issued by the ABS on Tuesday merely recasts the bottom-line figures in seasonally adjusted and trend terms.

On Wednesday the ABS releases the Building Activity publication which includes the latest figures on dwelling starts (commencements). Starts have been volatile in recent quarters – falling 9.5% in the June quarter after lifting 8% in the March quarter. Starts should have rebounded in the September quarter.

The weekly consumer confidence data is released on Tuesday with the monthly measure issued on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the ABS releases the monthly labour market figures for December. After an out-sized 39,100 lift in jobs in November, we are looking for a more sedate 10,000 lift in jobs in December. But little change is expected in unemployment and the participation rate with the jobless rate steady at 5.7%. Forward-looking indicators point to modest reductions in the jobless rate over the coming year.

On Friday, the CommBank Business Sales Index is released along with new home sales data.

Overseas: Quiet start to the week

Overseas, there is plenty to watch in the coming week. But events are largely confined to the second half of the week, including the US Presidential Inauguration and Chinese economic growth figures on Friday.

The week kicks off on Tuesday in the US with the release of the influential Empire State manufacturing survey and regular weekly data on chain store sales.

On Wednesday in the US, the December data on consumer prices and industrial production are released with the National Association of Home Builders index for January and November data on capital flows. Consumer prices are edging higher, influenced by firmer gasoline prices. And production may have lifted 0.4% after a similar sized fall the previous month.

On Thursday in the US, the December data on housing starts is released with January data for the influential Philadelphia Federal Reserve index. Starts slid 18.7% in November, but are tipped to have rebounded by 10% in December. On the same day, the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is released.

On Thursday in China, the December data on house prices is expected. And on Friday, the spotlight shines brightly on the December quarter economic growth figures – released alongside the latest monthly data on retail sales, production and investment. The Chinese economy probably expanded at a 6.7% annual pace in the quarter and economists expect growth of between 6-7% over 2017.

And on Friday in the US, Donald Trump is formally sworn in as President. Share markets have been rallying on hopes for tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Now we want to see the legislation outlining the changes. 

Share markets, interest rates, exchange rates and commodities 

The US earnings season cranks up a notch in the coming week.

On Tuesday, earnings are expected from 18 companies including Morgan Stanley and Advanced Micro Devices.

On Wednesday, around 27 companies are to report including Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and US Bankcorp.

On Thursday, profit results are listed for 35 companies including American Express, E*Trade, Atlassian, BNY Mellon and IBM.

On Friday, only eight companies are slated to release earnings including General Electric.

According to Zacks, fourth quarter “earnings for the S&P 500 companies are expected to be up 3.1 per cent from the same period last year on 3.9 per cent higher revenues. This would follow the 3.8 per cent growth in Q3 earnings on 2.3 per cent higher revenues, the first instance of positive earnings growth for the index after five quarters of back-to-back declines.”

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: The final countdown

Friday, December 16, 2016

By Craig James

The cupboard is largely bare in terms of key domestic economic indicators or events until January 3. Still, the Federal Government will release its Mid-year estimates of the Budget position on Monday. On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank Board minutes are released, while private sector credit figures are released on New Year’s Eve.

The Reserve Bank minutes is unlikely to surprise. Policymakers are pretty much talked out when it comes to 2016. The Reserve Bank remains optimistic about the medium-term prospects for the economy, and no doubt, the lift in commodity prices would give them further confidence. 

In terms of private sector credit, lending probably advanced by 0.5% in November, lifting the annual growth rate from 5.3% to 5.4%. While housing remains the core driver of lending the lift in business borrowings is encouraging.

In contrast to Australia, there are still plenty of indicators to watch in the US, focussing on consumer spending, consumer confidence and the housing market. But also, the influential regional manufacturing surveys are released over the next couple of weeks and will feed into the ISM manufacturing gauge released in the New Year. 

Overall, US economists are forecasting modest improvements in indicators to be released over the coming fortnight. The final reading on September quarter economic growth should confirm that the US recovery is on track, supporting the decision by the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates for only the second time in almost a decade. Similarly, house price growth remains healthy, while activity and new construction in the sector remains strong. It’s clear the the US economy is in good shape, with firm economic growth and low unemployment. No doubt the focus in the New Year will be on the discussion around further US interest rate hikes.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: Jobs, jobs, jobs

Friday, December 09, 2016

By Craig James

Another big week of economic events is in prospect in Australia and overseas. In Australia, the focus will be on the labour market. In China, the broader economic activity indicators are released. In the US, no doubt most interest will be on the US Federal Reserve interest rate decision.

In Australia, the week kicks off on Monday with the Reserve Bank release of the latest data on credit and debit card lending. The average credit card balance is holding just shy of 8½-year lows. 

Also on Monday, the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will release tourist arrivals and lending finance figures – which includes housing, personal, business and lease loans. In September, lending showed a modest 1.9 per cent rise to $68.5 billion with the strength largely in commercial borrowings.

On Tuesday, the National Australia Bank business survey is released alongside the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly data on house prices. The business survey covers key business indicators, a reading on business confidence as well as gauges on prices, wages and finance. The indicators of confidence and conditions have showed encouraging improvement over the past few months, with a particular focus on a lift in profitability. In terms of the home price index, the data is a bit dated (September quarter) but is another check on price pressures in the housing market.

Also on Tuesday, ANZ and Roy Morgan release the weekly consumer sentiment survey. While on Wednesday, the monthly Westpac consumer confidence index is released. 

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute survey will include the quarterly questions about where consumers believe are the wisest places to put new savings.

On Thursday, the ABS releases the monthly employment figures. Figures have been somewhat patchy in recent months, with the job market seemingly pausing for breath after out-sized increases in late 2015. However, there has been some encouraging signs in the past couple of months. Not only are job vacancies holding at 4-year highs, but hours worked is lifting at the fastest pace in five months. No doubt the focus will be on the shift between part-time and full-time employment. Overall, we expect that the number of jobs rose by around 15,000 in November. The participation rate may have held steady at 64.4 per cent, while the unemployment rate held close to recent 3½-year lows of 5.6 per cent. 

Also on Thursday, the ABS will release population data for the June quarter as well as the Finance & Wealth publication for the September quarter. Population growth has been hovering around a 1.4 per cent annual rate for the past year, with Victoria recording the strongest growth. And household wealth is at record highs.

Spotlight on US and Chinese data

So-called ‘top shelf’ economic indicators are released in China in the coming week. And in the US, the focus will on the Federal Reserve meeting while data on retail sales and consumer prices will also be of interest.

In the US, the monthly budget statement is released on Monday. While on Tuesday the National Federation of Independent Business releases its Business Optimism index alongside data on import and export prices.

On Tuesday, China releases its ‘top shelf’ indicators on Tuesday - namely retail sales, production and investment. Annual growth rates are slowing, but that is ‘normal’ for a maturing economy. Also, foreign investment, lending and money supply data is due early in the week.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting takes place to decide on interest rates. And given the recent lift in commodity prices, stronger US economy and resulting lift in inflation, it is widely expected that the Fed funds rate will lift from the target band of 0.25-0.50 per cent to 0.50-0.75 per cent.

Also on Wednesday, a bevy of new data is slated for release. US retail sales is issued, alongside figures for producer prices, industrial production, business inventories and the usual weekly data on home purchase and refinancing. The producer price index (business inflation) is expected to remain tame, while economists tip a solid 0.5 per cent increase in November retail sales after the 0.8 per cent lift in October. No doubt fluctuating petrol prices are having a significant influence on the results. Encouragingly, core sales (sales less autos and gasoline) are expected to have lifted by 0.5 per cent in November. 

On Thursday, the weekly figures on claims for unemployment insurance are released, together with the November data on consumer prices and current account data. Excluding food and energy, prices are expected to rise by only 0.2 per cent. At present, inflation remains well contained, however the Federal Reserve is likely to focus on the possibility of a lift in inflation over 2017. 

Also on Thursday, the NAHB housing market index is issued, alongside the “flash” Markit purchasing managers index, Empire State manufacturing index and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve business survey. Home builder sentiment remains upbeat, the manufacturing sector should continue to show healthy expansion, while healthy readings are expected for the regional surveys.

And on Friday, data on US housing starts and building permits is released. Housing starts may have fallen by around 7.5 per cent in November, after the outsized 25.5 per cent lift in October.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor signposts: How fast is the economy growing?

Friday, December 02, 2016

By Craig James

Week two of the summer tsunami beckons – a fortnight where almost 20 key economic events are scheduled. Highlights include the Reserve Bank Board meeting on Tuesday and economic growth figures on Wednesday.

In Australia the week kicks off on Monday. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases the Business Indicators publication. New car sales data is released, while ANZ releases the November data on job advertisements.

The Business Indicators publication includes data on profits, sales, wages and inventories. The inventories data will provide another clue to how fast the economy grew in the September quarter.

And the job ads data will provide insights on where the job market is headed. The October data put job ads at 4-year highs.

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank Board meets for the last time before February 2017. No change in rate settings is expected.

Also on Tuesday, there are more pieces of the economic growth jigsaw puzzle to be provided. The Government finance accounts are released with the broader trade accounts – balance of payments. The weekly consumer sentiment data is also released on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, the ABS releases the National Accounts publication for the September quarter. Apart from including the latest economic growth figures, there are insights into income and spending of consumers and businesses.

We expect that the economy grew by around 0.4 per cent in the September quarter, pushing economic growth down from 3.3 per cent to 2.8 per cent – around the ‘speed limit’ of growth for the economy.

On Thursday, the ABS will release the October trade data (exports and imports). Exports may have been boosted by record output of the mining sector as well as higher mineral and metal prices. A deficit near $500 million is forecast.

On Friday, the ABS will issue the October data on housing finance. Most interest is in the new finance commitments by banks and brokers. We tip a 1.5 per cent fall in the number of loans to owner occupiers with the value of all lending largely unchanged.

But analysts will start looking more closely at the loans actually advanced as well as loan cancellations for sharper insights on where the housing market is headed.

China takes centre-stage

While there are the usual bevy of US economic indicators to be released in the coming week, Chinese trade and inflation figures may get more interest by Australian investors.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) survey for the services sector. The activity index may have lifted from 54.8 to 55.2 – well above the 50 break-even level.

On Tuesday, data on US international trade is released with factory orders and the usual weekly figures on chain store sales.

On Wednesday in the US, consumer credit data is released with the JOLTS survey of job openings. The usual weekly data on housing finance is also on the agenda.

Consumers are taking on more debt at low interest rates with credit seen lifting US$18 billion in October – close to the average monthly lift in the past three years.

On Thursday in the US, the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance is due. While on Friday, data on wholesale sales/inventories are released together with the first estimate of consumer sentiment for the month of December.

Turning to Chinese economic data, trade data is released on Thursday while inflation figures – both producer and consumer prices – are released on Friday. The exports data is more a reflection on the state of the global economy – more will be exported if the demand lifts. And imports data is more a reflection of Chinese spending as well as price trends. Exports are down 7.3 per cent over the year but imports are down by just 1.4 per cent.

The Chinese inflation data should confirm that deflation (or even, disinflation) is not a major concern, but neither is inflation. Still, it is a trend that needs close monitoring.

Financial markets

The end of the year is fast approaching so it is worth checking where we currently stand.

The ASX 200 is up by around 2.7 per cent over 2016 so far with the All Ordinaries up 3.0 per cent. But total returns on shares are up 7.2 per cent, highlighting the importance of dividends.

The Aussie dollar started the year near US72 cents. The low point of US68.24 cents occurred in January while the high of US78.35 cents occurred in April. The Aussie is up around 1 per cent so far in 2016.

And 90-day bills started 2016 at 2.38 per cent with 10-year bonds at 2.89 per cent. Currently 90-day bills are at 1.76 per cent and 10-year bonds at 2.78 per cent, after yields fell to 1.85 per cent in August.

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: Business investment and retail sales

Friday, November 25, 2016

By Craig James

A new month beckons and that means the release of top tier economic data - not just in Australia but also in the US. In Australia, the focus will be on the quarterly business investment survey (Thursday) and retail trade (Friday). And in the US, it’s time again for another batch of jobs data (Friday).

In Australia, the week kicks off on Tuesday with the weekly consumer sentiment survey. Household sentiment remains in a healthy place and should support activity in the lead up to Christmas.

On Wednesday, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) releases figures on new home sales, while the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) releases the “Financial Aggregates” report for October, which includes money supply measures and private sector credit (loans outstanding). We expect that credit rose by 0.4% in October to be up around 5.5% over the year.

Also on the Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will issue data on building approvals for October. The data represents the collated information of approvals by local councils to build new homes and commercial buildings. Given the “lumpy” nature of apartment approvals, the data does tend to be volatile.

On Thursday, the Performance of Manufacturing index, home prices and private capital expenditure data are issued. The manufacturing sector should continue to expand supported by the lower Australian dollar.

Spring selling season

In terms of home prices, the Spring selling season is well and truly in swing. Auction clearance rates are holding at around 75-80%, particularly across the Eastern Seaboard. In September, capital city home prices rose by 0.5% to be up 7.5% on a year ago.

According to the CoreLogic Daily home price index, Australian prices should rise by around 0.3% in November. Once again, it seems Sydney home prices continue be the key driver, potentially up another 1% in November. Yet, regional prices look to only be up just over 1% over the year – highlighting the diversity of housing activity across regions.

Also on Thursday, the ABS will release the September quarter estimates on business investment. This data is also an input into the calculation of economic growth. But also insightful are the estimates of planned investment for the coming year.

Overall, we expect that investment remained soft in the quarter, reflecting the ongoing winding down of the mining construction boom. However, the recent surge in commodity prices - if sustained - is certainly encouraging for the sector over the medium term. The RBA will be interested in estimates of non-mining investment.

On Friday, the ABS will issue data on retail trade. Retail spending has shown some encouraging signs over the past couple of months. Retail spending rose by 0.6% higher in September, to be up 3.3% over the year – a 4-month high. More importantly, non-food retailing has risen by 1.5% in the past two months – the strongest two-month result in 20 months. Similarly, a 0.6% lift in spending expected in October.

US employment under the spotlight

Most investors will be focussed on the US jobs figures (Friday). But there’s also key Chinese manufacturing data to digest.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US, with the release of the influential regional survey on Dallas manufacturing activity. A modest lift in activity is expected for the November result.

On Tuesday, data on US economic growth, home prices and consumer confidence are slated for release. The September quarter growth reading may be revised up from 2.9 to 3%, while home prices may have lifted at a 5.3% annual pace and confidence is expected to rise from 98.6 to 100.0 in November.

On Wednesday in the US, the ADP national employment report is released with the personal income/spending data, Chicago Purchasing Manager index, pending home sales and weekly figures on housing finance. The ADP series will garner the most interest, given it is the fore-runner to the “official” jobs report and is expected to show a 160,000 gain in private sector jobs in November.

Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release the Beige Book – anecdotal views on how the economy is tracking across the 12 Federal Reserve districts. The report is likely to be more upbeat ahead of the anticipated December rate hike.

On Thursday, the Challenger series on job layoffs is issued together with construction spending data, the ISM manufacturing index and the usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance. Construction spending is expected to have lifted by 0.5%, while the manufacturing gauge should show a modest improvement from 51.9 to 52.0 in November. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector.

In China on Thursday, the National Bureau of Statistics releases purchasing manager surveys for both the manufacturing and services sectors. The private sector Caixin purchasing manager index for manufacturing is also issued.

On Friday, arguably the most important of the week’s economic data is released – the US non-farm payrolls, or monthly employment report. After the healthy October result – 161,000 lift in jobs - employment is expected to have strengthened even further in November, with a forecast jobs lift of 175,000. Economists expect that the unemployment rate will be held at the seemingly “full employment rate” of 4.9%. As always, the interest will be in whether the tight job market shows up in higher wages.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report.

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Investor Signposts: What to watch next week

Friday, November 18, 2016

By Craig James 

A quiet week is in prospect in Australia. But despite Thanksgiving on Thursday, there’s plenty on the radar screen in the US.

The week kicks off in Australia on Monday when the Commonwealth Bank releases the Business Sales Index (BSI) – a measure of economy-wide sales. The index is derived by tracking credit and debit card transactions across the CommBank Group. And it’s a broader measure of spending than the retail sales data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). That is, it covers consumer, business and government spending and includes activities such as autos, hotels and personal services. In line with the retail sales data, spending has been lifting in recent months after a mid-year pause.

On Tuesday, the weekly consumer confidence survey is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan. Confidence levels remain healthy, with investors encouraged that the share market has lifted following the recent US elections. The survey also includes a measure of inflation expectations – an indicator that the Reserve Bank is now tracking closely.

And the Reserve Bank also features on Tuesday with the Assistant Governor (Economic), Christopher Kent, speaking at the annual dinner of the Australian Business Economists group.

On Wednesday, there are two indicators to watch. The first is the quarterly “Construction Work Done” release from the ABS. While the data covers both commercial and residential construction, it’s the data on home building that is of most interest. The home building data serves as an input to the calculation of economic growth or annual growth of gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP data is slated for release on December 7.

The second indicator to watch on Wednesday is the monthly data on skilled vacancies. This data is produced by the Department of Employment and goes into some detail in highlighting the jobs that are in demand across the economy.

On Thursday, the ABS releases the detailed data on the job market. The “high-level” job market figures like job growth and unemployment tend to be released on the second Thursday of the month. And the more detailed regional and demographic estimates of the job market are released a week later.

Overseas: US and European “Flash” manufacturing in focus. Shortened-trading week in the US 

In the coming week in the US, the Thanksgiving Day holiday is celebrated on Thursday. Still, there is plenty of data to watch. And the Federal Reserve releases minutes of the last policy-making meeting held November 1-2.

The week kicks off in the US on Monday when the National Activity index is released – a composite measure of the economy’s performance.

In the US on Tuesday, data on existing home sales is released, together with the influential Richmond Federal Reserve survey and the usual weekly data on chain store sales. Economists expect that sales of existing homes were steady at a 5.47 million annual rate in October.

On Wednesday, there’s a raft of data released with vendors keen to publish before Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day holiday. The Federal Reserve will release the minutes of the last policymaking meeting held on November 1-2. In terms of economic data, estimates of durable goods orders are released (measure of business investment) together with new home sales, the Federal Housing Finance Agency home price series and consumer sentiment. The usual weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance may also be released on Wednesday.

Economists expect that new home sales were little-changed at an annual rate of 593,000 in October. Durable goods orders are tipped to have lifted by 1.1% in October after a 0.3% decline in September. And home prices may have continued growing at a 6.4% annual pace in September.

Globally, the Markit surveys of manufacturing and services sectors are due on Wednesday and Friday respectively. These surveys are released in the US, Japan and Europe and are “flash” readings or early estimates.

On Friday in the US, “advance” data on international trade is released with similar “advance” estimates on retail and wholesale inventories.

Financial markets

The US elections have come and gone. That is positive in its own right, especially the fact that a clear result was achieved – contrary to earlier fears of disputed results.

Encouragingly, investors haven’t wasted any time in focussing on the likely winners to come out of the election victory by Donald Trump. The expectation is that Trump will carry out his promise of cutting taxes and increasing infrastructure spending. Growth-focussed stocks in Materials and Industrials sectors have done well in the election aftermath. Metals and mining prices have also soared.

The other key development is the lift in bond yields. The perception is that stronger economic growth could prove inflation – a factor that could reduce the purchasing power of bonds over the medium-term.

And the lift in bond yields has proven a global, rather than local trend, serving to boost Australian bond yields to 7-month highs.

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Investor Signposts: Aussie labour market in focus

Friday, November 11, 2016

By Craig James

The economic data-fest continues. There are around eight economic events of note in Australia in the coming week. In China, the October activity data is released. And in the US, there are close to  a dozen indicators to analyse.

The week kicks off in Australia on Monday when the Reserve Bank releases the latest data on credit and debit card lending. Cards are being used more often. But savvy customers are choosing to pay off credit cards by the due date.

Also on Monday the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases broader lending finance data, covering business, personal, housing and lease loans.

On Tuesday, the weekly consumer confidence survey is issued by ANZ and Roy Morgan. Confidence levels remain healthy, particularly when it comes to family finances – not just the current position of finances but consumer expectations for finances over the next year.

And the Reserve Bank also features on Tuesday, with the release of the minutes from the November 1 Board meeting. It’s unlikely that the minutes will contain anything significantly new. The statement following the no-change decision was very comprehensive, in fact it was among the longest statements in recent history. In addition, investors were able to digest the latest economic and growth forecasts in the release of Statement of Monetary Policy last week.

And probably of more interest to analysts and investors on Tuesday will be the speech by the Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe. The Governor is delivering a speech at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) annual dinner in Melbourne.

On Wednesday, the main measure of wages is released by the ABS – the wage price index. While many remark at the ‘extraordinary’ situation of the lowest wage growth on record, it is still the fact that wage growth outpaces the low inflation reading. We tip wage growth of 0.5% in the quarter and 2% growth over the year – still well ahead of the 1.3% annual growth of “headline” inflation.

Also on Wednesday, the ABS recasts the industry data on new vehicle sales. Motor vehicle sales are currently just shy of record highs

On Thursday, the ABS releases the October employment data. In recent months, unemployment has been more mixed across the nation. In NSW, unemployment fell to 4.9% in September – the lowest result in four years. At the other end of the spectrum, unemployment in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia held well above 6%. We tip job growth of around 20,000 in the month and a steady 5.6% jobless rate.

Overseas: US retail sales and inflation to dominate. China data also in the spotlight

In the coming week in the US, various ‘top shelf’ indicators are expected like consumer prices and retail sales. But investor focus will also centre on the key economic indicators released in China.

The week kicks off in China on Monday, when key ‘top shelf’ indicators are issued, namely retail sales, production and investment. Annual growth rates have seemingly found a base and are showing encouraging signs of lifting. In fact, Chinese retail activity is growing at the fastest pace in nine months, while manufacturing activity is expanding at fastest pace in two years. A strong Chinese economy has been a key driver of the recent lift in commodity prices and the rebound in resource stocks over the last few months.

In the US on Tuesday, there are four indicators of note – retail sales, the Empire State manufacturing index, import price index and business inventories. The key interest will be in the retail sales data which is expected to lift by 0.5%. Excluding autos and gas sales, this may have lifted by a more sedate 0.3%.

On Wednesday, industrial production, the NAHB housing market index and producer prices are all slated for release in the US together with the regular weekly data on home purchase and refinancing. The housing sector remains the backbone of the US economy. Homebuilder sentiment should hold at a reading of around 62, while production may have lifted just 0.2% in October.

And on Thursday in the US, housing starts and consumer prices will be released. Most interest will be on the inflation data given the importance to the timing of a December US rate hike. The “core” reading of consumer prices (excludes food and energy) may have risen 0.2% in October to stand 2.2% higher over the year – a result that should ensure that the Federal Reserve does lift rates in December. For the record, housing starts may have rebounded by 11% after sliding by 9% in October.

Also on Thursday, the weekly US figures on claims for unemployment insurance are released together with the Philadelphia Federal Reserve survey. The “Philly Fed” index is tipped to ease from +9.0 to +7.0 in November

On Friday, the US leading indicators index is released with a 0.1% gain expected in October.

In China on Friday, data on home prices is released.

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report. 

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Investor Signposts: The final countdown - Trump v Clinton

Friday, November 04, 2016

By Craig James

The US presidential election will dominate proceedings over the week. In Australia, there are few highlights, but the monthly business survey and the data on home loans will attract the most interest.

Job ads

The week kicks off in Australia on Monday, with ANZ releasing the October report on job advertisements. In the past, this was a trusted gauge of labour demand, but nowadays more people are going straight to company websites and using social media to scour for available positions.

Job advertisements fell from 4-year highs in September, down by 0.3% in the month. But it was only the second fall in job ads in the past five months. Job ads are up 3.7% on a year ago.

Monthly business survey

There is a bevy of events scheduled on Tuesday. Roy Morgan and ANZ release their weekly gauge of consumer sentiment. In addition, the Head of the International department at Reserve Bank, Chris Ryan, delivers a speech in Hong Kong.

But the main interest on Tuesday is likely to be in the latest monthly business survey from National Australia Bank. In September, the NAB business conditions index rose from +6.8 points to +7.7 points (long-term average +4.8 points). The business confidence index rose from +5.6 points to +5.9 points (long-term average +5.8 points).

Consumer confidence

On Wednesday, the Melbourne Institute and Westpac release the monthly variant of consumer confidence for November. The questions asked in the survey are the same as the weekly measure. The number of respondents is around the same also. But once a quarter (the next release being in December) respondents are asked about their views on the wisest places to put new savings.

Housing finance – new lending commitments

On Thursday the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases September figures for housing finance – new lending commitments. Based on a survey by the Australian Bankers Association, the number of new lending commitments provided to budding home owners may have fallen by 2.44% in the month. And the total value of all owner-occupier and investment loans may have fallen by 2%.

Tourist numbers

Also on Thursday, the ABS will release data on tourist arrivals and departures as well as inflows and outflows of immigrants. In August, tourist arrivals fell by 0.2%. And departures fell by 0.8%. Arrivals are up 10.8% on the year with departures up 4.5%.

On Friday, Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle participates in panel discussion at FINSIA’s Regulatory Panel.

Overseas: US Election to dominate investor attention

It is a rare week when there are no ‘top shelf’ US economic indicators to report on. But that is the case in the week ahead, allowing even more attention to be devoted to the US Election. In China, trade and inflation data will be released. There are five talks from US Federal Reserve presidents over the week.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of consumer credit figures and the employment trends report. Economists expect that credit grew by US$19 billion in September after a US$25.87 billion lift in August.

On Tuesday, the US the presidential and congressional elections are held, with results filtering through over Asian trade on Wednesday. At present, the presidential election is too close to call while control of the Senate and House of Representatives also could shift.

At present, Republicans control the Senate 54-46. And Republicans have 246 seats of the 435 seat House of Representatives. Polls suggest that Democrats have a 65% chance of taking control of the Senate. But the task of winning the House of Representatives is far more difficult. The Washington Post currently projects Republicans maintaining control. Democrats would need to win all “safe” seats, “predicted Democrats”, all “toss up” seats and even a few of the “predicted Republicans” seats to control the House.

In terms of US data on Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Businesses release the business optimism index for small businesses. The JOLTS survey of job openings is also issued on Tuesday with the weekly report on chain store sales.

In China on Tuesday, the October trade data (exports and imports) is released. Other data has shown a lift in the pace of the Chinese economy, so investors will want to see confirmation in the trade data (especially imports).

On Wednesday in China, the October data on producer and consumer prices is released. Business deflation ended in September with producer prices now up 0.1% on a year ago.

In the US on Wednesday, the September data on wholesale sales and inventories is released together with the usual weekly report on mortgage transactions – purchases and refinancing.

On Thursday in the US, October data on the federal budget is released, alongside the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance.

And on Friday, the November consumer sentiment estimates are released.

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report. 

 

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Investor signposts: Melbourne Cup rate cut?

Friday, October 28, 2016

By Craig James 

A bevy of key indicators are generally released at the start of each month and November is no exception. Around half a dozen indicators are released in Australia in addition to key speeches, reports and an interest rate decision from the Reserve Bank.

The week kicks off in Australia on Monday, with CommSec releasing the Home Size Trends Report – detailing the size of new homes built in 2015/16. The report provides another perspective on the supply and demand for homes in Australia.

Also on Monday the Reserve Bank releases the “Financial Aggregates” publication for September. We expect that private sector credit (loans outstanding) rose by 0.4% in September, to be up 5.8% on the year.

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank meets to decide interest rate settings. But following the latest inflation data, financial markets have downgraded the chances of a rate cut to just 4%.

Also on Tuesday, key home price figures from Core Logic and the Performance of Manufacturing index are slated for release. The Home Value Index will draw the most interest. Based on figures released to date, Australian home prices may have been flat to slightly negative (down 0.1%) in the month. However, healthy price gains have been recorded for Sydney and Perth (both up around 0.5%), and Brisbane (up 0.7%). The drag is a fall in Adelaide home prices (down 2.7%) and Melbourne (down 0.7%).

On Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) releases figures on building approvals. Building approvals have been volatile over the past couple of months, falling by 1.8% in August after rising by 12% in July. Importantly, the pipeline of new building will continue to support broader-based economic growth over the coming 12-18 months.

On Thursday, the ABS releases September figures for international trade (exports and imports). We expect the trade deficit remained significant although it is likely to have narrowed from $2 billion in August to near $1.8 billion in September.

And on Friday, the Reserve Bank will issue its quarterly statement on Monetary Policy. No doubt if interest rates are cut earlier in the week, the report will provide policymakers with an avenue to expand on their decision. But the report will contain the latest forecasts on economic growth and inflation.

It clearly is a big day on Friday. Not only is the central bank in focus, but data on retail trade for September and the September quarter will be released. Retail sales lifted by 0.4% in August, but strip out food, and non-food retailing rose by a larger 0.5%. The lift in retail activity was previewed by the Commonwealth Bank Business Sales index. Overall, it is still early days, but it does seem like spending plans are healing. For the record, we expect retail sales to lift by a further 0.4% in September.

Overseas: US Federal Reserve meeting and US jobs data dominate interest

There are ‘top shelf’ indicators to watch in both China and the United States over the coming week. The highlight is likely to be the employment report (non-farm payrolls) in the US on Friday.

The week kicks off on Monday in the US with the release of influential regional surveys – Dallas Fed Index and the Chicago Purchasing Managers index. In addition, personal income and spending figures and also the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure – the core PCE – are slated for release. Analysts expect that the annual core PCE will hold around 1.7-1.8%. So inflation is still below the Fed’s 2% target rate.

On Tuesday and Wednesday in the US, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meets to decide on interest rate settings. No change in rates is expected, but the wording of the statement will be scrutinised.

In terms of US data on Tuesday, auto sales, construction spending and the ISM manufacturing index are released. Economists expect that the ISM index held steady at 51.5.

In China on Tuesday, the official statistician (National Bureau of Statistics) releases the manufacturing purchasing manager’s index, while the private sector variant from Caixin will also be issued.

In the US on Wednesday, the ADP survey of private sector employment is issued with the ISM survey for the New York region. Private sector jobs are tipped to have lifted by 163,000 in October, up from the 154,000 gain in September. Also on Wednesday, the usual weekly report on mortgage transactions – purchases and refinancing – is scheduled.

On Thursday, US data on factory orders is released, alongside the weekly data on claims for unemployment insurance, the ISM services index, the Challenger job layoffs series and preliminary data on both labour costs and productivity.

And on Friday, the highlight of the week – the non-farm payrolls or employment report – is released together with international trade data.

In September, job growth disappointed, only lifting by 156,000. Economists tip a stronger result in October with jobs up by 170,000. The unemployment rate is tipped to fall from 5% to 4.9%, while earnings may have lifted by 0.3%. Stronger-than-expected results – particularly on earnings (wages) and the jobless rate would boost chances of a December rate hike.

Financial markets

The annual general meeting season continues – an opportunity for companies to update investors about how they are tracking. Major banks are reporting earnings – on Thursday ANZ reports, with Westpac to follow on Monday, November 7.

This week's Investor Signposts was written by CommSec economist, Savanth Sebastian

This report is approved and distributed in Australia by Commonwealth Securities Limited ABN 60 067 254 399, AFSL 238814 (CommSec) a wholly owned but non-guaranteed subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124, AFSL 234945 (the Bank). The Bank and its subsidiaries have effected or may effect transactions for their own account in any investments or related investments referred to in this report. This report is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any securities, property, real estate or financial products, and has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial or taxation situation or needs of any particular individual. For this reason, any individual should, before acting on the information in this report, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual's objectives, financial or taxation situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. This report is produced by Commonwealth Research based on information available at the time of publishing. We believe that the information in this correspondence is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made as at the time of its compilation, but no warranty is made as to accuracy, reliability or completeness. To the extent permitted by law, neither the Bank nor any of its subsidiaries accept liability to any person for loss or damage arising from the use of this report. 

 

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