The Agenda – August 2017

CEO salaries unethical!

The second annual Governance Institute of Australia Ethics Index shows a continuing gap between Australians’ expectations and perceptions of the ethicality of behaviour in many sectors and industries.

Executive pay proved especially troublesome, with 77 per cent of Australians believing a CEO salary of $3 million a year (that is, 50 times the average Australian’s yearly income) is unethical, 55 per cent believe an annual CEO pay packet of $600,000 is unethical but most believe a $300,000 salary package is ethical.

Furthermore, Australians are unhappy with the ethical standards of large corporations and their CEOs, particularly in banking and finance, as well as parliamentarians, unions and large sections of the media.

In contrast, health and education professionals, charities and the ABC are seen as having much higher ethical standards.

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Perpetual won’t appeal Soul Pattinson Case

Perpetual Limited has decided not to appeal a judgment against its case to unwind the cross-shareholding between investment conglomerate Washington H Soul Pattinson (Soul Pattinson) and Brickworks and will pay their costs on behalf of the funds that ran the campaign.

Perpetual said it will pay Soul Pattinson and Brickworks legal costs of $5 million, on top if it’s funds own costs of $6 million. This will reduce Perpetual’s 17-18 net profit by $3.5 million dollars.

Perpetual has been agitating since 2010 to unwind the Soul Pattinson and Brickworks structure – which hold roughly 40 per cent of each other. The unwinding is said to be able to release between $500 million and over $1 billion of value for shareholders. It is one of the longest examples of shareholder activism in Australia.

But the claim of oppression of minority shareholders was not made out in the case. The cross-shareholding was found by Judge Jagot in the Federal Court to have provided each company with material benefits as a result of diversification which has reduced earnings volatility.  Reasonable directors would not consider the maintenance of the cross-shareholding as unfair or oppressive, if was found.

Board reform needed to help tackle inequality: Wayne Swan

Former Labor Treasurer, the Hon. Wayne Swan argued that there is entrenched inequality since the global financial crisis requiring corporate board reform at a presentation in collaboration with the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls PC, the former UK Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr Swan addressed the National Press Club on 17 August and told the audience that, over the past decade, fewer than 15 people have been voted off ASX 200 boards. He highlighted that in Sweden leading shareholders proposed a shortlist of alternative candidates for a company director position and that a similar system could be proposed in Australia which would bust up the “directors’ club quick smart.”

 We note that Wayne Swan has previously proposed a return to ACTU representation on the Reserve Bank of Australia board and that workers and ordinary shareholders should be members of company boards.

Labour Force, Wage Growth, Consumer Price Index, and Average Weekly Earnings – Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures

The labour market – Strongest positive five-month run in more than 12 years

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 28,000 in July 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent and the labour force participation rate was 65.1 per cent.

Monthly trend full-time employment increased for the 10th straight month in July 2017. Full-time employment grew by a further 29,000 persons, while part-time employment decreased by 3,000 persons, underpinning a total increase in employment of 26,000 persons. Over the past year, trend employment increased by 259,000 persons (or 2.2 per cent), which is above the average year-on-year growth over the past 20 years (1.9 per cent).

The rate of employment growth (2.2 per cent) was greater than the growth in the population aged 15 years and over (1.6 per cent), which was reflected in an increase in the employment to population ratio (which is a measure of how employed the population is). This ratio increased by 0.4 percentage points since July 2016, up to 61.4 per cent, the highest it has been since April 2013.

The trend unemployment rate in Australia remained at 5.6 per cent in July 2017, and the labour force participation rate remained at 65.0 per cent.

Modest CPI rise to the June Quarter – Month on Month and Year on Year

All Groups CPI rose 0.2% in the June quarter, compared with a rise of 0.5% in the March quarter 2017. It rose 1.9% over the twelve months to the June quarter 2017, compared with a rise of 2.1% over the twelve months to the March quarter 2017.

The most significant price rises in the June quarter were medical and hospital services (+4.1%), new dwelling purchase by owner-occupiers (+0.9%), tobacco (+1.0%) and beer (+1.0%).

The most significant offsetting price falls in the quarter were domestic holiday travel and accommodation (-3.2%), automotive fuel (-2.5%) and fruit (-4.4%).

Wage growth subdued at 0.5% seasonally adjusted

Reporting on a quarterly basis, the Wage Price Index (WPI) provides a summary and analysis of changes in the price of wages and salaries in the Australian labour market unaffected by changes in the quality or quantity of work performed.

The seasonally-adjusted WPI rose 0.5 per cent in June quarter 2017 and 1.9 percent over the year, according to ABS figures released today by the ABS.

Rise in Average Weekly Earnings for May 2017

In the twelve months to May 2017, Full-Time Adult Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings increased by 1.8% to $1,543.80.

The Full-Time Adult Average Weekly Total Earnings in May 2017 was $1,608.40, a rise of 2.1% from the same time last year.

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