Rebounding Australian economy ‘outpacing every G7 country’

Three months ago Australia’s economy went backwards and there was a chance today’s figures could produce the first technical recession in more than a generation.

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But the result was just the opposite. 

Today’s National Accounts show the economy expanded by 1.1 per cent in the December quarter, after a shock 0.5 per cent decline in the previous three months.

The annual rate has lifted from 1.8 per cent to 2.4 per cent, with the main contributions coming from household consumption and government spending.

SBS

The figures are a relief for Treasurer Scott Morrison, who was facing the prospect of being in charge of the books when Australia’s record run of 26 years of economic growth came to an end. 

“While this growth result is welcome, we must continue to remember that our growth cannot be taken for granted,” Mr Morrison told journalists at Parliament House.

“It would be wrong, just plain wrong, to assume that those gains have been experienced evenly across all businesses in the economy.”

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But if Australians aren’t feeling the benefits of a rebounding economy, they have good reason. Wage growth went backwards in the quarter.

“Today’s results is principally driven by a solid rebound in household consumption, despite subdued wages growth,” Mr Morrison said.

“It was up 1.5 per cent in the year. While we saw more jobs in the quarter, with modest wage increases and compositional changes, this modest result was disappointing.

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“This is why the core task of the government remains to increase what hard-working Australians can earn.”

Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics agreed with the Treasurer’s analysis.

“These numbers are great but they’re not yet family friendly. Wage growth in particular remains the sickest bit of the economy,” Mr Richardson told SBS News.

“The biggest thing in the economy is the spending of mums and dads, households.”

“Most things in the Australian economy are going right and 2017 looks like being better than most people expected,” Mr Richardson said.

CommSec economists released a response which said that they are not surprised, given the September quarter contraction does appear to have been an aberration. 

“The important point is that everything that could have gone wrong in the September quarter did go wrong – bad weather, elections, geopolitical events. The economy contracted, but that under-represented the true health of the economy. Growth was always going to bounce back and it did,” CommSec said.

“The latest result highlights the shift in momentum that has taken place in the past few months. The Australian economy is getting its mojo back, now it is up to policymakers to foster an environment that ensures businesses feel comfortable to lift investment levels.”

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Zalando buys streetwear retailer Kickz, outlook dents shares

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s Zalando <ZALG.

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DE> announced the acquisition of streetwear retailer Kickz on Wednesday, bolstering its plans to shift from being a pure fashion e-commerce player to becoming a provider of logistics, technology and marketing to key brands.

The company’s shares, however, were dented by a relatively conservative outlook for 2017 as heavy investment in infrastructure and software keeps a lid on profitability.

Founded in Berlin in 2008, Zalando has grown rapidly to become Europe’s biggest online fashion retailer, delivering 1,500 brands in 15 countries from huge out-of-town warehouses.

It now wants to complement that business by offering more services to brands and retailers, including delivering items directly from their stores – a field analysts say should be more profitable than pure e-commerce.

Zalando said the purchase of Munich-based Kickz, which runs 15 stores in Germany and websites that deliver worldwide, fits into that strategy, combining Kickz’ expertise in basketball and lifestyle with Zalando’s technology and logistics.

Zalando, which did not disclose the sum paid for Kickz, will integrate the brand into its online shop and help it to expand to more countries while retaining the Kickz stores, situated in prime locations in major German cities.

“Zalando customers will get access to the newest products, which are otherwise only available at selected retailers, as well as exciting content in a baskeball world curated by Kickz,” said David Schneider, Zalando managing board member.

SPORTSWEAR PUSH

The move fits with Zalando’s push into the booming sportswear market, including last year’s launch of the Ivy Park label co-founded by pop star Beyonce and its work on a pilot project to deliver directly from Adidas stores in Germany.

Amazon , which is expanding rapidly in fashion and is seen as the biggest threat to Zalando, has also been experimenting with physical retail, albeit mostly in food and books so far.

Zalando forecast sales growth of 20-25 percent in 2017, against 23 percent in 2016. Its estimate for the margin on adjusted earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) was 5-6 percent, compared with 5.9 percent in 2016, in line with its medium-term guidance.

However, that was below analyst forecasts for a 2017 EBIT margin of 6.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters SmartEstimates, sending Zalando shares down 2.7 percent to 36.75 euros by 1028 GMT, the biggest drop among European retail stocks .

Zalando said it expected to invest 200 million euros (170.5 million pounds) in 2017, up from 182 million in 2016, primarily in infrastructure, increased automation and software, with new warehouses planned in France, Sweden and Poland.

It plans to add 2,000 jobs in 2017 to its 12,000-strong workforce, having already added 1,000 positions to its tech team in 2016.

British rival ASOS in January lifted its expectations for sales growth to 25-30 percent for its financial year to Aug. 31, saying it would accelerate instrastructure investment, while adding 1,500 jobs at its London headquarters.

Zalando, which reported preliminary fourth-quarter results in January, said that sales in the period rose 26 percent to 1.09 billion euros. It said that adjusted EBIT came in at 96 million euros, ahead of average analyst forecasts.

($1 = 0.9486 euros)

(Editing by David Goodman)

US is strong and ‘ready to lead’: Trump

US President Donald Trump says the United States will remain engaged with the world, even as he vowed to put American interests above all to achieve the “renewal of the American spirit.

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In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump struck a more conciliatory tone than in January’s inaugural address, as he outlined an agenda centred on job creation, immigration reform and national security.

“Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead,” Trump said. “All the nations of the world – friend or foe – will find that America is strong, America is proud and America is free.”

He also appeared to look for a reset, trying to move past a chaotic period that sowed doubts about his ability to govern effectively.

“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” he said.

Trump began his remarks by addressing anti-Semitism and racism, following a series of threats and incidents across the US recently, including the shooting of two Indian citizens last week in Kansas and the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries. He has come under fire for not responding forcefully to such attacks, which observers say have risen since his election.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.

On the international front, Trump vowed to “extinguish” Islamic State with the help of allies in the Muslim world.

Trump pointed to a review of US strategy against IS that the Pentagon delivered to the White House this week, but did not indicate any change of course.

“We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,” he said.

He also called on NATO allies to fulfil their commitments on defence spending, claiming money was already “pouring in” and suggested US willingness to forge new partnerships, a possible reference to Russia for co-operation in Syria and elsewhere.

“Our obligation is to serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States,” Trump said, defending a legally disputed ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations and a suspension of the refugee program.

He placed a heavy emphasis on pocketbook issues in his speech, pushing for protectionist trade policies to favour US workers, keeping illegal immigrants from taking jobs and lowering the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs as part of a repeal of Obamacare.

Trump, who has strongly criticised US immigration policies, called for reforms to implement a “merit-based” immigration system.

“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security and to restore respect for our laws,” he said.

Trump said that the current US system of “lower-skilled” legal immigration fails to protect workers, and cited systems used in Canada and Australia.

He said that a merit-based system will save money, raise wages “and help struggling families – including immigrant families – enter the middle class.”

Trump’s remarks were well received with 78 per cent of viewers in a CNN poll reacting positively, even as Democrats in the chamber gave the president little applause.

Russia, China veto UN resolution on Syria sanctions

The Security Council resolution drafted by Britain, France and the United States won nine votes in favor while three countries opposed it — China, Russia and Bolivia.

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Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Egypt abstained.

UN resolutions require nine positive votes and no veto to be adopted.

It was the seventh time that Russia, Syria’s top military ally, has used its veto power to shield the Damascus regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned earlier that imposing sanctions on Syria was “completely inappropriate” while talks were ongoing in Geneva on ending the war.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley shot back: “This resolution is very appropriate.”

“It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people,” she said.

“The world is definitely a more dangerous place,” she told the council after the measure was rejected.

Related reading’Moment of truth’

The resolution would have put 11 Syrians, mainly military commanders, and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN sanctions blacklist.

It included a ban on the sale of helicopters and of chemical agents to the Syrian armed forces or the government.

A UN-led investigation concluded in October that the Syrian air force had dropped chlorine barrel-bombs from helicopters on three opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

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French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the vote was a “moment of truth” for the council, arguing that chemical weapons use was a “negation of all civilization.”

The joint panel of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that Islamic State jihadists used mustard gas in an attack in 2015.

Related readingUS joins Britain, France at UN

The vote marked the first major council action by the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who is seeking warmer ties with Russia.

France and Britain had circulated the proposed measure in December and the new US administration joined as a co-sponsor of the draft resolution this month.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov echoed Putin’s view that imposing sanctions would have undermined peace talks and described the draft resolution as a “provocation” by the Western “troika”.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the war that has killed 310,000 people since March 2011.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi argued that sanctions were premature and that the UN-OPCW panel should be allowed to complete its investigations.

“At present, investigations are still ongoing and therefore it is too early to reach a final conclusion,” Liu told the council.

China has joined Russia in vetoing six resolutions on Syria.

Britain, France and the United States are the other veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

UN-brokered talks that opened on Thursday in Geneva ran into hurdles after Russia insisted that counter-terrorism be added to the agenda — putting pressure on opposition groups with ties to Islamist fighters.

Putin — whose military intervention in Syria helped turn the tables in favor of Assad — lamented that the negotiations in Switzerland are “not going as smoothly as hoped.”

Russia used its veto power twice to block demands for a ceasefire in Aleppo, the Syrian city that was seized by government forces in December.

Russia and China also blocked in 2014 a request for the International Criminal Court to open up investigations of war crimes committed during the war in Syria.

Back to base: Australian ambassadors recalled for foreign policy white paper

More than 100 ambassadors and high commissioners will spend two days working with the prime minister and other senior government figures to help formulate a new foreign policy white paper.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the meeting will focus on resetting Australia’s foreign policy priorities.

“What I have asked them to do is to all come back to Australia at the one time in March so that we can harness the experience, the intellect, the observations the perspectives and insights of our most senior and experienced diplomats from around the world.”

The meeting is expected to cost around $1 million.

But Ms Bishop says the government isn’t spending any new money – some smaller, regional meetings around the world have been cancelled to help pay for the Canberra talks.

“Well, in fact it will be completely absorbed within DFAT’s existing budget, because we will be cancelling other meetings that would have taken place. So there will be no new money required, it is to be absorbed within the existing budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

Nearly every head of an Australian foreign mission, apart from a few nearing the ends of their contracts, will be set to work on the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

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A white paper is not legislation, but rather a blueprint document that Ms Bishop says will guide the country’s foreign policy for the next 10 years.

Expert in international diplomacy at the University of Adelaide, Associate Professor Felix Patrikeeff, told SBS the unusual step of bringing all of Australia’s ambassadors to Canberra is a good move, given the sweeping changes in international affairs.

“Strategically, it’s spot on. It is a proposal that essentially acknowledges that the foreign policy terrain has changed remarkably. The Trump revolution in international affairs is threatening to be very difficult to read indeed.”

Former ambassador to the United States and former deputy prime minister, Kim Beazley, told SBS Australia’s economic and military ties with the United States are vital and need to be maintained.

“One of the things you have to do, I think, in relations with the United States, is to make sure that whatever happens that that area is not affected by any particular difficulties you have with American leadership.”

Mr Beazley says the ambassadors will contribute valuable ideas to the white paper, but disagrees with the need for such a document in the first place.

He says foreign policy is too adaptive to be planned in a White Paper.

“It works for Defence, because Defence has to put down a program with dollar signs attached to it, they have to make selections amongst various types of equipment,” he said.

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“Foreign policy is more nebulous, it’s much more a reaction to events. Generally speaking you always want to lay down a set of principles, but events are likely to take you over pretty quickly.

“I hope that the government in the policies that it puts down will indicate a degree of flexibility.”

The last Foreign Policy White Paper was published by the Howard Government in 2003, but a more specific ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ white paper was released by the Gillard government in 2012.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek says the Coalition wasted that report when it won the election.

“This government came in and junked the Australia in the Asian Century white paper, something that was just an extraordinary act of vandalism. They’ve replaced it with nothing. There’s been no policy development in those intervening three years.”

Mr Patrikeeff says the new focus will likely look beyond Asia.

“I think it will probably be to suggest that there is a seismic movement in terms of foreign affairs and it’s no longer adequate to just talk in terms of the Asian Century, which has actually been left behind in some respects. It’s still a very, very important area, but it’s no longer a focus internationally.”

Along with America’s new foreign policy approach under President Trump, Mr Patrikeeff names tensions in South East Asia and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as major global challenges.

Australia-Indonesia relationship back on track

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