Merry Christmas to all my Australian readers. Here is an economic roundup, with many links sent from Australian readers over the past couple weeks, especially Tony the “Brisbane Bear”.

Boxing Day Sale Before Christmas

Boxing Day is traditionally the day after Christmas. Not this year, at least for all retailers.

Tony Writes … “Talk about desperation! We are now having the traditional Boxing day sales before Christmas. This will not make any difference in the longer run as everyone is now so accustomed to deals that any retailer who doesn’t offer substantial discounts won’t get any business. It is a whole new paradigm in retail that will eventually spread to all sectors. Businesses with high fixed costs will go broke in droves.

Please consider Myer brings forward online ‘Boxing Day’ sale

December 23, 2011
The annual Boxing Day sales need a new name, it seems.

This year retail giant Myer will launch its annual post-Christmas shopping bonanza two days early, on Christmas Eve, for online customers.

Myer spokesman Steven Carey said more than 1100 new items would be available for purchase on the Myer website from 6pm tomorrow – the first time the company had launched its stocktake sale early online.

While some customers were expected to stick to the annual tradition of queueing outside stores on Monday to snap up a bargain, Mr Carey said more and more people were choosing to shop from the comfort of their own home.

‘‘We’ve got to cater to both the online and the bricks-and-mortar customer,’’ Mr Carey said.

It comes as electronics giant Harvey Norman, which has long complained about the rise of international online shopping, began selling computer games this week via a website in Ireland that lets Australian consumers avoid GST.

Chairman Gerry Harvey said the company had launched the initiative reluctantly. “We are not doing this with a great deal of joy. We have been able to do this for a long time, we have held off,” he said. “But you get to a point where you can’t hold off.”

Mr Carey said if Myer’s online experiment this year was successful, it could become an annual event.

Treasurer Swan takes a potshot at ‘whinger’ Retailer Gerry Harvey

Tony writes …”The Treasurer and our biggest retailer are having a slanging match right on Christmas. The party is over and everyone is getting very, very agitated as they try to deal with the new reality.

Please consider Swan takes a potshot at ‘whinger’ Gerry Harvey

December 23, 2011
Treasurer Wayne Swan says it’s just not Christmas if retailer Gerry Harvey isn’t whingeing about soft sales.

The co-founder of Harvey Norman has been highly critical of the rise of international online shopping, which he says is threatening Australian jobs and businesses.

Mr Swan defended the GST threshold on goods bought offshore, saying a Productivity Commission report into the issue found it wasn’t the cause of retailers’ woes.

“I can’t remember a Christmas where Gerry Harvey wasn’t whingeing,” he told ABC Radio today.

“Back when we put the original stimulus package in place he spent a lot of time whingeing about that, but ultimately it did lift consumption in Australia.”

Mr Harvey responded, saying he wasn’t a whinger and just wanted to protect the whole retail sector, not only his business.

“To call me a whinger when you are poll-driven, that’s just an illusion,” he told ABC Radio.

He told Mr Swan: “I’ve been telling you and your government for a long time … you have a major problem: the GST. You thought it was more important to think about the votes you were going to get.”

Retailers Rocked as Debt Crisis Spreads

Tony writes … “Hi Mish. I have been saying for ages that we have cost structures set to boom time conditions with no way of lowering costs.

Panic is setting in. Prominent broker Charlie Aitken has warned that the industry has a cost base tailored for a boom year such as 2007, when volumes are more in line with 2002.

Please consider Retailers rocked as debt crisis spreads

December 20, 2011
THE nation’s shoppers have firmly closed their wallets amid fears of a full-blown debt contagion in Europe, while Billabong shares were smashed by 44 per cent yesterday after the iconic surfwear company released a shock profit downgrade.

The Billabong malaise extended to other discretionary retail stocks such as David Jones and JB Hi-Fi, as more than $30 billion was shed from the value of local equities.

4 out of 5 Australians Worry about Debt

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Most Australians worried about debt

December 19, 2011
Four out of five Australians are worried about their ability to meet future debt repayments, a survey shows.

The biannual survey by data intelligence company Veda, found 82 per cent were worried about their ability to meet debt repayments in the future, up from 75 per cent a year ago.

The survey also found that one in five Australians was struggling to repay their current credit commitments.

However, about 29 per cent of this sub group were considering applying for more credit in the next six months, the survey found.

“It is concerning that there are people struggling with their current debt levels but are turning to more credit as the answer, potentially edging closer to a debt spiral,” Veda senior adviser Matthew Strassbourg said in a statement.

Here is a stat straight from the Twilight Zone: 82% are concerned about debt yet 29% of those worried want more credit.

New Reality – Owing More Than You Own

The Age reports on the “New Reality” Owing More on Your Home Than You Own

Rising property values have been an article of faith in the housing market for a generation of Australians who borrowed big as real estate prices marched ever upward.

While the percentage of home owners with so-called negative equity remains tiny – about one in fifty of the 3 million households with mortgages – the number may well swell in 2012 if home prices extend their declines as some analysts expect.

The emergence of a sector of the housing market ‘‘under water’’ on their mortgages may hurt an already fragile real estate market. Any forced sales would obviously dent individual household wealth but further drops in home prices would deter investors from buying residential properties.

Tony writes “Hey Mish, Negative equity is a new buzz word slowly entering the lexicon.

Yes indeed. For starters, I highly doubt that only 1-in-50 are underwater. Regardless, I expect that number to be 40-in-50 of those who bought or did a substantial cash-out refi in the last four years. I do not know what percentage that is, but I do know it is far more than 2%.

Shocking Year for Corporate Collapses

Tony comments “Hey Mish, panic is setting in as retail chains go broke daily. The banks are warning that next year will be very tough. It is a vicious cycle and it is gathering speed as panic spreads and people stop spending

SmartCompany reports Tools chain Glenfords placed in voluntary administration

The shocking year for Australian corporate collapses has continued, with discount tools chain Glenfords now up for sale after being placed in voluntary administration last week.

The sale of the chain comes as the do-it-yourself sector has reached a major transformation point, with market leading hardware chain Bunnings now battling the Woolworths-backed Masters chain.

Analysts have said mid-tier and smaller operators will slowly be pushed out of the market as Bunnings and Masters stores dominate areas once controlled by SMEs.

The construction industry has been one of the worst hit this year – it suffers the highest number of insolvency appointments out of any sector. Glenfords has likely suffered alongside that drop in demand.

Talent Two and Billabong Shares Smashed

Tony writes … “The interesting downgrade was Talent2, these guys have been very successful for a long time but it seems white collar jobs are drying up fast”

The Australian reports No ‘ho ho’ from Billabong, Talent Two

December 19, 2011
THERE’S no ho ho ho on the bourse today, as hopes for a consumer-led recovery evaporate as quickly as snow on an outback nativity set.

Talent Two and Billabong — smashed by 50 per cent and 37 per cent respectively — tell two parts of the dismal story.

Talent Two, a leading recruiter, reported current-half earnings wouldn’t come within cooee of expectations because of reduced hiring caused by “fears of European contagion and the volatility of financial markets”.

Talent Two’s full-year EBITDA is expected to come in at less than half the expected $30m or so, but the shares probably received an extra dollop of punishment because the “market update” was issued at beer-o-clock on Friday.

Talent Two focuses on white-collar hiring, especially in the financial services sector where fearful workers rue their lack of skill at driving mining earthmovers or sealing S bends with O rings. It doesn’t take a (still employed) rocket scientist to work out scared workers won’t be buying electronic gizmos or surfwear, hence JB Hi-Fi’s surprise downgrade last week (also after market close) and the ever-erratic Billabong’s shocker this morning.

Retail Malaise Spreads Like Wildfire

The Age Reports Myer to close or shrink stores as retail malaise bites

Last week, failed apparel retailer Fletcher Jones said it would close a third of its stores immediately and shed 61 staff as administrators try to revive and sell the company.

Myer stores at Tuggeranong in the Australian Capital Territory and at Forest Hill in Melbourne’s east will close early next year. Others outlets will be shrunk when the shopping centres in which they operate are redeveloped.

Real estate stockbroking analysts suggested the Myer stores at Dandenong Plaza and possibly in Wollongong, south of Sydney, could also be closed.

It is not just the stores that are shrinking. Myer has already reduced the range of white goods, electrical items, DVDs and CDs it offers, and is also reducing the number and range of location devices such as GPSs in response to changed sales conditions.

Harvey Norman is following suit, shrinking the space devoted to electrical goods in response to a plummet in prices, which means the retailer has to sell many more television sets, for example, to make the same money.

Tony writes …

Hey Mish.

Myer is probably our oldest and most respected retail department store. (I would guess Sears or Bloomingdale’s would be US equivalents) they are in real trouble and are proposing closing stores and downsizing others.

Retail business models are broken (as are 1000’s of other business models in various sectors) and reality is sinking in. It will be very ugly when people realise that there is literally no way out.

Wages are way, way too high and working conditions are way too generous and most all other overheads are way too costly. Throw in terrible industrial relations laws that this Socialist government has introduced and you have a recipe for disaster.

Spotlight on Australia

For those who think Australia can do no wrong and Australia is the place to be, need to take another look at Australian housing, Australian retail, and also the slowdown in China.

I contend things are going to get very nasty for those down under. 

Thanks for the Links – Merry Christmas

I get links from “Brisbane Bear” nearly every day and links from Bran in Spain nearly every day.

Indeed, I get links from all over the world every day and I appreciate them. Sometimes they stack up like this before I use them and sometimes I never use them. But I do appreciate them regardless.

Many times I get 30 or more emails on a story gone viral. I Typically do not respond to such articles or use them.

If you do send a link, my most common response is simply “thanks”. I get hundreds of emails a day and often cannot say much more than that.

If I never respond (not once, but repetitively), I cannot use the stories you send, you are consistently late, or I have already seen them. Most often I will not use or respond to conspiracy theories.

Finally, to those who email every day, please note I may say “thanks” only occasionally.

Merry Christmas Australia (they are nearly day ahead of Chicago), and to everyone else too!

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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