10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

Good morning and happy Monday.

1. The conversation over the weekend was dominated by Australia’s punitive India travel ban, which includes criminal sanctions for Australian citizens trying to travel home from the pandemic-ravaged country. Refusing entry from citizens is obviously a nuclear option. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described the move as “drastic” but said it is “designed to keep Australians safe”.

2. But was it based on medical advice? Well, that’s complicated. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that he did not counsel the government on the threats of fines and jail terms – which is what people are finding most difficult to swallow. “So that is in the act itself, I didn’t advise anything in relation to fines or any of those other matters, that is the law,” he said. Given the government said it was based on “medical advice”, it seems like Kelly has just been forced to eat the mother of all shit sandwiches.

3. Westpac’s half-year profits rebounded 256% to $3.5 billion, the company has announced. The profit result is higher than the $3.3 billion figure expected by analysts. “It has been a promising start to the year with increased cash earnings, growth in mortgages and continued balance sheet strength,” said CEO Peter King. “First half earnings were considerably higher than the prior corresponding period, mainly due to an impairment benefit reflecting improved asset quality and a better economic outlook.

4. The ASX is currently reviewing a number of applications for a cryptocurrency-based exchange-traded fund (ETF), several industry sources have confirmed to Business Insider Australia, with some optimistic a fund could be launched as soon as this year. While the ASX cannot comment directly on applications to list, the exchange did confirm it is “spending an enormous amount of time” focused on digital assets. “It’s an emerging asset class and it’s appropriate we put in time in the time and effort into what these assets might look like when they’re admitted to the public markets,” executive general manager Max Cunningham said.

5. Billionaire retailer Solomon Lew has backflipped on JobKeeper, saying his company Premier Inestments will pay the subsidy back after a bumper season. The company notified shareholders on Monday it would pay back the $15.6 million in JobKeeper ‘net benefit’ it had received over 2020. A few months ago, the company said it intended to hold on to the money in case it needed to pay staff through any future lockdowns.

6. New data from REA has found it is cheaper to buy than rent over a 10-year period almost everywhere in Australia. The figures found that lowered mortgage rates were the main driver of favourable buying conditions. Its findings show that more than 80% of houses and almost all units outside of NSW and Victoria were more affordable over a decade if the owner bought rather than rented the property.

7. Just 18% of Australian companies recorded a drop in revenue over March, the lowest figure since July 2020, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The latest business sentiments report shows considerable optimism among sectors which have recovered from COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. But a quarter of arts and recreation firms expected revenues to dip in the month to come.

8. A full 80% of Australian companies which permit employees to work remotely expect the trend to continue into the long term. More data from the ABS suggests working remotely will linger after COVID-19 industry shutdowns made it a necessity. 45% of firms which permit some level of remote working have reported an uptick in staff wellbeing.

9. While Australia remains a fortress, the world is looking at opening up travel. European countries could accept fully vaccinated US travellers this (northern) summer. Americans would need to prove they’ve had their shots, but the specific rules may vary by country. Greece and Iceland, among the few countries already open to US tourists, are accepting CDC cards.

10. Legendary investor Warren Buffett criticised SPACs and Robinhood at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. The investor said they encourage gambling and treating the stock market like a casino. “You have this incredible, huge asset to humanity but it really makes its money when people are doing stupid things,” he said. “The easy money made by SPACs and derivatives and so on – you push that to excess, it causes horrible problems for the civilisation,” added his right-hand man Charlie Munger.

BONUS ITEM

Excellent interview for all the Simpsons-heads out there.

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