Good morning, and welcome to the start of another week. Here’s what you need to know:
- Australia and Japan remain locked in negotiations over a free trade agreement. The key sticking point is Japanese tariffs on Australian beef imports, which Japan is offering to cut to around 20% from over 38%, while Australia is offering to drop a 5% tariff on Japanese cars in return. If the deadlock breaks there could be an announcement as early as today. Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe had a private dinner in Tokyo last night.
- The astonishing rise of mining billionaire Clive Palmer’s influence in Australian politics continues. The businessman’s Palmer United Party looks set to control a critical bloc of four votes in the new Senate following the re-run of the West Australian Senate election over the weekend, with both Labor and the Coalition seeing big falls in their primary vote. This puts the government’s agenda at the mercy of Palmer who can control the passage of legislation in the Upper House, including the carbon tax, which he has tied to the maintenance of payments to orphans of war veterans. Labor will be agonising in the weeks to come over the collapse of its primary vote below 22%; outgoing Senator Mark Bishop says voters are either not listening or don’t like the message.
- Market indicators from Japan will be watched closely in the coming months for signs of slowing activity after an increase in the country’s sales tax from 5% to 8% last week, which Shinzo Abe agreed to in order to try deal with the country’s burgeoning debt – now twice the size of the country’s economy. The main concern is that consumers will dramatically reduce spending as they did in 1997 following a similar measure. The WSJ reports a cabinet minister saying Abe will be reviewing economic data even more closely than before.
- The headline number in the US jobs report on Friday came in at 192,000 positions added for March, just shy of the market expectation of 200,000, but confounding a lot of bullish predictions from Wall St. The US markets finished the week in heavy selling following the jobs print, and futures point to sharply lower opens for the ASX and Nikkei today. The Australian dollar rallied above US93c briefly on the US dollar’s weakness and was trading around US92.90c this morning. More here. This week sees the critical leading indicators for Australia of the NAB business survey on Tuesday and Westpac consumer sentiment on Wednesday, followed by Australian employment on Thursday. ANZ’s job ads survey is out this morning and Wednesday night sees the release of the US FOMC minutes for the March meeting.
- Amid all the fuss created by Michael Lewis’s new book Flash Boys, the Australian commercial regulator ASIC is threatening to introduce some kind of speed brake on computer-driven high frequency trading to preserve the trust of retail players in the stock market, according to a report in The Australian Financial Review.
- A Twitter employee just live-tweeted the birth of her daughter.
- There are now more than 90 people dead in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and over the weekend a mob attacked a treatment centre in Guinea, where the first cases were recorded. Businesspeople are leaving the area, with deaths recorded in Guinea and Liberia but Mali now seeing suspected cases as well.
- The new season of Game of Thrones start tonight – the first showing in Australia is at 3.30pm AEST on Showtime, with repeats through the evening. Even if you’re not a fan of the show you’ll be hearing the conversations and the guessing games about what happens next over the coming months. Here’s a quick refresher on where we’re up to in the saga.
- Australian billionaire James Packer is looking at further expansion of his gaming company Crown in Asia, reportedly lining up for a $5 billion casino development in Japan.
- Big sports talking points from the weekend: Greater Western Sydney monstered Melbourne in the AFL, while in the Super Rugby the Folau-less Waratahs managed a win in South Africa against the Stormers and the Western Force beat the Reds with a last-minute try in Brisbane.
Bonus item: Here’s a stunning rendition of the Game of Thrones theme by the New York Philharmonic orchestra to get you in the mood.
Have a cracking day. I’m on Twitter: @colgo
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