Thursday, April 3, 2014

NAB boss Cameron Clyne retiring at 46 to spend more time with his family

Here's my interview with National Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne who surprised the market by announcing his retirement this morning.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Property speculation warnings: we've heard it all before. But are investors listening?

Revelations about surging property prices in Australian capital cities have renewed worries that a dangerous real estate bubble might be emerging.

But while the warnings have been getting louder in recent months, they're hardly new.

The Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has been on the front foot in recent years with a message that investors should not expect instant capital gains from property investment or speculation.

While avoiding the "bubble" word, the warnings have been straight-talking and jargon free - clearly designed as a reality check for unsophisticated property punters.

For the usually reserved Mr Stevens, it was a significant departure from addressing the usual specialist suspects - economists, academics and finance journalists.

" I think it is a mistake to assume that a risk-less, easy, guaranteed way to prosperity is just to be leveraged up in to property. It isn't going to be that easy," Mr Stevens told Channel Seven's "Sunrise" program.

The not so gentle message came a few months after Mr Stevens declared the emergency from the global financial crisis was over and that interest rates were about to move higher back to a normalised level of around five percent.

In other words, Mr Stevens warned back then that with rates on the rise, investing in bricks and mortar was no longer the easy path to prosperity it was in the latter part of the 20th century.

Glenn Stevens' warning from that interview resonate now - four years later - amid signs that the cash rate could start rising from 2.5 percent as early as Melbourne Cup day.

Here's how he began the softening-up process in March 2010 for both borrowers and lenders who could be exposed to the fallout from rising rates:

"I think it would be not doing people any favours to have a prolonged period of very low rates and then hammer them unexpectedly," Mr Stevens told Sunrise.

"And of course the banks that are lending them the money should be - and I'm sure are - testing the potential borrower: can you handle some rise in interest rates?"

Fast-forward to March 2014 and the similarity of the warnings is striking.

Just last week, the Reserve Bank warned inits latest Financial Stability Review that Australian banks could fuel real estate speculation if they weaken their lending standards.

The RBA warned that the pick-up in lending for houses would be "unhelpful if it was a result of lenders materially relaxing their lending standards".

While the Reserve Bank did not refer to a property "bubble", it again warned investors about the risks of real estate investment and that low rates "have the potential to encourage speculative activity in the housing market".

And once again, the RBA warned investors that while house prices can rise, they can also fall:

"It is important for both investors and owner-occupiers to understand that a cyclical upswing in housing prices when interest rates are low cannot continue indefinitely.

"And they should account for this in their purchasing decisions."

The RBA's strongest warning yet follows concerns from the Australian Securities & Investments Commission that self-funded retirees were exposed to price falls by leveraging into real estate to boost returns.

In that Sunrise interview four years ago, Glenn Stevens described himself as "Sydney's most boring person, really."

But his early words of warning on housing could prove prophetic as the window of short memories appears to getting shorter.