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Up to 50% of city workers to return to office from Monday, mask rules relaxed


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“To get to this eight days in a row of zero is no small thing and it’s a credit to all of our public health team and a credit to all Victorians who play their part in doing so,” he said.

However, Mr Andrews predicted that many Victorians would continue to work from home, saying flexible working arrangements were no longer “a concept”, but “the lived experience for many people over a long year”.

“They’re gonna want much more flexible working arrangements,” he said.

“They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they’re going to want to do that.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from many, many very big employers about productivity not really being impacted, [and] in fact, in many cases, actually being enhanced by people working in a much more flexible way.”

The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

From Monday, up to half of all private sector workers can begin working from their desks again, while Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, can bring back up to a quarter of staff.

Mr Andrews said the government had capped the return of public servants at a lower setting to give the private sector more capacity to bring workers back.

The news will be welcomed by many thousands of Victorians who have been working from makeshift home offices since March.

However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expects the return to be a slow, drawn-out process and major employers, including NAB, Westpac and ANZ, have said their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

As The Age revealed on Wednesday, a Fair Work Commission survey found that only 5 per cent of workers want to return to the office full-time.

The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day, and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

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One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements, but, in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Industrial lawyers have warned workers could be sacked if they refuse a request from their employer to return to the office once their workplace is deemed safe and the Victorian government relaxes restrictions on attendance.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities were “relatively confident” there was no community transmission in Victoria, but urged people to remain vigilant.

“What we’d like to do is encourage employers to be flexible to allow staggered start times,” he said. “Employers hopefully understand the need to be flexible and to make sure that not everyone’s going into the building at the same time, but obviously it will be different for different employers.”

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Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, leaving CBD businesses heavily reliant on office workers for financial survival.

At the 2016 census there were 37,341 residents of the CBD, almost half (45 per cent) of whom were students.

But since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said having office workers return to the CBD would be a lifeline for city retail and hospitality businesses.

Mr Andrews said: “This will be a massive boost not only for the office workplaces in the heart of Melbourne, but the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that rely on their business – it will be fantastic to see the city coming alive again.”

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Markets Live, Monday 4 January, 2021


Equities bounced back with a vengeance following the plunge in March, with the Nasdaq, S&P 500 and Dow posting respective annual gains of 43.6 per cent, 16.3 per cent and 7.2 per cent.

“When you think about the year we’re glad it’s over, but it was also unbelievable in a lot of different ways,” said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina. “This is the first year in history that the S&P was down 30 per cent for the year at one point and managed to end higher.

“It is a good reminder for investors to have a longer time horizon and when bear markets arise they likely should be viewed as opportunities and not a time to panic, which is easier said than done,” Detrick added.



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Markets Live, Monday 14 December, 2020


Here’s what to watch this week…

US stimulus

The market is still waiting for a US fiscal stimulus deal. After brief signs of progress on a package, negotiations have seemingly stalled once again, with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi last week flagging the talks between Republicans and Democrats would extend beyond Christmas. While US Congress did agree to a stop-gap spending bill last week that would avert a Government lockdown, US lawmakers are still apart on a more comprehensive spending bill, with the two sides currently divided on the issue of liability protection for employers.

Brexit

Brexit has taken the markets to another cliff hanger, as pessimism grows that a trade deal between the UK and European Union before the end of the transition period at the end of the month won’t be forthcoming. The pound plunged last week, after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that no-deal by December 31 is a strong possibility. Unofficial deadlines have continued to be made and broken by both the UK and EU, with the core issues of fisheries, governance and the even playing field keeping negotiators from a deal.

US Federal Reserve

The economic calendar is the week ahead is jam-packed, but will be highlighted by the final meeting of the US Federal Reserve. No major change of policy is expected from the central bank, which has gone to extraordinary lengths in 2020 to stabilise the US economy and global financial markets during the COVID-19 crisis. However, there’s some speculation that the Fed could tinker with its asset purchasing program, and perhaps change its guidance to the market on policy and the economy, as signs grow the US economy’s recovering is slowing.

Global data

After what was a relatively light weaker on the data front last week, market participants prepare for what is the last major trading week for 2020 in the week ahead. On top of the US Federal Reserve meeting, the Bank of Japan, Swiss National Bank and Bank of England will hold meetings. China’s monthly data dump will also arrive in the middle of the week, as will a spate of global flash PMI figures, which ought to give a timely update on the globe’s economic recovery.

Australian Dollar

The Australian Dollar surged last week, as the Australian dollar/US dollar traded at highs not recorded since June 2018. Several factors are driving the pair higher right now. Chiefly, the Australian Dollar is benefiting from an uplift in global market sentiment, which has been boosted by hopes about a swift rebound in global growth next year. Soaring iron ore and commodity prices are also underpinning the Australian Dollar’s ascent, with the price of iron ore itself climbing towards and 8-year high last week. The AUD/USD is also benefiting from a weaker US Dollar, which itself continues to plumb multi-year lows.

Listen to the Short Squeeze, our weekly markets podcast produced in conjunction with IG here. Episodes last about 10 minutes and are also available through Spotify and Google Podcasts.

This column was produced in commercial partnership between The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and IG. Information is of a general nature only.



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Australian News

Insane weather: Wild outlook for Monday



Dangerous weather and “relentless” rain is expected to continue up until at least Tuesday as residents are being warned to brace for damaging winds, flash flooding, heavy rainfall, “abnormally” high tides and disappearing beaches.



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Australian News

Zero new cases on Monday


South Australia recorded zero new COVID-19 infections on Monday, the day before restrictions are expected to ease.

The state’s total number of infections remains at 561, with 17 considered active.

There are 33 cases still connected to the Parafield cluster, with almost 2000 people quarantining over links to the group.

SA Health Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick again urged anyone with the mildest of symptoms to get tested immediately and stressed the importance of wearing a mask.

Sunday also recorded no new cases, but it was announced a man breached his quarantine and went on a shopping spree while infectious last Sunday.

Within three hours, the man — who was first identified as a casual contact to a confirmed case — managed to visit seven businesses across metropolitan Adelaide.

As a result, hundreds of shoppers have been asked to get tested if they attended the same locations as the infected man.

The man, in his 30s, is a student at the Intensive English Language Institute located at Flinders University’s Sturt campus and first tested negative to the virus at the beginning of his quarantine.

People were seen queuing at the Thebarton and Kurralta Park pop up testing sites early Monday morning.

SA Health Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has long called for high testing rates, recently saying she was “disappointed” by the numbers and that testing was the key to the state’s defence against the Parafield cluster.

On Sunday, she was unable to guarantee the easing of restrictions would go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday.

“I’m monitoring everything on a daily basis,” she said.

“If we could see the testing increase, I would be feeling a lot more confident.

“If we don’t have that testing rate up and that I could feel confident that everybody with symptoms, particularly people who have been to these locations are getting tested, then I can’t feel confident that we’re on top of things.”

More to come.



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Markets Live, Monday 23 November, 2020


As the dust settled on last summer’s bushfires and the local coronavirus numbers started climbing, Crestone Wealth Management’s chief investment officer Scott Haslem and his team flipped the switch on customer outreach to overdrive.

Crestone manages money for some of the country’s wealthiest people, from high net worth to ultra-high net worth, and the stakes were pretty high as the pandemic knocked the wind out of global markets. Weekly online webinars were set up and attended by 900 clients at a time and individual advisers were told to check in with clients over the phone, sometimes daily.

Crestone chief investment officer Scott Haslem in his western Sydney home.

Crestone chief investment officer Scott Haslem in his western Sydney home. Credit:Nate Wildr

“It was about communicating with our clients, working with them to sort through the noise, that comes from the media, the panic, the crisis,” Haslem says. “When you engage an adviser, the most beneficial time you have with that adviser is not when markets are going up, it’s when markets are volatile and there is a crisis afoot.”

The main message from Crestone to its clients was to ignore the noise and stick to the plan. Be disciplined, trust the strategy and whatever happened – do not switch to cash. As global share prices started falling by double digits through March, Haslem says sticking to that script became paramount.

Read Charlotte Grieve’s full profile here



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Markets Live, Monday 9 November, 2020


COVID-19 back at the forefront

With the focus squarely on the US election, the pandemic went under the radar for market participants last week. As the dust settles on the election, the health and economic impacts of the virus are likely to return to the fore in the week ahead, as the crisis continues to spiral out of control in both the US and Europe. European Union nations are continuing to move towards tighter lockdowns, raising the risk of a double-dip recession for the economic bloc. In the US case numbers are exploding, with more than 130,000 infections reported on Friday alone.

US earnings season

Profit reporting season in the US will wind down this week, as a relative shift in focus away from US politics allows market participants to return to issues of market fundamentals. It has been a strong reporting period overall for US companies. According to financial data company FactSet, of the 89 per cent of companies that have reported results, 86 per cent have exceeded analyst estimates, with the expected contraction in earnings per share growth across the S&P500 falling to 7.5 per cent. Companies such as Intel, McDonald’s and Walt Disney report this week.

Aussie dollar on the rise

The Australian dollar rallied last week as market participants priced-in a Joe Biden presidency. The improvement in sentiment bolstered the AUD/USD, which outperformed its G10 counterparts as traders discounted the expectation of improved US-China relations under a Biden presidency. Though the Australian dollar remains well off its year-to-date highs, the risk of further upside for the currency will frustrate the Reserve Bank of Australia, which launched its new QE program last week in large part to suppress its rise.

Listen to the Short Squeeze, our weekly markets podcast produced in conjunction with IG: This column was produced in commercial partnership between The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and IG. Information is of a general nature only.



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Markets Live, Monday 28 September, 2020


The death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg further complicated a US political environment already fraught with danger, and fed the notion a fresh stimulus package for the US economy won’t pass through congress before the election.

At that, the market is still pricing in a tight and hotly contested US election, which – if judging by what’s being implied in the US VIX futures curve – will result in a Joe Biden Presidency, and an election result that will end up contested in the courts.

Judging by market activity, the chances of a steady improvement in the US economy, along with a global economic rebound that would see a bridging of the gap in economic performance between the US and the rest of the world, has progressively diminished.

It’s led to a market dynamic whereby risk-appetite has been quashed and a desire for safe-haven assets is grown.

Stocks were down for the week across the globe, with the benchmark S&P500 declining for the fourth straight week last week – though an apparent bet on the “stay-at-home” trade saw US tech stocks arrest their recent correction.

Bond yields have dropped, and the US dollar surged, driven by the unwinding of what had become a very crowded long euro/US dollar trade.

The Greenback’s recovery, coupled with a decline in real yields, as the falling probability of an imminent US fiscal package led to a repricing of inflation expectations, catalysed a 4.6 per cent drop in gold prices for the week.

Somewhat paradoxically, the turn in global market sentiment may have proven a little tailwind to local stocks last week, overall.

The ASX200 was an outlier in global markets, rallying 1.7 per cent over the course of the week, largely owing to a 3.7 per cent drop in the Australian dollar to the US dollar.

Partly due to the increase in downside risks to the growth outlook, the Australian dollar also found itself dragged down after a speech by RBA Deputy Governor Guy Debelle, along with a big October rate cut call from Westpac’s Bill Evans, drove expectations of imminent monetary policy easing from the RBA.

Market participants will remain in the grips of concerns about US politics and the pandemic in the week ahead.

However, there’ll be some big ticket items on the economic calendar this week that will play into this broader market narrative.

The US Non-Farm Payrolls numbers will take the cake, with the market economists tipping, if not fearing, that the pace of the US labour market recovery is slowing down.

Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) figures out of the US and China will also garner attention, with the latter to be watched closely by local traders, as Australia’s economic recovery continues hinge on a sustained rebound in Chinese business activity.

Local data will be relatively light. However, with the budget and the next RBA meeting only a week away, speculation will be rife regarding what shape and size the next round of stimulus from the Government and the RBA may take.



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Markets Live, Monday, 1 June, 2020


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Markets responded favourably to Donald Trump’s speech on Friday (US time) regarding China but nervousness remains, with the ASX set for a negative start to the week. Shortly before 9am AEST, futures were pointing to a drop of 24 points, or 0.4 per cent at the open.

The shadow of US President Donald Trump’s press conference on China hung over the market for the lion’s share of Friday’s trade. It made for a largely risk-off environment in stocks throughout the Asian and European regions, in what was another very high-volume day’s trade in global markets. The same almost could have been said for US equities, too.

US stocks ended Friday’s traded marginally higher all-in-all. The S&P500 jumped 0.48 per cent, in a session that recorded volumes 43 per cent above the markets 30-day average. Betraying the toll heightened trade-tensions have had on the sector, tech stocks paced the recovery, with the NASDAQ leaping 1.29 per cent into the close.

Early moves in markets this morning point to a slight return of risk-aversion to start what’s a jam packed trading week. A risk-off skew in FX markets points to some nervousness amongst traders, quite possibly partially due to the civil unrest engulfing parts of the United States over the weekend.

US economic fundamentals remain somewhat of a concern in the market. US Consumer spending data came-out on Friday night in US trade, and showed its most significant plunge on record, contracting 13.6 per cent last month, as households opted to pocket the government’s handouts rather spend it.



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Local News - Victoria

Locked-down businesses to reopen from Monday


Restaurants, cafes and pubs serving food will be allowed to reopen for 20 patrons per space.

Overnight stays are allowed in private residences. Tourist accommodation can also reopen provided there are no shared facilities.

But the state government has also urged Victorians to continue working from home if possible amid fears that employees will flock back to office buildings and risk a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Paul Guerra said the business community was excited about restrictions being eased but also nervous to ensure there was not a second wave of infections.

“The business owners we’ve spoken to have done a great job in terms of putting measures in place,” he said. “We’re very happy about that.”

Premier Daniel Andrews said workplaces would face penalties if they breached the public health orders but he expected employers to do the right thing.

He confirmed there would be spot checks but said employees would report unsafe practices if they were forced back to work.

“I think it will be the same when we get to restaurants, cafes and the food parts of pubs. I think patrons will enforce these rules as much as anyone else,” he said.

Mr Andrews said Victorians who had been working from home must continue to do so for at least all of June.

He said about 15 per cent of Victoria’s public transport capacity could be used safely while maintaining physical distancing. The current rate is about 18 per cent, he said.

“Just 15 per cent capacity is what we estimate maintains that 1.5 metre distance, keeps people far enough apart that they’re not spreading the virus.”

The directive from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton to continue working from home will take effect on Monday.

Professor Sutton said working from home would reduce congestion on public transport, foot traffic and in office spaces, including lifts.

“We’ve always been alert to the fact there’s a shift in messaging as we go through this. The risk has diminished over time but by increments and people are keen to get back to normal life,” he said.

Professor Sutton said the community was fatigued from the constraints that had been imposed.

“But we need to keep that really powerful message that it’s not over yet and there is a new normal – a COVID normal that we need to adjust to, which means that going back to certain activities will not be like the pre-COVID world.”

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Opposition spokesman David Davis said public transport was key to reopening the economy and helping small businesses to get back on track.

He called on the government to increase the number of train services particularly during off-peak periods.

“They’ve had two months to plan for the return of people to work,” he said.

The easing of restrictions means Ms Psicharis can also bring back her five employees who have been stood down and receiving JobKeeper payments.

“I didn’t want to let them go. That was never a consideration for me.”

She said the use of gloves, masks and alcohol swabs was already established practice at her salon but she had imposed further safety measures and was not allowing children or other guests to accompany customers inside.

She will also record customers’ contact information in case of an outbreak.

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