Former HSU boss pleads guilty to fraud; Nobel Prize in economics goes to housing sceptic; US inches closer to debt deal: Midday Roundup

Michael Williamson, once the head of the Health Services Union and the former president of the Labor Party, has this morning pleaded guilty to a range of charges including a $1 million fraud.

Williamson has copped four major charges, after committing more than 50 offences.

He pleaded guilty to creating false documents with the intention to deceive the HSU East branch and enlisting others to obstruct a police investigation.

In 2011 Williamson’s corruption was revealed through a Fairfax Media investigation.

Williamson had been paying himself $500,000 a year, employed many of his family members, allowed his son to use an HSU building as a recording studio and gave cheques to his wife’s company on behalf of the union for work which was never performed.

The case is scheduled to resume in the Sydney Downing Centre Criminal Court on October 25.

Nobel Prize in economics goes to housing sceptic

The Nobel Prize in economics has been awarded to three economists focused on the strengths and shortcomings of asset markets.

Eugene Fama, Robert Shiller and Lars Peter Hansen have separately come up with different but complementary branches of modern asset market theory.

Shiller, the best known of the trio, is famous for his work on the inefficiencies of asset markets. In 2005, he published a paper suggesting the US housing market may be overheating.

Speaking to Reuters after his win, he told the wire service he was seeing some of the same signs today in America and across the world.

“It is up 12% in the last year [in the United States]. This is a very rapid price increase right now, and I believe that it is accelerated somewhat by the Fed’s policy,” he said.

Australia – as well as China, Brazil, India, Norway and Belgium – is witnessing similar price rises, he said.

“There are so many countries that are looking bubbly.”

In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Shiller took aim at the notion that housing was an ‘investment’.

“[Housing] takes maintenance, it depreciates, it goes out of style. All of those are problems. And there’s technical progress in housing. So, new ones are better…

“So, why was it considered an investment? That was a fad. That was an idea that took hold in the early 2000s. And I don’t expect it to come back. Not with the same force. So people might just decide, ‘Yeah, I’ll diversify my portfolio. I’ll live in a rental’. That is a very sensible thing for many people to do.”

US inches closer to debt ceiling deal

US senators are optimistic about reaching a deal that will avert a potential Treasury bond default by several months, following talks between leading Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

A meeting was originally proposed between Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

However, the meeting was postponed for further negotiations over whether to increase the nation’s $US16.7 trillion debt ceiling by enough to cover the nation’s borrowing needs until 2014.

Leading financial experts warn failing to raise the debt limit could put the US Treasury in a position where it is unable to meet loan repayments, causing it to default.

Meanwhile, Chinese government has lashed out at the ongoing debt crisis in the US, with a commentary by state news agency Xinhua urging other nations to “de-Americanise” the world.

“The cyclical stagnation in Washington for a viable bipartisan solution over a federal budget and an approval for raising debt ceiling has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonised,” the statement said.

Shares open higher

Aussie shares have opened higher this morning on the back of Wall Street leads.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark was 54.1 points higher at 5262 at 11:47am AEDT. Overnight the Dow Jones closed 0.42% higher, up 64.15 points to 15,301.26.

Most major industries were trading well, with the energy sector up 173.8 points to 13,933.5 and the materials sector trading up 119.8 points at 9,637.6.


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