New OH&S leaves SMEs vulnerable… Mortgagees confident… Tax crackdown on online auctions… Rough road ahead for shopping centres… Home loan boom, and bust… Myer flagship sale… Brumby’s bid war…

New federal OH&S could leave SMEs vulnerable


Business will have yet another layer of occupational health and safety red tape to deal with when new federal workplace safety regulations take effect tomorrow, raising fears that small and medium sized business could fall through the cracks between federal and state OHS systems.


The regulations implement a new workplace safety regime for businesses insured under the federal Comcare WorkCover regime.


But NSW industrial relations minister John Della Bosca says it is unclear who will cover the employees of a contractor or other business performing work at the workplace of a business covered by the federal system.


VECCI head of workplace relations policy David Gregory says confusion in such a crucial area of regulation creates cost for business and needs to be cleared up immediately.


Gregory says the new regime may also leave SMEs facing increased WorkCover premiums as big businesses leave state WorkCover schemes for the federal Comcare scheme.


“At the moment in Victoria we have a successful state system that has been running well. We don’t want to see its viability threatened because some larger organisations will no longer be contributors to that,” he says.


Gregory says that while he understands the desire of companies that operate across state borders to deal with just one OHS regime, federal and state government sniping has hampered the development of an efficient national system.


“We now have dual state and federal OHS frameworks operating in tandem, for business that means increased confusion, increased regulation and increased cost.”


The change comes as the Victorian Government looks at introducing new OHS paperwork requirements for builders. Master Builders Association (Vic) executive director Brian Welch says similar changes in NSW and Queensland have not been effective and would impose increased costs on Victorian builders without improving safety.


— Mike Preston


Consumers riding high, finance approvals up


Consumer confidence in March 2007 is higher than it has been in almost two years according to the Melbourne Institute/Westpac Consumer Sentiment Index released this morning.


The March index is up 3.6% from February and is 10.9% higher than the 2006 average. The confidence of mortgagees has jumped 8.5% from a year ago, suggesting consumers believe recent interest rate stability is set to continue.


Commercial finance approvals increased by 11.9% seasonally adjusted between December 2006 and January 2007 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released today reveal. Housing finance and personal finance also increased 1.4% and 6.3% respectively.


But the Department of Workplace Relations leading employment indicator for February showed a sharper decline than in previous months, suggesting the 2.5% employment growth experienced over the last six months will not be sustained.


The Manpower/Melbourne Institute Employment Report also predicts a slowdown in coming months, with trend employment expected to decline from 2.6% in March to 2.3% in April. Tasmania and Victoria are the states that will experience the slowest employment growth according to the report.

— Mike Preston



The market falls


The S&P/ASX 200 has fallen 1.86% on yesterday’s close at 12.15pm today, the 108.9 point drop a response to yesterday’s selling on the US benchmark Dow Jones Industrial average. The Australian dollar was selling for US78.27 cents, down slightly on yesterday’s close of US78.43 cents.




Tax office crackdown on eBay traders


The tax office is focusing its attention on people trading on online auction sites such as eBay, and has requested the details of all sellers who turn over more than $50,000 a year, reports ABC Online.


For 17,000 Australians, trading on online auction sites is their primary source of income. Many are home businesses and some are traditional retailers, supplementing sales through online trading. Assistant Tax Commissioner Michael Hardy says: “As the size of the online trading environment grows, the need for us to monitor it more carefully and make sure it is complying with — from our point of view — tax obligations, grows proportionately.


— Jacqui Walker



Shopping centres and specialty retailers under pressure


Tougher times are ahead for speciality retailers and shopping centres will have to work harder for growth, according to the latest Big Guns survey from Shopping Centre News.


Retail turnover growth in 2006 was 4%, just above inflation, making it tougher for centres to push for increased rents. Shopping centres will have to fight each other for increased market share. Clever use of space will become critical.


The big centres are still growing faster than the average. Westfield Bondi Junction in Sydney increased its turnover per square metre by 12% to reach $8644 a square metre. Sydney Central Plaza was the highest specialty shop earner, with $13,329 a square metre. Chadstone in Melbourne was still the biggest earner, but saw its annual turnover fall 1% to $947.1 million.


— Jacqui Walker


Home loan boom… and bust


Concerns are growing that money lending schemes that help people with housing costs may backfire.

Adelaide Bank has announced it will launch an Equity Finance Mortgage product, which lets lenders avoid paying interest and principal repayments until the property is sold but gives the bank a 40% share in capital gains in return for contributing 20% of the loan.

But there are fears these schemes can cause great hardship, exposing borrowers to greater risk if interest rates rise.


Meanwhile there are more home loan dramas in the US, where stocks plummeted yesterday on news of rising loan defaults in the low documentation mortgage loans sector.

The Mortgage Bankers Association in the US says that the proportion of mortgages in the early stages of foreclosure has reached the highest level on record.


But fears that the severe trouble in the US could strike here appear to be misfounded.

Moody’s Investor Service reports the respective share of overall loans held by non-conforming providers is 5% in Australia compared to 15% in the US.





— Mike Preston


Myer flagship sale kicks off


Myer yesterday announced it was seeking expressions of interest in the purchase of its flagship premises on Bourke and Lonsdale streets in Melbourne. The 15,000 square metre Lonsdale Street premises will be redeveloped and new tenants sought, while Myer will seek a long-term lease-back arrangement for the 30,000 square metre Bourke Street premises.





Brumby’s bidding war


Brumby’s Bakeries founder Michael Sherlock may not have had the last laugh at the franchised bakery chain. His management buyout offer of $2.80 a share (backed by NAB) has trumped the $2.68 offered by the ASX-listed Retail Food Group, which owns Donut King and BBs Coffees. But RFG chief Tony Alford says he’s looking at a second offer.


The interest of both parties in the franchise chain highlights the shortage of quality franchised business on the market for those looking to grow through acquisition.


— Jacqui Walker





IT news: web war


Viacom, the owner of MTV and Comedy Central, is suing YouTube for $1 billion in damages, claiming copyright infringement of its entertainment properties by the Google-owned company.

The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, follows Viacom’s request to YouTube in February to remove 100,000 of its copyrighted clips. Since then, Viacom says 60,000 have been added, reports


YouTube has signed content distribution and ad revenue sharing deals with NBC, CBS, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and others. Similar discussions with Viacom fell over.



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