Finance News Update, what you need to know


The Australian dollar has fallen to a new three-month low after US employment growth figures came in much stronger than expected.


At 0700 AEDT on Monday, the local unit was trading at 69.65 US cents, down from 70.51 cents on Friday.

And the Australian share market looks set to open sharply lower after Wall street ended a volatile week with its worst five-day start to a year ever.

At 0645 AEDT on Monday, the share price index was down 80 points at 4,850.


NEW YORK – Oil has fallen for a fifth straight day, losing 10 per cent on the week, and Goldman Sachs says more losses are needed to force producers to cut supplies adequately to balance the glut and bleak demand outlook in the market.

BEIJING – China’s consumer inflation edged up in December, while companies’ factory-gate prices continued to fall, adding to concerns about growing deflation risks in the world’s second-largest economy.

WASHINGTON – US consumers boosted their borrowing in November, as higher credit card spending partially offset slower growth in auto and student loans.

BERLIN – Volkswagen engineers have reportedly come up with a catalytic converter that could be fitted to around 430,000 cars in the United States as a fix for vehicles capable of cheating emissions tests.

LONDON – Asda, the British supermarket arm of US retailer Wal-Mart, will spend a further STG500 million pounds ($A1.04 billion) cutting prices, firing 2016’s first shot in a price war that has raged for two years.

DETROIT – Some Tesla Motors vehicles will be able to park themselves without a driver inside with a software update beamed to customers this weekend.


Prince George is enjoying nursery: Kate

Prince George thoroughly enjoyed his first day at nursery, the Duchess of Cambridge has told well-wishers as she made a surprise appearance at a Gallipoli anniversary ceremony.


Kate and William on Sunday joined the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at a Gallipoli wreath-laying service held at a war memorial on the monarch’s Sandringham estate.

After attending a traditional service at Sandringham’s St Mary Magdalene Church with the Queen and Philip, the Cambridges walked behind the monarch to the nearby war memorial cross.

Hundreds of local residents turned out for the religious event where prayers were said and a minute’s silence observed, and afterwards the royal party chatted to members of the Gallipoli Association.

William and Kate have had a busy week: they released pictures, taken by Kate, of son Prince George to mark his first day at nursery; and celebrated the Duchess’ 34th birthday on Saturday.

Kate, who wore a black polo-neck jumper and tweed blazer and skirt by Michael Kors, was joined at church by her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, and siblings Pippa and James.

Among the group were two of Princess Charlotte’s godparents, James Meade and Sophie Carter.

The Middletons are likely to have helped William in throwing birthday celebrations for the Duchess at the Cambridges’ Norfolk home of Anmer Hall.

After Sunday’s ceremony the Duke and Duchess spoke to Arthur Coxon, 88, a retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander whose father fought in Gallipoli and spent much of the First World War in a Turkish prisoner of war camp after being wounded and captured.

Mr Coxon said: “They asked what my connection with the association was and I congratulated Kate on the lovely photos of Prince George.”

“She said he went off to school bravely as anything and thoroughly enjoyed it,” the veteran added.


Sean Penn interview helped nab Guzman

An interview that Hollywood star Sean Penn conducted with Mexican Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman late last year helped Mexico’s government catch the world’s most wanted drug lord.


Guzman, the infamous boss of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in northwest Mexico on Friday morning, and sent back to the prison he broke out of in July through a mile-long tunnel that led straight into his cell.

Mexican authorities became aware of the meeting between Penn, a Mexican actress and Guzman in October and monitored Penn’s movements, helping lead them to a ranch where Chapo was staying, two senior government sources said.

Guzman narrowly escaped under a blaze of bullets but the raid, in the northern state of Durango, was a major breakthrough in the hunt.

Related reading

In the article published in Rolling Stone magazine on Saturday, Penn said Guzman became interested in making a movie of his life when he was inundated with requests from US movie studios after his 2014 capture.

That echoes comments made by Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez, who on Friday said that the drug boss’ yearning for the silver screen had helped bring him down.

“Another important aspect that helped locate him was discovering Guzman’s intention to have a biographical film made. He contacted actresses and producers, which was part of one line of investigation,” Gomez said.

The interview was brokered by Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, who herself played a Mexican drug queen in a well-known TV soap.

Del Castillo, who had sparked up an unlikely friendship with the kingpin, became the go-between and helped to set up the meeting with Penn.

Another Mexican government source said authorities were considering whether to investigate Penn and Del Castillo, possibly for money laundering. The source did not explain further.

Mexico aims to extradite Guzman to the United States as soon as possible.

Guzman was recaptured in the northwestern city of Los Mochis on Friday following a bloody shootout and frantic search in which the wily kingpin almost gave pursuers the slip again.

The Rolling Stone interview, the latest twist in Chapo’s larger-than-life career, features video clips of the drug lord in a colourful shirt and black cap in a rural setting, and gives rare insight into the life of an almost mythical figure.

Penn called it “the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room”.


France pays tribute to 2015 terror victims

France has honoured the victims of 2015 Islamist militant attacks with a thinly attended silent ceremony held almost a year to the day after more than a million people marched in Paris to protest killings at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.


President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Sunday laid a wreath by the statue of Marianne, symbol of the French republic, in central Paris.

The statue has become a shrine to the 17 victims of the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish deli, and to the 130 people shot dead by militants on November 13 at a concert, and in bars and restaurants in Paris.

“To the victims of the terrorist attacks in January and November … In this place, the people of France pay their respect,” read a metal plaque unveiled by Hollande and Hidalgo under a newly planted memorial oak tree on Place de la Republique in eastern Paris.

Neither Hollande or Hidalgo spoke at the ceremony, but veteran French rock star Johnny Hallyday, accompanied only by a guitar, sang a song about the march on January 11 last year, which brought out the biggest crowds in Paris since the liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944.

The French army choir sang late Belgian singer Jacques Brel’s Les Prenoms de Paris (the First Names of Paris) and Le temps des cerises, a song associated with the socialist Paris commune movement in 1871, while two young actors read a speech by 19th century writer Victor Hugo.

The huge square in eastern Paris, the focal point of the January 2015 march attended by dozens of world leaders walking arm in arm, was relatively empty during the ceremony.

Hidalgo invited Parisians to come to the square with candles from 5pm Paris time and said the Marianne statue – covered with flowers, candles and pictures of the victims – will be permanently lit from now on.

“Paris is scarred, but we are still standing,” she told French television after the ceremony.

Hollande, who stood stony-faced through the ceremony, later met with the families of the victims on the square.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces remain on high alert as there is a real threat of more attacks.

“We are facing an extremely high level of threat, higher than it has ever been,” Cazeneuve said on iTELE television.


Sexism and Media Bandwagons

In recent weeks we’ve been treated to some high profile cases of inappropriate workplace conduct: the Dutton and Briggs cases which I wrote about last week and more recently the highly misguided cricketer, Chris Gayle, thinking that propositioning a journalist live-to-air is all bit of a laugh.


Each case provided some useful looksees into the niggling torments women continue to endure at work and, more broadly, the challenges remaining in the struggle for gender equality.

As is often the case with the mainstream media, they’re all too keen on bandwagon-jumping. Thus, when a story gets some traction, the media will milk it and mould it and drag it out for as long as possible, exploiting and exhausting every possible angle. Invariably, this will result in a barrage of tenuous stories being reframed as further testimony to the gravity of an issue.

Cue this morning’s alleged groping being packaged up by news media as an extension of the Briggs/Dutton/Gayle men-behaving-badly stories.

I feel it necessary to note that I’m long convinced that every so-called ‘scandal’ centered around Sunrise or Today is conjured by the show’s desperate producers as ham-fisted vie for attention. (Which, needless to say, they keep getting, because the media loves nothing more than navel-gaving). Nonetheless, the accusation goes that on today’s Weekend Sunrise broadcast, Miss Australia, Monika Radulovic, endured a groping from weather presenter, Hamish McLachlan.

Last week I did a handful of radio interviews about the Dutton and Briggs stories. In each interview I mentioned that the only way we can change our culture is by calling out sexism when it occurs; that we need to create an environment where such behaviour is spotlighted and is shamed. I stand by this.

I therefore, consider myself ever so slightly to blame for the Weekend Sunrise story making news this weekend.

A point I (hesitantly) made several times during the Gillard prime ministership – and a point I will make more assertively now – is the need to be very careful about what gets called out as sexist, as misogynist. Notably when we’re doing on behalf of someone else. Once a scattergun approach is adopted – once we start considering every criticism of a woman as misogynist or, in this case, every flirtatious interaction as groping – then the term not only loses its punch but the mainstream starts to engage in a predictable backlash: construing this as yet another example of feminists whinging over nothing; dismissing every real case of impropriety as trivial.

Weekend Sunrise.

Once a frequent viewer, I stopped watched the show in late 2014 after I become convinced that Sunrise was metaphorically pimping out Samantha Armytage to the press in an uncomfortable and anachronistic attempt at cross-promotion. I wasn’t watching, therefore, when the segment went live to air today. Several viewings of the clip however, and I’m going to call out the ensuing brouhaha as bullshit.

Note that Radulovic touches McLachlan’s arm first. Note that – outside of the well-chosen video still used on news杭州桑拿会所,杭州桑拿网, – she doesn’t seem evenly slightly distressed by the “bear hug”. Both seem to have an easy and comfortable rapport.

An interesting aspect to the Dutton case was that the recipient of the “mad fucking witch” text message, journalist Samantha Maiden, apparently wasn’t particularly perturbed. Whether this was the truth or just strategic self-preservation, I’m not sure. Truth be told, I’m not sure I even care. That story was an issue for me not because I thought Maiden had been sexually harassed or somehow needed my protection, but rather, because it was just a timely and really ugly insight into how some Australian politicians feel it is okay to talk about women.

The Weekend Sunrise non-story therefore, can’t be viewed in the same light: nobody voted in McLachlan, and he’s certainly not making any policies limiting the freedoms of the already marginalised. Which thus leads us to a comparison with the Gayle case. Gayle propositioned a woman at her place of work while she was trying to do her job. Not okay. Conversely, during the frothy Sunrise segment, Radulovic had initiated – and thus consented – to a gentle kind of flirtatious banter with her interview. The fact that McLachlan ran with it, the fact that he put his arms around her, doesn’t make it groping, doesn’t make it assault and doesn’t make this yet another example of men being unable to observe boundaries in the workforce.

Bad behaviour and sexist conduct should be called out. Every time. Equally so should rubbish non-stories that feed the boring cycle of the media talking about itself.

Let us not water down the term misogyny nor trivialise real acts of sexism and harassment with the reframing of banter and frivolity.


Aussie Price eyes Dakar podium finish

Australian rider Toby Price says he has achieved his goal for the first week of the Dakar Rally having retained second place overall.


The 28-year-old has won three of the seven stages completed to sit three minutes and 12 seconds behind overall leader Paulo Goncalves.

In the last stage before the rest day, Price finished fifth behind Frenchman Antoine Meo.

Price, in his second Dakar, says he is determined not to drop his guard as the race enters its second week.

“My goal is to finish the race and get a podium spot,” Price said.

“We had a good first week, no significant mistakes, and our objective was to get to the rest day in a good position.”

Heavy storms and torrential rain have hampered the race’s first week and led to cancellations and changes.

Since encountering setbacks during stages three and four, Price has been able to stay largely trouble-free in the gruelling event in which riders are forced to endure headache-inducing high altitudes.

“I’m happy with the work we’ve done so far but it’s far from over, a mechanical or a navigational mistake can destroy everything,” Price said.

Price, from Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley, had back-to-back wins on stages five and six.

“The Australian flags at the finish were great to see. It’s nice to get support when you’re racing so far from home,” he said.

In the car division, Sebastian Loeb leads at the midway point by more than two minutes from French countryman Stephane Peterhansel.

The Dakar Rally, running in Argentina and Bolivia, resumes on Monday and ends next Saturday in Rosario, Argentina.


Catalan independence back on track

Catalonia’s parliament swore in a new separatist leader on Sunday evening.


The action puts the pro-independence movement’s commitment to break with Spain over the next 18 months back on track after a long political deadlock.

The 11th hour decision played into a fraught national political scene since an inconclusive election last month in which Spain’s ruling People’s Party won the most seats but lost its parliamentary majority.

The country has been in stalemate since then.

After months of tense negotiations between Catalan parties over a leader who could unite the pro-independence movement, Carles Puigdemont, mayor of Girona, replaced Artur Mas as head of a majority separatist Catalan parliament, which will now restart the push for a unilateral split with Spain.

Catalonia’s parties had until Monday to agree on a new leader or new regional elections would have had to be called.

Under the separatists’ 18-month “road map”, Catalan authorities will approve their own constitution and begin building institutions necessary for an independent state such as an army, central bank and judicial system.

“We begin an extremely important process, unparalleled in our recent history, to create the Catalonia that we want, to collectively build a new country,” Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament.

He said Catalonia would need to negotiate with the Spanish state, the European Union and the international community to achieve such a goal.

His plan faces fierce opposition from Spain’s central government under the People’s Party, which refused to allow a referendum in Catalonia in 2014, arguing it would contravene Spain’s constitution.

Acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday he would block any unilateral move from the new Catalan government and had instructed all government officials to enforce the law.

“I will defend and preserve democracy all over Spain. I will defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people,” he told a news conference.

Rajoy said he had received the backing of Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez and newcomer centrist party Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera, having spoken to both that afternoon.

The resurgence of a unified independence movement increases pressure on Rajoy and his Socialist rivals to bury their differences and form a German-style “grand coalition” in Madrid to thwart the Catalan parties.

A senior PP official said on Sunday a coalition would be the best response to the separatist challenge.

“We should reach an agreement amongst us all to form the broadest government possible of the main parties – the People’s Party, the Socialists, and also, logically, Ciudadanos,” Fernando Martinez Maillo told a news conference.


Natural alternatives might not be the answer: your guide to microbeads

The US government has approved a bill banning the sale of cosmetic products containing microbeads, a move that has been applauded by environmentalists the world over.


Microbeads pollute waterways where they destroy marine life.

The US plans to phase out microbead-containing products by 2018.

But will Australia, home to one of the richest marine ecosystems, follow suit?


What are microbeads?

Microbeads are small particles used as exfoliants in body scrubs, soaps, and toothpastes.

In most products, these microbeads are made of unrecyclable plastics.

Senior research associate at the Univeristy of New South Wales, Dr. Mark Anthony Browne, says microbeads are only one source of microplastic pollution, of which clothing fibers are the largest contributor.

“It’s just NGOs make more of a fuss about exfoliants.” he says.

Clothes particles from laundry grey water, packaging materials, and even larger sheets of plastic that have been broken down into microparticles contribute to this pollution.

These microplastics, which are too small to be caught by most water filters, pollute our waterways and destroy the marine life that calls them home. 

A study estimated 236,000 metric tons of microplastic waste enters the ocean each year; in early 2015, Middle Harbour scientists found 60 to 100 particles of micro debris per 100 millilitres of sediment in the Sydney Harbour.

This is among the highest levels recorded in the world.

Microplastics can also be ingested by fish and the humans that consume them.


So why are microbeads on our shelves in the first place?

Dr. Browne says plastic microbeads came onto the market with good intentions.

“They started out as a way to recycle plastic debris,” he says, as an alternative to natural exfoliants like shells and husks.

But a lack of testing for specific environmental effects, he says, has also contributed to why microbead cosmetics have staying in market for so long. 

“These products first hit the market without sufficient testing, and then they discover they cause all these problems, and then it’s too late,” he says.

 Are there environmentally-friendly alternatives to microbeads?

Australia has prevented the use of the petrochemical exfoliants to some extent already.

In 2014, social change group, Do Something, launched a campaign to ban microbeads in the country.

Coles and Woolworths have pledged to pull down all products containing microbeads off their shelves by 2017’s end.

Other cosmetics manufacturers like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and The Body Shop do sell some products containing microbeads, but are working to find alternative materials.

Many luxury brands, like Lush and Miranda Kerr’s Kora Organics, sell scrubs using nature-based granules.

However, Dr. Browne claims there is is no way to know whether natural alternatives are any better for the environment without sufficient testing.

“Research and testing are important. We’re just guessing, really, hoping a natural based exfoliant is better than a synthetic one.”

Asbestos, a natural mineral with disasterous health impacts, was used in construction up until the 1980s, and was only banned from all products in December 2003.

“The main scientific question is if we stopping using one thing and shift to another are things going to go away or become worse?” Dr. Brown added.


How can you tell what products have and don’t have microbeads in them?

“A lot of exfoliating products don’t specify whether the scrub component contains plastics or not, so it’s up to the consumers to be aware of the issue and try to opt for cosmetics with nut kernel pieces, coffee granules, sugar and so on,” says SBS Online Science Editor Signe Dean.

But it can be hard to tell what products do or don’t contain microbeads.

To help consumers out, the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics has compiled list of companies that most likely still use microbeads in their products.

The list can be accessed here.


How far is Australia from banning microbeads for good?

The US’s latest legislative measure against microbeads has been a source of encouragement.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt appeared on ABC’s 7:30 Report, sharing the key to phasing out microbeads will be forming partnerships with industry.

“I have to confess, it’s one of those issues which emerged later than it should have,” he said

In December 2015, a meeting of Commonwealth, state and territory Environment Ministers announced plans to phase out microbeads by no later than July 2018.

Dr. Browne believes that with better testing policies for consumer products, and frequent analysis of plastic emissions data, microplastic pollution could be a thing of the past.

“Yes, I think we could solve it. We could solve it if we did a couple of things.” he says.


Queen and Cambridges commemorate Anzacs

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made a surprise appearance at a poignant ceremony marking 100 years since the end of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.


William and Kate on Sunday joined the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at a wreath-laying service held at a war memorial on the monarch’s Sandringham estate.

The Cambridges were not scheduled to attend the ceremony which marked the 100th anniversary of the final withdrawal of allied troops from the Gallipoli peninsula in the First World War.

But after attending a traditional Sunday service at Sandringham’s St Mary Magdalene Church with the Queen and Philip they walked behind the monarch to the nearby war memorial cross.

Kate, who celebrated her 34th birthday on Saturday, was joined at church by her parents Michael and Carole Middleton and siblings Pippa and James.

The Queen and Prince Philip, who is patron of the Gallipoli Association, stood still as the Last Post was played by a bugler and a minute’s silence was observed.

Then, with solemnity and quiet dignity, the Queen and Duke each placed a wreath at the war memorial dedicated to local men who fought in the Great War and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The Gallipoli land campaign against Turkey was one of the major engagements of the First World War, involving more than 400,000 British and around 140,000 Commonwealth and Irish servicemen.

At dawn on April 25, 1915, waves of Allied troops launched an amphibious attack on the strategically important peninsula, which was key to controlling the Dardanelles straits, the crucial route to the Black Sea and Russia.

But the plan backed by Winston Churchill was flawed and the campaign, which faced a heroic defence by the Turks, led to stalemate and withdrawal eight months later.

Some 44,000 Allied troops died, including 8700 from Australia and 2700 New Zealanders. Almost 87,000 Turks lost their lives.

The last Allied troops were withdrawn on January 9, 1916.


Sean Penn’s curious habit of inserting himself into international controversy

He has jumped into riots, protested wars, drunk with dictators and aided natural disaster relief.


Now, Sean Penn has taken his boldest step yet in what appears to be a never-ending quest to ensure he is remembered as more than an actor. He found the world’s most hunted criminal and asked him some questions for Rolling Stone magazine.

Why, you might have asked, would Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán sit down with the guy from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”?

Because while you know Penn as a box office regular, the cartel kingpin knows him as a rebellious activist. Penn has been using his Hollywood power to jump into high-profile conversations for nearly the entirely of his career, from humanitarian moments in New Orleans and Haiti to political kerfuffles as controversial as this encounter with Guzmán.

“I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals,” Penn wrote in his Rolling Stone piece, published on Saturday. But as he was gearing up to meet the people who would eventually lead him to Guzmán, Penn said, he was in his “rhythm” – this was the kind of story he has been working toward for years, and not just because it might lead to a movie eventually. The escaped fugitive was “interested in seeing the story of his life told on film,” if the project involved Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. Presumably, he did not foresee that contacting two extremely famous actors would lead authorities to his capture last week.

A Mexican law enforcement official denied media reports that the Mexican government has requested to interrogate Penn. But the official added that “lines of investigation” could include Penn, without specifying how.

The actor’s drive to be at the heart of the action seems to come from basic curiosity. A 2006 profile in the New Yorker describes how Penn drove into the thick of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992 because he wanted to see it for himself. The adventure ended with a shopping cart crashing into his windshield.

“He’s not taking a secondhand opinion. He really wants to know what’s going down,” actor-director Dennis Hopper told the magazine.

As his success continued on screen, Penn’s growing reputation allowed for his curiosity to take him to more dangerous and exclusive places. In 2002, he traveled to Iraq. In 2003, after the invasion of US troops, he went back, this time to write about the experience for the San Francisco Chronicle. Penn enjoyed the experience of playing reporter enough to try it again in 2005, this time in Iran. Reporting, he told the New Yorker, was just like acting.

“You wake up in the morning with an interest in listening and expressing,” he said. “It all feels the same to me. Acting is Everyman-ness, and loving Everyman. Finally, you’re reaching out to people’s pain.”

Penn, who declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed for this story, wasn’t approaching turmoil in the Middle East as an unbiased journalistic observer. He had previously taken out an advertisement in The Washington Post condemning President George W. Bush on Iraq, and later called for his impeachment. “The needless blood on your hands, and therefore, on our own, is drowning the freedom, the security, and the dream that America might have been, once healed of and awakened by, the tragedy of September 11, 2001,” Penn wrote to Bush in 2010.

Though he allegedly tried to interview Bush, Penn never made it to the White House. Instead he veered toward a different brand of world leader, developing relationships with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez.

Penn visited Cuba for Christmas in 2005, “under the auspices of religious tourism,” with his then-wife Robin Wright and their two children. The family was introduced to Castro in a private midnight meeting, where they discussed the actor’s trips to the Middle East, Latin American history and gay rights. Penn wrote about the encounter in a 17,000-word story for The Nation, in which he also describes meeting and befriending Chávez. When Chávez died in 2013, Penn called him one of the “most important forces we’ve had on this planet.”

This is apparently what piqued Guzmán’s interest in Penn.

“He asks about my relationship with the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez with what seems to be a probing of my willingness to be vilified through associations,” Penn wrote in Rolling Stone.”I speak to our friendship in a way that seems to pass an intuitive litmus test measuring the independence of my perspective.”

When he flew to the post-disaster scenes of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, Penn was accused of showboating. He responded by saying he hoped those critics would “die screaming of rectal cancer,” then founded “J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” The non-profit held a benefit gathering the same evening as the Rolling Stone interview Guzmán with was released.

“I’m just another a – trying to feel good about himself,” he told Esquire last year. And why shouldn’t I? That’s what everybody should try to do.”

“I’d seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike,” he wrote. “I was highly aware of committed DEA and other law-enforcement officers and soldiers, both Mexican and American, who had lost their lives executing the policies of the War on Drugs. The families decimated, and institutions corrupted.”

It’s just the kind of thing that would make a captivating movie, perhaps one day, starring Sean Penn.