Sydney’s Housing Market Continues Downturn in November-December

Sydney’s property market is not looking good for sellers at the end of this year with more listings, dwindling prices and worsening auction slumps.

SQM Research revealed that total residential listings increased by 7.5 percent over November, pushing the total number of homes for sale Sydney to 40,000, the highest number recorded since 2009. Current listing levels are 20.9 percent higher than from last year.

Dwelling values in Sydney also fell 1.4 percent in the same month from October, bringing the prices down 8.1 percent over the past year to a median of $821,438, according to CoreLogic’s Home Value Index.

“Since peaking in July last year, Sydney’s housing market is down 9.5 per cent which is on track to eclipse the previous record peak-to-trough decline set during the last recession when values fell 9.6 per cent between 1989 and 1991,” CoreLogic head of research Tim Lawless told the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the first weekend of December, Sydney recorded an auction clearance rate of 41.4 percent with chances of sinking into the 30s over the month. SQM’s Louis Christopher said the last time Sydney fell into the 30s was in October-November 2008 during the Great Financial Crisis. The weekend turnover totalled $129 million in sales, well below the near $600 million in the same period a year prior, Domain reported.

Lawless said this downturn was driven by multiple factors, including tighter conditions for investment, housing affordability constraints and a general oversupply.

“We expect headwinds for tighter credit will continue for the foreseeable future and will continue to temper housing market activity,” said Lawless. “This will be especially the case for those markets where investment demand is most concentrated, and where housing costs are high relative to incomes, such as Sydney and Melbourne.”

NSW: New 80km Walking Trail Planned for Sydney

An 80-kilometre walking trail in Sydney will soon be a reality after an agreement was reached between federal, state and local governments.

In late November, six mayors signed an MOU to build the trail by linking existing coastal and harbour-side walking tracks from Bondi Beach to Manly.

The trail will pass Macquarie Lighthouse in Woollahra, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo in Mosman, and Clontarf in Manly. About 60 kilometres of the trail will be on public land, while the rest will take place on footpaths.

Upon completion, the multi-day walk is expected to be a major tourist attraction and one of the world’s great walking trails, on par with Italy’s Cinque Terra. The path will highlight Sydney’s beautiful beaches and rich Indigenous history and culture.

Lachlan Harris and John Faulkner, co-founders of the Bondi to Manly Walk Supporters welcomed the agreement. “It was an act of imagination to have Sydneysiders understand the scale of public land around the harbour,” Harris told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The idea that you can walk from Bondi to Manly is a reality now.”

Faulkner said, “It will be an unforgettable experience and I am certain it will become a must-do for walkers everywhere in the world.”

Bondi to Manly walk’s launch date is to be disclosed.

Technology: Amazon Web Services Reveals New Blockchain Products

Amazon Web Services is finally expanding its managed IT services portfolio with two new blockchain products.

Last week at the AWS reInvent 2018 event in Las Vegas, CEO Andy Jassy revealed the two blockchain services: Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) and Amazon Managed Blockchain. The announcement came only a year after he expressed a lack of interest in the technology.

QLDB is a fully-managed ledger database which tracks transactions in a “transparent, immutable, and cryptographically verifiable” way.

“We had an epiphany,” said Jassy. “We had to build something like this ourselves a few years ago to have a transactional log for every data plane change to make operations and billing easier, so we … built what we call QLDB, an immutable, transparent ledger that we thought we could externalise.

Jassy said QLDB will be “really scalable”, with flexible set of APIs to allow changed and adjustments to the ledger database.

On the other hand, Amazon Managed Blockchain is a service that supports two popular blockchain frameworks, Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric. The company said the Managed Blockchain service will enable users to run millions of transactions.

“When we heard people saying ‘blockchain,’ we felt like there was their weird conveluting and conflating what they really wanted,” said Jassy. “And as we spent time working with customers and figuring out the jobs they were really trying to solve, this is what we think people are trying to do with blockchain.”

International: Khmer Rouge Leaders Found Guilty of Genocide

Two Khmer Rouge leaders have been found guilty of genocide, around 40 years after millions of people died under Pol Pot’s regime.

Pol Pot’s deputy Nuon Chea, 92, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, were sentenced to life imprisonment in the UN-backed tribunal for the genocide committed between 1977 and 1979.

It was estimated that two million people from Cham Muslim and ethnic Vietnamese backgrounds died from overwork, starvation and mass executions under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge reign.

“I think this verdict is a very timely and very necessary,” said prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian. “The fact that these crimes happened 40 years ago in no way diminishes the impact of this verdict for those who were affected by the crimes, people whose parents were tortured and killed.”

The tribunal, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was established in 2006 with Cambodian and international judges. It has so far convicted three high-ranking Khmer Rouge members and started investigations on four other cadres, all at the cost of US$300 million.

Koumjian said “he wished things had gone faster and that more people had been prosecuted”, while Nuon Chea’s lawyer Victor Koppe questioned the necessity of the courts at all. “In 10 or 20 years from now, when the dust has settled, people will look back on this as a complete waste of time and energy and resources,” said Koppe.

But David Scheffer, the UN secretary general’s special expert to the Khmer Rouge trials said the significance of the verdict could not be minimised. “This is comparable, in Cambodia, to the Nuremberg judgment after world war two,” Scheffer told the Guardian. “That is worth the money and effort.”

Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia which has helped the tribunal with evidence said the sentence will “provide a sense of closure to a horrible chapter in Cambodian history”, “affirm the collective humanity of the victims and give recognition to the horrible suffering”.

Environment: Dead Whale Found with 115 Plastic Cups in Its Stomach in Indonesia

A dead whale has been found ashore on an Indonesian beach with a large amount of plastic waste in its stomach.

Rescuers from Wakatobi National Park found the 9.5-metre-long sperm whale on Monday near Kapota Island, Southeast Sulawesi following reports from environmentalists.

Park chief Heri Santoso said researchers from the park’s conservation academy and the wilderness preservation group WWF found about 5.9 kilograms of plastic waste in the carcass’s stomach, consisting of 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, two sandals and 3.26 kilograms of plastic strings.

“Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,” said Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia. Suprapti said the cause of death could not be determined due to the animal’s advanced state of decay.

According to a 2015 report, Indonesia is one of the world’s top five contributors of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, next to China, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. A study published in January revealed that Indonesia produces 3.2 million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste every year, 1.29 million of which ends up in the sea.

Finance: Tesla Appoints Robyn Denholm as Elon Musk’s Replacement in Chair Role

Tesla has named Robyn Denholm as its new board chair, replacing Elon Musk.

Denholm, who has been a Tesla board member since 2014, will leave her post as chief financial officer and head of strategy at Telstra.

Denholm has held leadership roles across multiple Silicon Valley technology companies, such as Juniper Networks and Sun Microsystems, as well as a number of finance roles at automotive giant Toyota.

“Robyn … has made significant contributions as a Tesla Board member over the past four years in helping us become a profitable company,” said Musk. “I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”

In September, the US Securities and Exchange Commission sued Tesla and Musk for fraud after the latter announced on Twitter that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 per share. The case was settled with a US$40 million payment and an agreement for Musk to leave his chairman role for at least three years.

Musk stays in the company after the settlement, keeping his position as the chief executive officer.

Observers have expressed their scepticism over Denholm’s ability to keep the CEO in rein. “With all the crazy stuff going on, she was there,” said Rohan Williamson, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “She couldn’t control him before. Is anything going to change?”

International: Trump Asks for Khashoggi’s Murder Evidence

US president Donald Trump has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence it had related to the disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi “if it exists”.

Khashoggi was last seen entering Istanbul’s Saudi consulate on October 2. Turkish officials said they believed Khashoggi was murdered in the building. Saudi Arabia has denied killing the Washington Post journalist.

Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he had requested evidence of the murder from Turkey. “We have asked for it, if it exists,” said Trump. “I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does.”

Trump denied giving cover for Saudi Arabia, which is one of Washington’s closest allies. Only a day before, Trump compared the murder allegations to sexual assault accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

Turkish government leaks and press reports have raised claims that Khashoggi was tortured and killed in the consulate building, where he expected to arrange paperwork for his marriage. Sources told CNN that the death was a result of an interrogation that went wrong, with the original plan being to abduct Khashoggi from Turkey.

Reports also said that 15 Saudi Arabians arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on diplomatic passports only a few hours before Khashoggi went to the consulate. These 15 people left the same night.

In response to the news, more figures from high-profile organisations have withdrawn from an investment conference in Riyadh, including the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, Google’s Diane Greene, CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, Credit Suisse’s Tidjane Thiam, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon and Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi.

National: Queensland’s Dwelling Values Now Worth $1T

The housing market value in Queensland has surpassed the trillion dollar threshold for the first time ever, thanks to the recovering economy and a rise in buyer interest.

The Sunday-Mail reported that according to CoreLogic figures, the value of the state’s residential sector hit $1.004 trillion in September, marking a 10 percent increase from $910 billion in 2016.

“Overall, due to the improved economy, increase in employment and population, $15 billion construction boom and the Advance Queensland Business Development Fund, Queensland is projected to deliver good long-term capital growth,” said Doron Peleg, chief executive at RiskWise Property Research.

This rise in value also coincides with real estate revivals in some parts of regional Queensland as towns recover from mining busts.

Valuer Herron Todd White said prices of real estate Cairns, Emerald, Gladstone, Townsville and Mackay have grown by 40 percent in the last 12 months due to surging capital works projects and coal value.

In particular, median house price in Mackay grew 2.5 percent to $335,000 over a year to June. “This market is benefiting from a jobs boom in the region and currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the state,” said Antonia Mercorella, chief executive at Real Estate Institute of Queensland.

CoreLogic’s head of research Tim Lawless said mining towns could expect an increase in home values following rebound from the sector’s downturn. “Coming into 2019, markets like Mackay should start to see some growth, we expect Toowoomba to move back into positive growth and Cairns to see a bounce higher,” said Lawless.

However, Peleg said buyers should “proceed with caution” in these areas.

Technology: LG Integrates Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa

LG has integrated Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa into its smart televisions.

“LG’s vision is to become a major name in all things AI based on our philosophy of open platform, open partnership and open connectivity,” said Brian Kwon, president at LG Home Entertainment Company.

Last week the company rolled out all functionalities and software updates for its 2018 LG OLED TV and LED LCD TV range to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, Spain and the UK.

The Alexa integration is limited to TV-specific functions, including volume and input control, whereas the Google Assistant integration goes further. Users who have configured the latter with their TV will be able to use voice command to access Google Assistant-compliant apps, answer search queries, and display homes for sale on web as well as shopping platforms like eBay and Woolworths.

Technology: Amazon Promotes Own Brands on Competitors’ Listings

Amazon appears to be testing a new feature to promote its own products under the listings of competing brands.

CNBC reported that users could find the link “Similar item from Our Brands” under search results for a variety of products, which connects to the product page of Amazon’s private brands. For example, users looking to buy body wash from Dove could find under the listing a link directing them to a product page of P.O.V., an Amazon-owned personal care brand. Similarly, the link underneath the listings for Bounty paper towels connects to Amazon’s household brand Presto.

Vendors voiced out their complaints on Amazon’s seller forum, raising questions over the fairness of competition on the platform.

“If you’ve got Amazon brands competing against you, it’s just become that much more difficult to be competitive in the marketplace,” said Jeff Cohen, chief marketing officer at Seller Labs, an agency that helps sellers advertise their business on the online marketplace.

Amazon has not announced any new features on the platform, nor has the company responded to media enquiries on the matter.

A report by TJI Research released last week expected Amazon’s private labels to contribute $7.5 billion in sales this year. “Private label is one of the highly under-appreciated trends within Amazon, in our view, which over time should give the company a strong ‘unfair’ competitive advantage,” the report said.