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?”

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.

National: Apartment Boom Drives Residential Building Growth

Approval rate for apartments continues to rise, boosting the Australian residential building growth beyond expectation.

Latest reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that apartment approvals rose by 30.6 per cent in November, while house approvals dipped 2 per cent. The gain was the largest since November 2016.

Victoria contributed the most to this increase, with an 80 per cent surge since October to 6,359 approvals for private-sector dwelling excluding houses while NSW and Queensland experienced month-on-month declines.

Overall dwelling building approvals rose by 11.7 per cent for the month, beating forecasts of 1 per cent fall by Reuters.

National: Amazon Launches in Australia

US retail giant Amazon has finally launched its Australian operations, threatening local retailers with tougher competition.

Amazon’s Australian marketplace now offers items from 23 categories including electronics, toys, clothing, accessories, beauty and household goods.

“Focusing on customers and the long-term are key principles in Amazon’s approach to retailing,” Amazon Australia country manager Rocco Braeuniger said in a statement.

“By concentrating on providing a great shopping experience and by constantly innovating on behalf of customers, we hope to earn the trust and the custom of Australian shoppers in the years to come.”

In the lead-up to Christmas holiday season, Amazon is also offering free shipping for orders over $49 and one-day delivery for select cities. The goods will be sent from the company’s fulfillment centre at Dandenong South, Melbourne.

“Over time, we will create thousands of new jobs and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Australia,” said Braeuniger.

“The result will be an ever-improving customer experience driven by the regular introduction of new products and services that we hope customers will love.”

National: Real-Time Bank Transfers to be Available from January 2018

Fund transfers between accounts from different banks could be done in real-time starting January, thanks to a billion-dollar infrastructure upgrade.

Instant payments will be available for 80 per cent of accounts in Australia, including all customers from the big four banks, starting Australia Day 2018. More international and smaller banks are also expected to join the system soon.

“The core benefit at launch is the faster receipt of money in real time, and that will happen 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Adrian Lovney, chief executive of the New Payments Platform initiative, which built the technology.

“Through the weekend, public holidays, at 3 o’clock in the morning — funds will arrive in the recipient’s bank account in about 30 to 45 seconds.”

Lovney said while the old way of batch processing transfers helps with preventing frauds, customers are looking for immediacy in their financial services.

“They expect things to happen instantly, with a mobile phone, in a 24/7 digital economy they expect if I’m going to send you money that you’ll receive it today and not next week,” said Lovney.

However, he said banks will continue to keep their fraud mechanisms up to task after the upgrade is finished.

The New Budget 2017: Are Drug Tests OK?

Last night, the Liberal government announced its new 2017-18 budget for Australia, affecting millions of Australians over the country.

There have been criticisms of Turnbull’s Government and its decisions over the newly announced drug tests for Australians on welfare. Background checks are often a mandatory condition with most job applications in Australia, but is it morally right to initiate drug tests at random as part of a legal requirement?

Jacqui Lambie has welcomed the new drug tests for welfare recipients, but she said politicians should do the same. “It is about time politicians led by example and both on the Senate side and the House of Reps, there should be random drug testing as you come through the doors.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce defended the decision, saying to the ABC that “you can’t go to work if you are smashed or drugged out.”

Finance: Phasing Out Coal Won’t End Aus Economy, Says Australia Institute

Phasing out of coal production would not hurt Australia’s economy, according to an Australia Institute research.

The study found that the national economic impact would be insignificant if the Government put a moratorium on coal mines opening and expansion, although it could hurt regional areas relying on the industry.

“The world outlook for coal is fairly bleak. We don’t see much likelihood of strong market conditions for coal over the longer term,” said the research’s leader at Victoria University’s Centre Of Policy Studies, Professor Philip Adams to ABC’s AM. “There is enough coal in mines that are operating or will be operating to continue the level of exports that we see now.

“But, thereafter, coal production will slow as new mines which otherwise would come on are not allowed to come on.

“Is this a bad thing for Australia? The answer is no.”

Australia Institute chief economist, Richard Dennis said the impacts of a moratorium on the economy will be “trivial… Literally, when you graph the economy with a moratorium and without a moratorium, you need a microscope to find the difference.”

The report concluded with calls for a moratorium on new coal mines and expansions, and that the Government “should expect minimal economic disruption from doing so.”

The mining industry has rejected the study’s findings. The Chief Executive of the World Coal Association, Benjamin Sporton said coal still plays an important role in providing energy to the world, with coal currently providing 41 per cent of the world’s electricity and 90 per cent of Australia’s eastern seaboards.

“To try and say we’re going to move away from a fuel that provides that much of the world’s electricity, I just don’t think is realistic,” said Sporton.

The Executive director of Minerals Council of Australia, Greg Evans said the report is “a nonsense” and “just more anti-coal rhetoric, not analysis”.

“Only the green movement and their mouthpieces such as the Australia Institute (TAI) would be able to contend shutting down Australia’s second largest export industry would have limited economic impact,” said Evans in a statement.

“Annual coal exports at $38 billion in 2014/15 are almost twice those of beef, wheat, wool and wine combined so under their logic eliminating those great industries would also have negligible consequences.

“There are also 44,000 direct jobs in the coal sector and including related jobs, the number is around 150,000 and the majority of those are in regional areas. The TAI should travel to the Hunter Valley and Bowen basin coal towns and promote their economic thesis that the coal industry doesn’t matter.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously rejected calls for a moratorium, saying that it would not help “one iota” to relieve climate change if coal exports were to be stopped.

Construction appears to be holding the Aus economy in the green so far with increased foreign spend on property leading to more capital expenditure on equipment sales. The advent of price comparison sites like equipment hunt issuing excavator quotes for free make the market more competitive with buyers getting the best deals.

Technology: Construction Delays In Transformative Technologies

It has been reported from Sourceable, that there has been a powerful wave of new technologies said to be sweeping across the AEC sector. Along with the traditional industrial tools and machinery available, there are new devices which have impacted upon the way firms are involved in the development of built environments and do business.

According to Marc Howe, “These technologies cover a range of different areas and functions, including unmanned drones, building information modelling (BIM), reality capture, big data, as well as augmented and virtual reality platforms.

Mobile data in particular is having a highly “disruptive” impact on the AEC sector, with workers carrying levels of computing power on their person that were all but inconceivable for even the largest mainframe devices only one or two generations ago.

It’s this extraordinary level of mobile computing power in tandem with surging levels of connectivity that underlies the ability of other disruptive technologies to make critical contributions to the AEC sector.

Mobile technology means that drones, embedded sensors and portable smart devices can channel vast amounts of data from building sites or built assets to cloud computing hubs, supplying them with all the information they need to fuel or enhance other key technological processes such as BIM, augmented and virtual reality, or predictive analytics that rely upon the accumulation of big data lakes.

A recent white paper published by Viewpoint Construction Software on mobile technology and data notes that this ongoing trend is set to accumulate momentum, leading to further profound changes in the development and operation of built environments.

The white paper foresees the development of “better telecommunications, more connected mobile devices, increased integration of enterprise and project-based software, growing reliance on data-rich BIM(M) approaches and the explosion of data-emitting, interactive systems in and around our built assets.”

The authors of the paper further observe that “the successful construction business of the future will be one that can harness the power of this data, working with its supply chain partners and its customers to extract intelligence from its processes and from the assets it helps deliver so that it can add real value.”

If the effective adoption of new paradigm-changing technologies is essential to the success of construction companies in future, Australian firms will need to overcome prevailing levels of trepidation and conservatism about these shifts in order to flourish in years to come.

According to Lynne Edwards, ANZ marketing manager, Viewpoint Construction Software, many in the construction sector remain laggards when it comes to the adoption of new technologies.

“The construction sector isn’t making the most yet of the new technologies that are now on offer,” said Edwards. “There’s the technology out there, yet many people remain nervous about using it and making it work for them, because they either don’t like change, or they don’t want to disrupt the status quo.”

Firms at the mid-market level can often feel that they’re not large enough or sufficiently prepared to embrace new technologies.

Edwards notes, however, that it’s often the size of construction projects rather than the companies themselves that should determine the types of tools or technologies that are adopted.

“The products that can really help construction companies are designed to foster collaboration in larger and often complex projects ,” she said.

“While a company might feel a bit overwhelmed by having to deal with a huge project, the only way they’re going to grow is by enlisting the help of those technologically based resources.”

Another issue impeding the use of key emerging technologies by the construction sector is the Catch 22 dilemma of companies never having an appropriate time or situation to forge ahead with their adoption.

“Companies feel they’re either too busy at the moment to think about it, and so they say to themselves they’ll do this when we’re less busy,” said Edwards. “When they’re less busy however their conservatism creeps back in and they say they don’t want to make an investment now that they have the time because of the risks involved.”

Finance: Spring Auction Market Opens with Strong Sales in Australia’s Big Cities

Auction market opens the spring season with significant clearance rate in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide.

Sydney market remains strong with its fourth consecutive weekend of a clearance rate above 80 per cent, well above the rate recorded at the same weekend last year of 75.1 per cent.

Melbourne market is also at its strongest since last winter, achieving 77.5 per cent clearance rate on Saturday and making it the sixth consecutive weekends of clearance rates above 75 per cent.

Domain senior economist, Andrew Wilson told AFR Weekend that other cities are experiencing similar trend. “Brisbane saw a clearance rate of 54 per cent when it is usually travelling in the 40s, Canberra hit 82 per cent and Adelaide 74 per cent,” said Wilson.

Observers believe that this market boom is motivated by lower number of listings and cuts in interest rates by the Reserve Bank of Australia last month. Wilson reports that this weekend, Sydney only saw 537 auctions compared to 815 auctions at the same weekend last year while Melbourne had 718 auctions compared to 880 last year.