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Consumer confidence cools amid GST talk

Concerns about possible changes to the GST may be stoking pessimism. Photo: Erin JonassonConsumer confidence has slipped after two upbeat months, according to the latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute sentiment index, as the cooling housing market, talk of a rise in the GST and worries about family finances began to weigh on the mood.
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Westpac said on Wednesday that its main consumer sentiment index eased 0.8 per cent this month, from 101.7 points in November to 100.8 points, seasonally adjusted.

When the index tops 100 points, it means optimists outnumber pessimists – and this is only the fourth time in the last 20 months that the glass-half-full brigade has won the day.

However, this month’s slight fall follows a near two-year high last month, when the index surged 3.9 per cent, and a healthy 4.2 per cent jump in October after Tony Abbott was dethroned by Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister.

“The Index has held on to most of the gains from last month’s surprise 4 per cent lift and is 10.7 per cent above its levels this time last year,” said Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans. “There have only been two months since January 2014 with higher Index readings.”

The survey asked respondents to list news items that attracted their attention, and the proportion of consumers recalling the topic of budget and taxation has almost doubled since September.

Mr Evans said this topic was also viewed as considerably less favourable.

“Presumably, speculation around tax changes, particularly with respect to the GST, is beginning to unnerve respondents,” he said.

While the sub-index on expectations of future economic conditions fell, the sub-indices for family finances – reflecting both current conditions as well as expectations over the next 12 months – both showed healthy gains of more than 5 per cent.

And slightly more people surveyed think it’s a good time to buy a major household item.

“There is an important message from the movements in the components of the Index,” Mr Evans said. “Last month we saw a surge in sub-indexes measuring the economic outlook whereas respondents’ assessments of their finances deteriorated. We attributed the economic  boost to confidence in the government’s new leadership team, and the concerns around finances to the banks’ mortgage interest rate increases in October.

“In this month’s survey, assessments around finances have almost fully recovered their October levels, but expectations for the economic outlook have been pared back, albeit with these components still well above their October levels.”

Adversity can help us get stronger

It seems that some of us, perhaps particularly those with a tendency towards anxiety, spend our lives trying to minimise the chance that bad things will happen. We try as hard as we can to manage our fear that in fact things can go wrong by putting in place imaginary protection – live invisible force fields. We delude ourselves that by making sure everything is ordered and perfect we can somehow inoculate ourselves from the ills that seem to befall the rest of the world.
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Yet sometimes much of the investment we make in time and energy is largely for nought because, of course, bad things do happen and the fact is that we have little control over that. Mental health workers are also now better at understanding that when bad things happening, besides being unpreventable, it doesn’t necessarily lead a person to having a devastated life.

Yes, there are those who have experienced so manydifficult events that they are knocked over by the relentless waves of misfortune and find it difficult to get their feet. But there is also some evidence that some level of pain in our lives, some experience of suffering is in fact good for our resilience, akin to a vaccination’s impact upon our psychological immune response.Perhaps a small amount of pain and suffering activates our systems so that we are inoculated with strategies and coping the next time something goes wrong. We can better learn how to think, and act, and manage our way through adversity. And we also learn that we can survive. We can be OK.

In her TED talk, human resource consultant Regina Hartley, mentioned how in her research and experience it can be those who have experienced adversity and suffering that have the resourcefulness to deal with the difficulties life may bring them. She suggests when interviewing people for a position of employment, rather than choosing the person who has achieved but not suffered, versus ‘the scrapper’ (in her words), who has overcome adversity to achieve the same academic success, to choose ‘the scrapper’. Choose the person who will have developed the skills and the mindset, the perseverance and the perspective that they will need to get through the tough times of any employment. Choose the person who has already been vaccinated by life’sexperiences.

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists (4926 5005). Her book, All Things Considered, is available attheherald上海龙凤论坛m.au.

THE Newcastle cafe with an Imperial Walker towing a landspeeder.

IT’S no secret there’s enough Star Wars memorabilia atThe Empire Coffee Co to fill a space cruiser, and they’ve truly embraced theForce-tive season. Sorry.
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The Newcastle cafe, we’re quite sure, is the only one currentlywith aTatooineLandspeeder outfrontbeing towed byRudolph the red-laser AT-AT. The only one.

Now, we could be wrong…

FORCE-TIVE SEASON: Rudolph the red-laser AT-AT at The Empire Coffee Co.

Airport’s spicy season A Spice Girls fan has been to the airport.

NEXT time you’re at the airport, whileyou’rebuyingthe paper and one of thoseneck support pillows,why not pick up a pink Christmasbauble?

Newcastle Airport is selling the decorations for $2 as part of its Christmas appeal to supportthe Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation.

“This Christmas we’ve decorated our airport terminal in the vibrant pink of our charity of choice, the Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation,” says Newcastle AirportchiefDr Peter Cock.

“We’re asking the community to add to our terminal decorations by purchasing a pink Christmas bauble from any of our airport retailers. We’ll write your name on it and hang your baubles behind our giving tree in the departure lounge.”

That’s nice. You know, a personal touch. Just like thehandiwork of a Spice Girls devoteeon this stop sign (pictured) at the airport.

It’s hard to read in the photo, but it says “Stop right there, thank you very much, I need somebody with a human touch”.

We’ll get back to youFOR a department with a cast of thousands in its media unit, Defence hasn’t been a model oftransparencysincethe Williamtown toxic scare.

Responsesto journalists’ questionshave ranged from sluggishtoglacial, and the answers thattrickle down bear scant relation to what was asked. Case in point. The experience of the Herald’s Joanne McCarthy.

McCarthy went through the properDefence channels and emailed a series ofquestions –big, important stuff about contamination and who knew about it, too dry for us –on October 21.

The response, a week later: “Hi Joanne,Thanks for your email. We endeavour to get back to you as soon as we can”.

Which was somehow hard to believe. On November 27 McCarthy upped the ante with more“questions Defence has not answered to date”.

Two days later she asked again and gave an hour’s“deadline”.

“Suddenly a named Defence person responded.”

Topics doubts anyone working in the media unit is happy with this, and strongly suspects the kind of departmentalinterference that’s maddening for everyone.

Bevan bails without fuss Scott Bevan has signed off from the ABC.

THIS is how TV starsretire now: not with a network special, but with a tweet. Well, sometimes the networkspecial follows,after you die.

ABC News 24 host and former Topics writer Scott Bevan pulled the plug yesterday afternoon with little ceremony.

“I’ve resigned from the ABC,” he tweeted.

“Finish in Jan. My thanks to the Aust public for giving me a job, & for the privilege of telling our stories.”

Fans expressed dismayat Bevan leaving just as he was getting his tie “near perfect”, and speculated on him growing a beard and starting a musical career.

“Not full-time music,” Bevan hinted.

“But more music in my life.”

BevanspenttwoyearsastheABC’sMoscowcorrespondent, and camein from the cold to jointhe 24-hour channel in 2010.

Investors brace for more losses as commodities crunched

Miners are struggling to keep their heads above water as commodity prices continue to tumble. Photo: Robert RoughBHP shares have dropped below $17 each and South32 under $1 for the first time after commodities were crunched again overnight and mining giant Anglo American cancelled its dividend.
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Brent oil dipped below $US40 a barrel for the first time since early 2009, before recovering, while iron ore continued its descent, with the Qingdao benchmark shedding another US41¢, or 1.1 per cent, to $US38.65 a tonne.

On the London Stock Exchange, investors dumped Rio Tinto, driving the price of its shares down 8.4 per cent, while BHP Billiton dropped a further 5.5 per cent.

In morning trade on the ASX, BHP was down a further 1.5 per cent to $16.80, while Rio Tinto was 4.2 per cent lower at $40.64. South32 fell as much as 3.2 per cent to below 99.75¢ before recovering to trade 1 per cent lower at $1.02.

Energy stocks, however, bounced after enduring a torrid session on Monday.

The Aussie dollar also slipped below US72¢ overnight, completing a US2¢ turnaround from its Friday highs of close to US74¢, before recovering to last fetch US72.2¢.

In addition to the falling commodity prices, mining investors were also hit by news that Anglo American would shelve its dividend and cut two-thirds of its workforce. Anglo shares dropped by more than 12 per cent to a record low.

“Any asset that is cash-negative will not remain in the portfolio,” Anglo chief executive Mark Cutifani said. ”It is a strategic call and we are not going to look back.”

That built on yesterday’s announcement by Rio that it would reduce next year’s capital spending by almost $US1 billion to $US5 billion.

But even the heavy-handed cuts announced by Anglo were not enough to assuage the market, with one analyst telling clients that “the chief executive and Anglo American appear in denial”.

“Production, cash flow, earnings are all under pressure and the group is not moving quickly enough. The poor newsflow and downgrades are likely to continue until there are asset disposals or somebody else steps in.”

While the big job losses at Anglo were “headline grabbing”, the real focus for investors is the miner’s decision to scrap its dividend payout policy until 2018, IG market strategist Evan Lucas said.

“The 2016 commodity thematics make BHP’s progressive dividend policy hard to swallow and the Anglo-American moves overnight just adds pressure to scrap what is an out-step program,” Mr Evans said.

“The likely write-downs coming at [BHP’s] half-year [profits announcement] in February, due to the mass decline in commodities, will lead to a [dividend] policy change.” Heavy selling

The heavy overnight selling in the big ASX-listed miners might have been, at least to some degree, catch-up for Monday’s n trade, where Rio fell 4.3 per cent to $42.40 and BHP 5.2 per cent to $17.05, again in response to commodity price weakness. The Aussie miners’ shares are at six- and seven-year lows, respectively.

Futures trading suggests the S&P/ASX 200 index will open 23 points lower, which would push the benchmark index below the 5100-point mark. The measure has now shed 5.6 per cent for the year.

The n dollar dropped as low as US71.87¢ overnight, tracing the drop in oil prices, before recovering to fetch US72.09¢ in early local trade. The currency has fallen by 2.4 per cent from its Friday high of US73.85¢.

While oil has been stealing the headlines, iron ore remains the weaker story long term, reckon analysts at Societe Generale.

“Once the post-OPEC concern about a lack of storage and on-going excess supply fade, there’s a good chance that oil will continue to outperform iron ore, which is obviously more tied to the (soggy) Chinese economic outlook,” SG strategist Kit Juckes said.

“The view of SG’s oil experts is that there is adequate storage to meet the market’s needs in the coming months and that the supply/demand mismatch continues to be met (slowly) by falling supply,” Mr Juckes said.

“That should support prices in 2016, but doesn’t prevent a further near-term, sentiment-driven fall.”

“Beyond the thin December market we’re in now, I’d rather be short the Aussie dollar (or New Zealand dollar, or any other Asian China-sensitive currency except then yen), than short [the oil-tracking] Norwegian kroner or Canadian dollar.”

No Saint: Jimmy Kimmel tricks public with fake Kim and Kanye baby names

Jimmy Kimmel loves playing a frank on the public. Photo: Screen grabMiley Cyrus goes undercover as n reporter on Jimmy Kimmel Live!Kim Kardashian and Kanye West announce second son’s name.
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Did you hear the one about Kim and Kanye calling their second child, born on Saturday, ‘Saint’?

So did half the world. US talk show host Jimmy Kimmel decided that the other half was fair game and set out to test ordinary people’s gullibility and tolerance of celebrity eccentricity, telling them that the power couple had named North West’s younger brother something horrifically indulgent.

It wasn’t an easy assignment with the public jaded by years of jaw-dropping celebrity baby names like Zuma Nesta Rock (Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale), Fifi Trixibelle (Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates), Blanket (the late Michael Jackson) and Jermajesty (Jermain Jackson).

The Jimmy Kimmel Live! show sent a reporter onto the Californian streets to provoke the public for their reactions to, for example, “Kia Sorento” (which is of course the make of a popular lite urban SUV) as a baby name, then “Fastest Gun in the West”.

Most punters were sadly unshocked, swearing blind they’d been discussing that exact same news with friends only a few minutes prior, mostly on social media. Had they actually checked, they have found the infant’s real name is in fact Saint, which is not a bad effort, although some cynics have pointed out its traditional owners had performed a miracle whereas this was just a recipe for a miraculous ego in a child.

Back to the trusting streets of America. One woman’s cool and confident exterior gradually cracked on camera when the reporter informed her Kanye and Kim had opted for “Khaleesi Cruella Cuckoo Kimchee Kombucha Klondike Kielbasa Kaleidoscope Kikuju Kaley Cuoco West.”

“Not surprised at all. I wouldn’t put it past them,” she said, grinning broadly.

Fittingly, Kimmel calls the semi-regular segment – in which citizens are asked a bunch of plausible questions that sound silly if we know the real answer – ‘Lie Witness News’.