Aussie gloom just a matter of degree

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 October, 1999, 12:00am

Hongkong (October 31): An investment analyst who said he was a friend of Mr David Newbigging claimed in the sauna bath of Sydney's exclusive Boulevard Hotel that if a financial reporter wanted a bullish view of the Australian economy, he should go to Melbourne.

In Sydney and Brisbane, said the analyst, the message was total gloom. Events and interviews proved him to be correct, at least as far as Sydney and Brisbane were concerned.

The gloom idea is, however, one of degree. For example, talking to the international investment manager of the Bank of New South Wales' head office in Brisbane, admittedly about a trite land investment matter on an off-shore island, the executive received in the space of half an hour three telephone calls from local companies winding up and which owed the bank money.

Nor were they altogether small concerns - one sported upwards of 500 employees.

Upon enquiry, the executive explained the situation in these terms: 'If you had invested A$200,000 in a small business, and now find it is returning less than five per cent, it would be logical to take out your money and put it into bonds at 14 per cent.

'Then you can go and lie on the beach and forget about the whole episode. On the other hand, the same attitude clearly creates yet more unemployment. That is the problem that the Federal Government has to resolve.' More gloom came from a solicitor in Surfers' Paradise, Australia's coastal resort south of Brisbane, who, at my hotel, was detailing losses since last April and the laying off of staff.

We then slid into his Aston Martin, squeezed it in beside the Cadillac at his A$100,000 home, skirted the swimming pool, professed boredom at the fact that he could cast for fish from his balcony, and sat down to a T-bone steak for which a specially large plate probably had to be manufactured.

The essence of Mr Wheeler's grouse - that was the solicitor - was that his home had depreciated somewhat in value, and that he had been forced to sell three of his original five cars. Problems.

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