Money Finance News Bumper corporate profits but no help for workers in sight
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Bumper corporate profits but no help for workers in sight

champagne money
Low and middle income battlers should get their fair share. Photo: Getty
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That sound of champagne corks popping across the country comes from mining executives and shareholders.

Tuesday’s trade figures confirm Australian corporations are reaping huge profits.

This should end any talk of “global headwinds” and prompt the Turnbull government to stop slashing wages and conditions and shifting the tax burden from the corporate sector onto the backs of low and middle income workers.

Now is the time for vigorous enforcement of company tax collections, a strong budget surplus and repayment of the national debt.

Most urgently, it is also time to redress recent trends towards increased unemployment and underemployment and decreased support for welfare recipients.

Here’s why.

Commodity prices

The iron ore price has risen from US$42 early last year to above $80 for most of this year. Australian thermal coal started 2016 at $53 per metric ton, peaked above $107 in November and is now around $80.

Aluminium began last year at $1481 per metric ton and is now up 36 per cent to $2014.

Beef commanded 159 US cents per pound in early 2016 and is now at 199 cents. Other buoyant commodities include lead, tin, fine wool, lamb, poultry, seafood and sugar.

Record minerals trade

Most big miners are now reporting record production. In a presentation last week, BHP Billiton’s Edgar Basto advised that Western Australia Iron Ore “achieved record production of 136 million tonnes in the December 2016 half year”.

Mining mega profits

Mining profits before income tax increased from $3.1 billion in December 2015 to a staggering $23.2 billion in the December 2016 quarter.

That’s up more than seven times, according to a Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report on company profits.

That’s the highest quarterly quantum since records were first kept in the 1980s and smashes the previous record of $20.9 billion set in September 2011, when the iron ore price peaked aberrantly above US$175 per metric ton.

Manufacturing profits surging

Profits by manufacturers, according to the same ABS file, rebounded in the December quarter to $5.6 billion, the highest December level since 2007, before the global financial crisis, and the third highest ever.

Record earnings by several sectors

Profits earned by electricity, gas, water and waste companies in December reached an all-time record $1.7 billion.

Wholesale trade has been in an upswing for three years, since collapsing soon after the 2013 election. The December 2016 quarter’s profit figure of $4.5 billion was the seventh consecutive quarter above $4.2 billion, for the first time ever.

Rental, hiring and real estate services also achieved in December all time high profits of $9 billion.

Company profits overall

The critical figure, of course, is profits across all sectors. In December this was $63.9 billion, an all time high for any quarter since the ABS series began, and 22 per cent higher than the second highest – $52.5 billion back in December 2010.

Other authorities confirm this reality. Online stock broker Commsec showed last month that of the 142 companies announcing half-year results, “94 per cent reported a profit and 69 per cent lifted profit – above the ‘normal’ proportion of 60 per cent”.

Furthermore, 88 per cent of companies reporting their half-year results “chose to pay a dividend and almost 82 per cent of these companies lifted or maintained dividends”.

Trade surplus

The trade balance the ABS released Tuesday showed Australia’s trade surplus – the difference between the value of exports and imports – at an impressive $3.6 billion.

That is the second highest ever, the highest being in December at $3.7 billion. This makes four consecutive surpluses after a streak of 31 monthly trade deficits, which included six of the seven worst in Australia’s history.

Countries which have moved from trade deficits to trade surpluses in the last 12 months or so include Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Indonesia, Japan, Paraguay, Peru, Slovenia and South Africa. These join more than 20 other developed countries already in steady surplus, or cycling comfortably in and out.

Of course, this does not mean every business or every sector in Australia is booming. Construction is failing and retail is struggling, as usually happens when low incomes are squeezed. Arts and recreation services are also in a slump, probably for the same reason.

But the global corporate profit boom is definitely on. So we shall observe with interest how the government responds to this in its forthcoming federal budget.

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