Australia’s February Inflation Comes in Lower Than Expected - Kanebridge News
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Australia’s February Inflation Comes in Lower Than Expected

The monthly consumer-price index indicator rose 3.4% in the 12 months to February

By JAMES GLYNN
Thu, Mar 28, 2024 12:09pmGrey Clock 2 min

SYDNEY—Australia’s monthly inflation indicator came in below expectations in February, signalling that price pressures would likely continue to retreat over coming months.

The monthly consumer-price index indicator rose 3.4% in the 12 months to February, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Economists had expected a rise in February of 3.5% on year.

Some economists had expected the monthly CPI update to show a bigger rise, fuelled by services inflation which remains an area of concern for the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The better-than-expected inflation outcome will also help offset some of the uncertainty about the outlook for interest rates that arose in financial markets following news last week of a sharp drop in unemployment in February.

The most significant contributors to the February annual increase were housing costs, which climbed 4.6% on year, while food and nonalcoholic beverages rose 3.6% in the same period.

Alcohol and tobacco prices were up 6.1% and insurance and financial services rose 8.4%, the ABS said Wednesday.

Excluding volatile items from the data, the annual CPI rise in February was 3.9%, down from 4.1% in January.

Annual inflation excluding volatile items has continued to slow over the last 14 months from a high of 7.2% in December 2022, the ABS said.

Rents increased 7.6% for the year to February, up from 7.4% in January, reflecting a tight rental market and low vacancy rates across the country.

New dwelling prices rose 4.9% over the year with builders passing through higher costs for labor and materials. Annual new dwelling price increases have been around the 5% mark the past six months, the data showed.

The 3.6% rise in food prices in the 12 months to February was down from the 4.4% in January. It was the lowest annual growth since January 2022.

Insurance costs jumped 16.5% over the past 12 months to February, with rises in premiums across all insurance types due to higher reinsurance, natural disaster and claim costs, the ABS said.



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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.