Internal polling reaches a new field. I notice this morning that confidential internal “polling” has spread from politicians trying to con political journalists to companies having a lend of finance writers. A poll by Westpac, Richard Gluyas writing in The Oz this morning assures us, shows that initial strong public opposition to Westpac’s absorption of St George Bank has faded.

“It is understood that, of a national survey of around 1000 people earlier this month, less than 25 per cent had a negative view on the merger — significantly lower than 35 per cent in June, shortly after the $18 billion deal was unveiled,”

The story said without giving any details of who asked what questions to which sample of people. I am sure that Treasurer Wayne Swan had enough experience with bodgie polling when State Labor Party Secretary in Queensland not to be influenced by garbage like this.

A sceptical eye on Macquarie. It might also pay Wayne Swan to cast a sceptical eye over last week’s asset disposal by Macquarie Communications Group. This major Australian financial institution was trying to assure the market, apparently, that its valuation of assets was borne out by an actual sale or two, but I found the comments by the influential Lex columnist in the London Financial Times a little troubling.

“Two of this week’s disposals entail tipping assets into unlisted sister funds,” Lex wrote.

“Notwithstanding independent opinions on pricing, the new owners must wonder what they are being landed with. MCG’s sale of its interest in a business which manages network towers is a case in point. MCG barely washed its face on the asset, acquired last year, and was eager to distance itself from the business’ voracious capital expenditure requirements. Short-sellers, which Macquarie attracts in droves, view the group as a house of cards. Macquarie is perhaps under less pressure than Babcock & Brown to prove them wrong, but it is fighting the same battles.”

(Note — I cannot give a link because Lex is for FT subscribers only.)

Starve the little children to come unto me. Presumably withdrawing welfare payments from parents whose kids wag school will result in the truancy rate being cut but there are bound to be some adverse consequences as well. Cutting off beer, fags and pokies money may give mum and dad an incentive to make sure that their offspring turn up but there are bound to be cases where the desperates are beyond the application of such tough logic. Their kids will keep missing class and miss a few meals to go with it. This new attempt at social engineering needs to be carefully monitored to make sure that the costs do not turn out to be greater than the benefits.

Romney for Republicans. With the Democratic Party’s vice presidential guessing game now over, attention turns to who will be the choice of running mate by the Republican candidate John McCain. Firming noticeably in the market is the man McCain defeated to get the nomination Governor George Romney with Tim Pawlenty as the second pick.

Other the market has in with a chance are Charlie Crist, Joe Liebermann and Rob Portman.

In the race for the presidency itself, Barack Obama remains a clear favourite on the market although Real Clear Politics has him only 1.7 percentage points in front according to the consensus of the opinion polls.

Peter Fray

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