Data mania grips Australia. Mobile internet downloading was only 4.6% of total downloads in the December quarter of last year, but it is growing and is up from 3.2% at the end of 2013, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released yesterday. There were 5.996 million mobile internet connections in the December quarter of 2014, which was lower than the 6.004 million at the end of 2013. And yet the number of mobile handset subscribers rose 3.7% to 21.032 million (still well short of one handset number for every Australian) from 20.281 million at the end of 2013. That was a rise of more than 14,000 mobile subscribers each week.

What is interesting from the figures is that mobile internet connections are only around 28% of total mobile subscriptions. Regardless of that, Australian downloading is soaring. The ABS said that its half-year survey of 71 internet service providers (with a thousand or more subscribers) revealed that the total volume of downloads hit an exabyte (or 1 million terabytes) for the first time in the December quarter. The figure was 1.15EB, up 33% from the final quarter of 2013. The ABS data showed fixed-line broadband accounted for 97% of all data downloaded, a slight increase on the 96% of data downloaded via fixed-line broadband in 2013. The ABS said there were 12.7 million internet subscribers in Australia at the end of last year, up 2% on 2013, while the number of household subscribers rose 4.2% in 2014 to 10 million, while the number of business subscribers fell 3.9%  to 2.6 million. The 5.996 million mobile subscribers accounted for most of the remainder. And dial-up is still alive, but dying, down 22% to 159,000. The NBN is starting to make an impact with super-fast fibre the fastest growing type of internet connection, with a 94% surge in the year to 324,000 connections. In other words, high-speed fibre subscribers overtook dial-up in the year. — Glenn Dyer

Whisky drought looms? Blame China, blame changing booze tastes in the US, blame currency changes, but the Scotch whisky industry is being shaken (not stirred) by a second year of falling exports. In fact figures from the annual survey from the Scottish Whisky Association showed a second yearly fall last year after the 2013 drop. In fact, exports fell at their fastest rate for 16 years last year. The value of blended and single-malt whisky exports dropped 7.4% to 3.94 billion pounds (close to A$8 billion) last year. But it could have been worse with an 11% fall in the first half of 2014. It was the biggest annual fall since 1998. Exports to the US, Scotch whisky’s largest market by value, fell 9% last year to 750 million pounds (around A$1.5 billion). That’s because Americans are rediscovering a taste for Kentucky and Bourbon style whiskies. Shipments to Singapore, the third-largest destination and a hub in Asia (especially for transhipment to China) fell 39% in 2014 to 201 million pounds as China’s crackdown on corruption continues. (High value Scotch has been a prime “gift” and a tip off to China’s corruption investigators). Exports to Germany fell 18%, Spain, 8%, but they rose 2% to France and 29% to “abstemious” India (to 89 million pounds or A$180 million). And Australia? We are still the Scotch industry’s 10th-most important export market, even if the number of bottles shipped here fell 10% to 27 million (but the value was only down 1%). — Glenn Dyer

Commodities fib #322? One of the most endearing of all market myths is that companies don’t speculate in commodities; that all they do is to buy and sell to protect their positions, business, production or purchases, etc. America’s market regulators reckon that’s a porky, and the main market cop, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, wants to impose limits on speculative positions in commodity futures markets. Companies are pushing back. So it probably won’t come as a surprise that the CFTC has found an apparently egregious example of market manipulations by two high-grade corporate names — Kraft and its now-separated stablemate, Mondelez (which contains all the Kraft snack food assets, as well as Kraft products outside the US, such as Vegemite in Australia). The CFTC says the two companies executed a strategy to push up the relative price of wheat futures for delivery in December of 2011 with an “enormous” position to buy wheat that they never intended to have delivered (so they could use). The commission says the two companies made a profit of US$5.4 million on the punt. Kraft said in a statement the case won’t have a “material adverse” impact on its finances or on the merger with H.J. Heinz. In fact, it said: “Mondelez International will predominantly bear the costs of this matter and any monetary penalties or other payments that the CFTC may impose.” Has Kraft fingered its former partner? — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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