Is the ABC in for a brutal shake up, in ways unseen for decades? The debate over abortion rights comes a little closer to our shores. Buybacks and dividends in the US top a trillion dollars. Plus, more pain is on its way for the big banks.

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

ABC you later. We hear things are about to get very tough at the ABC — closures and mergers are being considered by Aunty in response to the the $84.7 million in budget cuts imposed on the national broadcaster by the Turnbull government in the 2018-19 budget.

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The proposals are just that at the moment, but what is being discussed could bring about the most radical changes for the corporation in decades. For example, one move being actively discussed is the merging of Radio National and ABC News Radio. Another proposal is to close, or severely cut, Classic FM. Another area of possible cuts is in the regional radio and TV networks with offices and bureaus being closed (as regional TV and radio broadcasters have done such as WIN, Prime and Southern Cross).

More radical solutions could be to cut one of the ABC’s TV channels — such as Kids or Comedy — and scheduling children’s programming back on the main channel, as it was a few years ago, with News Breakfast being confined to ABC News, along with Insiders from Sunday mornings.

When the cuts were first announced, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie said they could not be absorbed by efficiency measures alone as the broadcaster had already achieved significant productivity gains in response to past budget cuts. 

A new zeal? Is the overwhelming vote to liberalise Irish abortion laws going to bring about a similar stoush closer to home? On Monday, New Zealand’s Opposition Leader Simon Bridges insisted during a radio interview that he doesn’t want to see any change to NZ’s abortion law — which currently treats the procedure as a crime.

Bridges said in the interview his stance on abortions was that they be “rare, safe, legal” (with an emphasis on rare). “I have not seen the case for change in this area. Overall, I think the regime we have for abortions is working well,” he said, before refusing to directly answer his interviewers challenge that people seeking abortions currently had to claim “mental fragility” to obtain one.

Bridges is continuing the rhetoric of former prime minister Bill English, a conservative rural catholic from NZ’s South Island. But what will Bridges’ deputy, Paula Bennett, say? When in government she said she was “pro-choice” but would toe the party line. Will Bennett have the courage to contradict Bridges? 

Not buying it, not backing it. More evidence from the US, as if any were needed, that companies do not spend tax cuts on paying staff or boosting jobs. Major companies are continuing to use the cash from the Trump tax cuts to buyback shares at an increasing rate and boost dividends. According to Howard Silverblatt, S&P Dow Jones Indices senior credit analyst, in the year to the end of March, S&P 500 companies paid out US$428 billion in dividends and bought up $573 billion of their own shares. 

The total — $1.01 trillion — is the first time buybacks and dividends have topped a trillion in the US in a 12-month period. Silverblatt forecast that total buybacks in a March research note.

Major US companies in the S&P 500 index announced a record $187.2 billion of buybacks in the first quarter of 2018, lifting the 12-month total to $573 billion. Since March 30, Apple alone has added another $100 billion to the total. The $428 billion of dividends in the year to March 31 was also a new record.

According to Silverblatt, since the beginning of 2013, America’s biggest companies have paid out over $4.8 trillion in buybacks and dividends. By way of comparison, that figure tops the $4.3 trillion the US federal reserve spent keeping the US economy alive and on an even keel during and after the GFC a decade ago.

Class act(ion). It would appear there is to be no let-up in the bad press being experienced by banks in this country, at least not any time soon. Canberra-based law firm Chamberlains is taking up a class action on behalf of bank customers, under instruction from advocacy group Mortgage Deception. We asked if they’d seen a new influx of applicants since the royal commission commenced and revealed just how putrid the core of the practice is in Australia, but neither Mortgage Deception nor Chamberlains got back to us before deadline.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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