Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fish and chips in Kiama

I am back in Australia after my trip to the USA and I am taking a few days break. Its lunch time – and I have been reading the annual report of a once highly valued internet company* whilst I wait for the heat to die down. It is too hot to stay at the beach – but I am cool from my most recent dip in the Pacific Ocean. I can hear waves crashing on the shore.

I write to make an observation – one for all the currency speculators out there. We stopped for a meal on the way South. South of Sydney (hence with cooler water) is the unfashionable part of the New South Wales coast. A beach-town cafe in decidedly middle class Kiama – and without water views is now as expensive as a cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (The fish and chips are better in Kiama though.)

Some of this price level is due to wage structure – but most of it is new. Australia is just expensive and getting more so – and the Central Bank (justifiably) feels the need to raise interest rates. Australia is now a very expensive place to visit and I do not recommend it except for the very wealthy.

It's hard to call the end of the Australian bubble – but the boom and prices have gone far beyond rational. I don't see what breaks it other than an end to the Chinese construction boom. These prices are the downside of being China's coal and iron ore mine. In America I saw no obvious inflation between trips. On the South Coast of New South Wales I can't say the same thing.

If you are an Australian and you are not in the process of shifting 25 percent of your asset base offshore you are probably remiss. And if you are a currency speculator liking the carry on Australian government bonds then it has been a great trade but I hope you get to the exits early.

Meanwhile you can enjoy ordinary ice-cream cones in small coastal towns at US $5.30 each.


*There is a blog post in that internet company – but it will have to wait for the new year. I want to talk to management to hear their side of the story first.


IF said...

So, how much is the fish'n chips down under? I remember 2-2.5 pounds in Broadstairs UK in 1995. The best I ever had, several fishes to chose from. Never found it as good again when I visited London or Hull. In the US/CA it seems to go for about 8 IOUs. Served on a plate with fake newspaper as decoration. Nothing is real in this country.

Anonymous said...

isn't there a lot of unskilled illegal immigrants which would depress wages?

oh wait they are all in gangs, never mind.

daybillposters said...

OK, so pay my bloomberg terminal in advance then?

This from Bloomberg today....

Refer to our tele-conversation earlier, discount on the terminal charges will be given when you pay more than 3 months in advance, discount schedule as follows:

Months paid in advance
Discount 3 months = no discount
12 = 2.21%
24 = 5.05%

a student said...

That much for an ice cream is seriously f$cked up. And that's in the same town where they filmed "Mullet". How does Ben Mendleson afford to live there with the small amount he used to get from those fish?

Anonymous said...

Relying on the price of ice creams in Kiama to assert that inflation is out of control is hardly scientific, and frankly your views are difficult to reconcile with official CPI figures

Anonymous said...


In the States, $1.79 USD will get you a two scoop cone at any Rite Aid.

Which is less than the price of a share of RAD.

On a second note, My condolences on The Ashes. ;-)


Anonymous said...

What if currency speculators are more right than the wage setters affecting cafe prices? Perhaps new grads should think twice before rushing into beach dining.

Look at Japan, price levels have been adjusting down for decades to match the yen rate, which just keeps rising in the long run. Can somebody please tell me whether PPP is more useful in predicting changes in prices or exchange rates?

Glenn Condell said...

'South of Sydney (hence with cooler water) is the unfashionable part of the New South Wales coast.'

Two pluses; unfashionable, and cooler water!

Used to north years ago but there seemed to be more punters up there than in Sydney. We go to Broulee, or the Gerringong Werri Beach area adjacent to Kiama. You can walk mile-long beaches down there and not see a soul.

That's a holiday.

Anonymous said...


what is the best way to move assets offshore if you're not an investing pro?

Buy an international managed fund that is currency unhedged? What are the best ones?

Gareth Brown said...

Hi John,
Long time listener, first time caller. I really appreciate the thoughts you've put down in your blog over the past year. And I certainly agree with you on the downside risk for Aussie investors. As I wrote on Doddsville earlier today, it's starting to concern me that just about everything that concerns me is interrelated, and points to China. From an Australian perspective, issues like the overpriced housing market, overpriced currency (on a PPP basis) and dependence on foreign lenders could all come to a head based on a Chinese downturn. Well-bought foreign stocks that are relatively uncorrelated to the Asian boom looks like a smart hedge to me.
Keep up the good work.

Gareth Brown said...

BTW, over here in Austria, where I currently reside, in summer you can buy a small gelato (about half as much ice cream as the Kiama equivalent) for about 90 euro cents

Al said...

My family and I are planning on moving back to the Uk in the new year as it is too expensive here. The standard of living if you live close to the coast or central Sydney is fantastic. However the standard of living in Western Sydney is far below that of the Uk. With long commutes, too hot in summer too cold in winter and souless housing estates.

Also there is a wage explosion in the offing, which I believe will make offshoring just too attractive and kill off large parts of Sydneys IT and financial industry over the next few years

The mining boom just seems to be detrimental to Sydney

Anonymous said...

oh I know Kiama!! used to live in the area 25 yrs ago ... and it was always expensive (sth coast of NSW is actually really nice!)

I lived in Florida for 7 yrs and unless you go to Micky Dees for ice-cream ... you would be paying around %4 - $5 for an ice-cream there. Seeing as the min wage is $7.50 in Fl and the min wage in Aust is around $14 -$16 .. I know where my money will go further.

And I can join the local golf course for $480 per yr and play in all the surrounding golf courses with no green fees!! There are expensive places to live in Aust. the wages are better - national health and there are some cheap places to live too.

We like to look after our poor and sick - so if we pay a little more for stuff .. that's cuz we earn twice the min US wage at least. And I can deal with that. But I don't have any stress after moving back to Aust. - more relaxed, friendlier people and as much golf as I like for $480 per year. Now - wouldn't you like to move here too?

Mike said...

I tend to agree John but what will bring down the bubble? The reality is that it has been too well managed for too long. From the "level playing field" tarriff reductions in the 1980's to the virtual elimination of govt debt starting in te 90's along with the massive improvement in tax collection, Australian govts have done better than many.
This is not to say there have been screw up's and risks but when you compare it to, say the USA, there is no comparison.
Given I have about half my assets in Hong Kong and the rest in OZ I guess you'd say I had better have good timing!

Anonymous said...

I have this ongoing argument with my Mum about the Australian housing/real-estate market and whether it's overheated or not. She used to work for FaHCSIA, and insists that housing prices in Australia reflect a genuine supply shortfall which the Australian housing industry has failed to adjust to. I would expect housing industry salaries to be a lot higher than they are if that were the case, though.

Baskin (but not Robbin') said...

So should I open up a 24/7 ice cream cone store in Perth so all of those hot and sweaty miners can have a treat on their way home from work?

John Hempton said...

For the person who noted that my take on inflation does not match the CPI - can I note that the price of EVERYTHING measured in AUD is falling except for Australian non-traded goods and services.

Hence my obsession with icecream, laundry etc.


Anonymous said...

It's Ed from SPAN. Love your blog.
Agree with your sentiments on the Aussie Dollar its getting crazy! I am now a Financial Planner and I am telling my clients to get into Unhedged Quality International stocks. The Aussie property party and Chinese Infrastructure boom will be over one day! Watch the fall in the Aussie!

Ronald Brak said...

This is why I am buying people portable hard drives for Christmas. One terabyte of storage for the price of 12 ice cream cones. (When it reaches one ice cream cone per terabyte the singularity will have arrived.)

Anonymous said...

Softserve Cone ( childs size) admittedly with a cotton Candy flavoured dip, at Pallisades Mall in Nyack ( 30mins up from NYC) , USD3.75 today.
so Kiama prices are not 100% out of line.
Nyack has a gazzillion customers a day, every day. Kiama somewhat less and only in the summer. Its all a volume game and Aus with its distance issues and lack of market size will always be more expensive than the USA. Same problem is seen in the Bahama's, Bermuda, etc , anywhere you need to ship everything in for a small population.

Nick HaC said...

Hi John

Great post.

You inspired me to write a blog post...

Why do consumer goods in Australia cost 2X USA Prices?

Why is Australia effectively double the price for consumer goods when income is nearly equal and the exchange rate is near parity?

Great Blog BTW, ive added you to my BlogRoll.

Nick HaC

Claude said...

John, and anyone else who makes a comment about the difference in food prices in the States. We get paid MORE than what they get paid in the States! I visited and a waiter who was probably about 23/24, was getting $3.80 an hour (plus tips that he has to share with the bus boy). Here, you can at least pay your hefty bills and make a living being a waiter/waitress (maybe a 2nd job, or a partner with an income). John, perhaps you should migrate and stop whinging.

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