Finances: 2013 – the Year in Review

Another strong year for share markets World share markets have performed extremely well in 2013. As the year draws to a close, the MSCI All Country World Index (comprising both developed and emerging share markets) seems on track to produce returns well above 20 per cent for the year for Australian investors. Here in Australia, investors in our share market have enjoyed returns of better than 21 per cent so far this year.

For bond investors, 2013 has been more challenging. The sharp falls in bond yields across much of the globe during the aftermath of the global financial crisis led to very strong returns from bonds. However, yields in most major bond markets have moved higher this year, which has meant returns from both Australian and global bonds have been very modest.

The robust performance of share markets in recent years has also boosted longer term returns for investors. The chart1 below shows the performance of the major asset classes in Australian dollar terms so far in 2013, and for longer time periods. All asset classes now show positive returns over the three and five year periods to the end of November.

The year to date and three year returns from Australian and global shares are particularly strong.

1 Benchmark data are UBS Bank Bill Index (cash), UBS Composite Index (Australian bonds), Barclays Global Aggregate hedged to $A (global bonds), S&P/ASX200 A-REIT Accumulation Index (Australian property securities), MLC global property strategy benchmark hedged to $A (Global property securities), S&P/ASX200 Accumulation Index (Australian shares) and MLC global equity strategy benchmark (MSCI All Country Indices hedged and unhedged in $A).

Continue reading Finances: 2013 – the Year in Review

Vet Ethics: The True Meaning of Welfare

“Bounce”, a healthy and well fed Golden Retriever, has an active and varied life. On most days she is able to leave her sleeping quarters and go for a much-anticipated outing for several hours. She shows much enjoyment and excitement on her daily romps, especially when she meets and plays with other dogs (and people too) – some of whom she has got to know and especially like. She loves to follow a scent, roll about in the dirt, run full pelt through the grass, and wade through water. Her escapades often leave her tired and sore, but she is just as happy to do it all again the next day.

“Loafer” the Labrador has a very different life. From a young age he has been kept in a small enclosure. In fact, he has never been exposed to the sort of activities Bounce looks forward to, and consequently does not miss them. Instead, his savvy owners (who are rarely home) have installed a machine that dispenses tasty food to him on a frequent basis. Actually, Loafer the Lab (unsurprisingly) enjoys eating very much; and his diet is so well formulated he is (surprisingly) not obese. He gets vaccinated and wormed and has ready access to veterinary attention, although he has never been ill. Though he is solitary and sedentary, Loafer seems perfectly content.

Perfectly content he may appear, but does he have a good life? Or is it the reverse: does Loafer’s life go badly for him? If you think it does not go badly, do you nonetheless think that his life is significantly worse than Bounce’s or, if you prefer, that Bounce’s life is significantly better than his?

The reason I am asking these questions is because, like many vets, I am interested in “animal welfare”. But more specifically, I want to know what constitutes good and bad animal welfare. Some people have thought that science is the method we should use to answer these basic questions. So, for example, we could run certain tests and make careful and repeated observations of Loafer and Bounce. Continue reading Vet Ethics: The True Meaning of Welfare

Wildlife caught in bushfires’ blast

The recent bushfires in the eastern states have caused extensive stock deaths and taken a toll on endangered species.

At the time of writing, the fires have burned more than 200,000ha of bush and agricultural land, devastating national parks and farms.

Stock losses are believed to be around 21,000 throughout NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and central Australia. Continue reading Wildlife caught in bushfires’ blast