Speculators, investors causing most water angst

Analysis of ACCC water market submissions finds some interesting trends

Irrigation
ACCC ANALYSIS: Tom Rooney's Waterind team has analysed more than 120 submissions to the ACCC's water markets inquiry.

ACCC ANALYSIS: Tom Rooney's Waterind team has analysed more than 120 submissions to the ACCC's water markets inquiry.

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Waterfind has analysed more than 120 submissions to the ACCC's water market inquiry.

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A review of more than 120 submissions to the competition watchdog's inquiry into water markets has found more than half of the respondents raised the involvement of speculators and investors, in the sector.

Waterfind specialises in brokering, consulting and conveyancing services and operates an online exchange.

Chief executive Tom Rooney said the company had analysed the submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into water trading within the Murray-Darling Basin.

"We looked at more than 120 submissions, and we picked out the most common themes," Mr Rooney said.

"The most common themes were the role of speculators and investors, carryover, broker regulation, intervalley trades and a national water exchange."

Private individuals and companies supplied 41pc of the submissions.

The ACCC report has been pushed back by a month and is now due to be handed to the government on June 30.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) made the request to delay the report to Treasurer Josh Frydenburg, due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACCC is investigating how to enhance markets for tradeable water rights, including options to improve their operations, transparency, regulation, competitiveness and efficiency.

The interim report, which will summarise the investigation's findings since it was launched in August 2019, is expected to be made public a few weeks after June 30.

Mr Rooney said 71 per cent of submissions indicated disquiet over the way speculators and investors were operating in the market.

This was made up of 46pc who disagreed with speculators and investors, while 19pc had concerns and another six pc wanted improvements.

"Specific feedback provided from a number of submissions was that speculators and investors should be removed completely from the market, or for there to be improvements in the way they operate," Waterfind reported.

Submissions argued allowing speculators and investors to enter the market had the potential to raise prices "as they would be motivated to seek the highest sale price, to maximise profits."

Speculators were also accused of intentionally holding onto water in times of need, to decrease supply and raise prices.

But just over a quarter of respondents said speculators and investors played a beneficial role in water markets.

"These submissions believe that investors have the capacity to provide needed capital into the agricultural sector and assist with the development and distribution of a range of water products," the Waterfind analysis said.

It was also raised that investors played a crucial role in assisting maintain stability during volatile periods.

Mr Rooney said the analysis was interesting.

"I think it's an area that needs to be addressed; it needs to be clarified," he said.

"What is not helpful for markets is uncertainty, and I think what this is showing is that this is an issue that does need to be addressed, because it builds uncertainty, in the market."

Linked closely to the role of speculators and investors was carryover, with 60pc of submissions expressing a critical view of the system.

Read more:

Sheed calls for a review of carryover water

That included those who had concerns, wanted improvements or disagreed with the current arrangements.

"But in particular, there were 40pc who agreed with it, while a large percentage wanted improvements," he said.

"I see that some of the improvements were around speculators and market regulations as they had concerns carryover could be used to hoard water or distort markets."

A total of 40pc of submissions that mentioned carryover were from industry groups, with just over 34pc from private individuals and six pc coming from market intermediaries.

Submitters opposed to carryover said it could provide the ability to hoard water, distorting the market and lead to possible abuses, when allocations were low.

"It may result in entitlement holders receiving reduced allocations, placing upward pressure on market prices," the Waterfind report said.

Submitters also argued it was responsible for increased market speculation in the temporary water market.

Those in favor of carryover said it played a critical and vital role in increasing the economical use of temporary water and reducing seasonal volatility.

It also remained a useful tool for irrigators by allowing entitlement holders to manage their inter-annual resource risk.

Mr Rooney said there was overwhelming support for a national water exchange.

He said 94pc of respondents agreed with the establishment of an exchange.

"We get, from our customers, frustrations as to why there is no single platform for this," he said.

"The stock market can provide us with a reasonable history as to how you might conduct a centralised exchange.

"It is the single point of truth, as far as value is concerned, in terms of stocks and shares."

He said the ACCC had done a good job in running ten public hearings across the basin and accepting submissions from individuals, companies, lobby groups and government agencies.

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