Markets Overview

  • ASX SPI 200 futures up 0.7% to 7,501.00
  • Dow Average up 0.9% to 35,285.06
  • Aussie up 0.3% to 0.7512 per US$
  • U.S. 10-year yield fell 6.3bps to 2.3962%
  • Australia 3-year bond yield rose 7bps to 2.47%
  • Australia 10-year bond yield fell 0.5bps to 2.90%
  • Gold spot down 0.1% to $1,920.42
  • Brent futures down 1.2% to $111.14/bbl

Economic Events

  • 11am: (AU) Australia to Sell A$1.5 Billion 2.75% 2024 Bonds

Australia’s government announced a series of spending measures designed to cushion the impact of rising living costs and help catapult Prime Minister Scott Morrison back into contention for a May election.

Rising commodity prices and falling unemployment are delivering windfall tax revenue to the government’s coffers, resulting in the budget deficit narrowing in each of the four years of the forecast horizon, Tuesday’s statement showed. The currency and bond markets were little changed after the budget, given it broadly met expectations.

The spending measures highlight the center-right government’s priorities as it tries to reverse a slide in opinion polls. Morrison has been under fire over supply shortages during a recent outbreak of the omicron variant of coronavirus and mismanaging the response to flooding in the nation’s northeast.

Key budget announcements included:

  • a 50% cut to fuel excise, effective from midnight, for six months
  • a one-off, A$250 “cost of living payment” for six million Australians to be delivered within weeks;
  • a separate one-off A$420 tax offset for low- and middle-income earners, starting July 1; and
  • for small businesses, a A$120 tax deduction for every A$100 they spend on training employees, and the same deduction for spending on digital technologies such as cloud computing, cyber security or e-invoicing

The government also set aside significant funds to target women, with whom it has struggled since Morrison was accused of mishandling harassment and sexism allegations in the parliament. It pledged almost A$10 billion for cybersecurity, reinforcing the prime minister’s efforts to elevate national security to a key pillar of his campaign amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jill Sheppard, a political analyst at the Australian National University, said the government had walked a delicate line in bringing down a budget that was a “cautious success,” while adding it might not win them a lot of votes.
“They’ve deliberately tried to not rock the boat and I think coverage of this budget will die off before the week is over,” she said.

The budget is the government’s last major chance to shape the political narrative before the election campaign. It’s looking to springboard off conservatives’ traditional strengths by underlining its strong economic management and defense credentials to argue now is not the time for change.

Other News

MOCHE, Peru — One Sunday afternoon this month, Edson Padilla’s family was visiting this country’s archaeologically rich northern coast and stopped at the latest attraction — a 9-foot-tall statue of an ancient man with an oversize reproductive assemblage.

“Smile,” said Mr. Padilla, a 39-year-old father of five, as he took a picture of his straight-faced daughter beside the sculpture. “This is definitely part of our culture.”

It certainly was part of the local culture — more than 1,000 years ago. Aiming to bring back tourists, Moche’s mayor tapped the region’s past with a bawdy idea: Put up a giant replica of an erotic ceramic from the pre-Incan Moche civilization that once flourished in the area.

Before Covid-19, visitors marveled at Moche’s massive mud-brick temples and ornaments from royal tombs. And they ogled the ceramics that archaeologists consider to be among the finest from the ancient Americas, typically reddish and cream-colored pots about 10 inches tall.

The pots appear to depict people, mythical animals and human sacrifice. They also feature naughty images, by modern sensibilities. Some jars and jugs depict sex acts so explicit that museums keep them separated from main exhibitions.

In early January, residents were bewildered to find, on a road into town, a large replica of a Moche sex pot — a man with disproportionately large privates that were, shall we say, upstanding. It was the brainchild of Mayor Cesar Fernandez, a gynecologist by training. He celebrated the fiberglass statue — “Ceramic of Fertility” — as a homage to the civilization that ruled the area from about A.D. 100 to A.D. 800.

“Egypt has the pyramids, New York has the Statue of Liberty and Paris has the Eiffel Tower,” said Mr. Fernandez, “but in Moche we had nothing.”

The figure’s critics, calling it lewd, said the mayor should stick to projects like improving roads. “It’s grotesque,” said Gerda Palacios, a 36-year-old from the nearby city of Trujillo who recently visited with her husband and daughter. “Is it really necessary to do something like this?”

A few days after Mr. Fernandez unveiled the statue, someone vandalized it. Then it burned to the ground.

Mr. Fernandez inaugurated another version — “Ceramic of Love” — in February with fireworks, a DJ and free condoms as part of a family-planning campaign. He installed six more Moche-inspired statues on the road, including less-risque ones depicting a woman giving birth and a mother nursing a baby.

The largely Catholic nation once treated Moche’s erotic vessels as pornographic. Jeffrey Quilter, an American archaeologist and Moche expert, recalled visiting the Larco Museum in Lima in the 1960s. Away from the main hall was the “Pornographic Room” housing the Moche’s erotic vessels. It still has a separate “Erotic Room” open to everyone, including teenagers on school trips to learn about pre-Columbian societies and their norms.

The Moche were long gone when the Spaniards arrived and began imposing their norms, including destroying indigenous ceramics. Archaeologists and looters unearthed from sand-covered tombs the Moche pottery that survived years later.

Anthropologist Irene Silverblatt, who worked extensively in Peru and is retired from Duke University, recalled the first time she saw Moche erotic pots in Lima: “It was one of those, ‘Oh, my God’ moments.”

In the mid-20th century, some researchers believed the Moche used the pottery for teaching birth control and sexual education. Most archaeologists today doubt that was the case. Some say the pots tie to notions of fertility and the agriculture cycle. Others suggest they relate to the afterlife, as many depict skeletal figures engaged in nonreproductive acts. Still others believe the pots were key to understanding the Moche’s relationship to the arid environment and the importance of storing liquids. Or maybe the pots were sometimes Moche attempts at racy humor, said Mary Weismantel, a Northwestern University anthropologist and author of “Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots,” a book on the subject.

“There is a lot of playfulness in the pots and a lot of visual puns,” she said.

The mayor’s motives continue to draw skepticism from locals like Rosa Benites, an artist who has worked on municipal culture projects in Trujillo. “The intention is to create a scandal,” she said. “Where is the educational aspect?”

The statues are a hit with Peruvian families like those on a recent day who giggled for pictures beside the ancient man’s depiction. Wilmer Ramos and Estefani Arrana, a couple visiting from the town of Pacasmayo, said the statues represented their heritage. Nathaly Vera, who flew in from Lima, saw humor in the figures.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable,” said Natalie Valiente, who came from Trujillo with her 9-year-old nephew and 15-year-old niece. “I try to see it as something natural.”

Local vendors sell key chains, hats and T-shirts with sex-pot images. Restaurants use the male statue’s depiction to promote lunch specials.

Jesus Enco, a local artisan who makes replicas, said his erotic ceramics are bestsellers. Before the giant statues appeared, only the odd visitor would inquire if he had sex pots. Some women would reprimand him if they saw an erotic vessel in his main showroom.

“I’d turn red like a tomato,” said Mr. Enco. “Now they are buying more than ever.”