Men with low testosterone levels are more susceptible to severe COVID-19



Throughout the pandemic, doctors have seen evidence that men with COVID-19 fare worse, on average, than women with the infection. One theory is that hormonal differences between men and women may make men more susceptible to severe disease. And since men have much more testosterone than women, some scientists have speculated that high levels of testosterone may be to blame.

But a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that, among men, the opposite may be true: that low testosterone levels in the blood are linked to more severe disease. The study could not prove that low testosterone is a cause of severe COVID-19; low levels could simply serve as a marker of some other causal factors. Still, the researchers urge caution with ongoing clinical trials investigating hormonal therapies that block or lower testosterone or increase estrogen as a treatment for men with COVID-19.

The study appears online May 25 in JAMA Network Open.

“During the pandemic, there has been a prevailing notion that testosterone is bad,” said senior author Abhinav Diwan, MD, a professor of medicine. “But we found the opposite in men. If a man had low testosterone when he first came to the hospital, his risk of having severe COVID-19 -; meaning his risk of requiring intensive care or dying -; was much higher compared with men who had more circulating testosterone. And if testosterone levels dropped further during hospitalization, the risk increased.”

The researchers measured several hormones in blood samples from 90 men and 62 women who came to Barnes-Jewish Hospital with symptoms of COVID-19 and who had confirmed cases of the illness. For the 143 patients who were admitted to the hospital, the researchers measured hormone levels again at days 3, 7, 14 and 28, as long as the patients remained hospitalized over these time frames.

In addition to testosterone, the investigators measured levels of estradiol, a form of estrogen produced by the body, and IGF-1, an important growth hormone that is similar to insulin and plays a role in maintaining muscle mass.

Among women, the researchers found no correlation between levels of any hormone and disease severity. Among men, only testosterone levels were linked to COVID-19 severity. A blood testosterone level of 250 nanograms per deciliter or less is considered low testosterone in adult men.

At hospital admission, men with severe COVID-19 had average testosterone levels of 53 nanograms per deciliter; men with less severe disease had average levels of 151 nanograms per deciliter. By day three, the average testosterone level of the most severely ill men was only 19 nanograms per deciliter.

The lower the levels of testosterone, the more severe the disease. For example, those with the lowest levels of testosterone in the blood were at highest risk of going on a ventilator, needing intensive care or dying. Thirty-seven patients -; 25 of whom were men -; died over the course of the study.

The researchers noted that other factors known to increase the risk of severe COVID-19, including advanced age, obesity and diabetes, also are associated with lower testosterone.

The groups of men who were getting sicker were known to have lower testosterone across the board. We also found that those men with COVID-19 who were not severely ill initially, but had low testosterone levels, were likely to need intensive care or intubation over the next two or three days. Lower testosterone levels seemed to predict which patients were likely to become very ill over the next few days.”


Sandeep Dhindsa, MD, Study First Author and Endocrinologist, Saint Louis University

In addition, the researchers found that lower testosterone levels in men also correlated with higher levels of inflammation and an increase in the activation of genes that allow the body to carry out the functions of circulating sex hormones inside the cells.

In other words, the body may be adapting to less testosterone circulating in the bloodstream by dialing up its ability to detect and use the hormone. The researchers don’t yet know the implications of this adaptation and are calling for more research.

“We are now investigating whether there is an association between sex hormones and cardiovascular outcomes in long COVID-19, when the symptoms linger over many months,” said Diwan, who is a cardiologist. “We also are interested in whether men recovering from COVID-19, including those with long COVID-19, may benefit from testosterone therapy. This therapy has been used in men with low levels of sex hormones, so it may be worth investigating whether a similar approach can help male COVID-19 survivors with their rehabilitation.”

This study used Washington University’s COVID-19 biorepository and was conducted as a collaboration of the university’s Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS), which includes Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, consistently ranking among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.


Source:

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Journal reference:

Dhindsa, S., et al. (2021) Association of circulating sex hormones with inflammation and disease severity in COVID-19. JAMA Network Open. doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11398.

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Scenic Rim farmers change tack towards tourism as ‘green drought’ sees dam levels plummet


Drought has gripped agricultural land west of Brisbane for years, but to the untrained eye, it can be hard to see.

Scenic Rim Lucerne co-owner Russell Jenner said there was “not good moisture under the ground”.

“It’s just green on top from people irrigating and the bit of rain we’ve had,” he said.

Moogerah Dam, near Boonah, is currently at 13.2 per cent, down from nearly 15 per cent in January.

The dam hasn’t been that low since just before the Millennium drought broke in 2008.

Once the water level reaches 7.5 per cent, no farmers will be allowed to draw water for irrigation.

‘A green drought’

Bunjurgen Vineyard owner David McMaugh said bore water would run out soon and could not be relied on.

His was already gone, and grapevines are thirsty plants.

“You must never get to a stage where the bore becomes dry, otherwise no water will flow into it,” he said.

“So you have to scale back the amount of water that you draw out and we’ve got to the stage that that’s been reached so we’re dependent on what falls out of the sky.

“If you were to scan around this country and people might say, ‘Oh well, it looks pretty green, everything’s OK,’ — it’s not really.

Lake Moogerah water levels in 2020.(

Wikimedia Commons

)

Scenic Rim Lucerne co-owner Jenny Jenner said La Niña, a Pacific Ocean weather event that brings wetter weather, had not done enough to replenish bore water or refill dams around the region.

“The La Niña’s failed us in the Fassifern and Lockyer valleys,” she said.

“We just haven’t had any decent rain this summer to put in Moogerah Dam — a lot of people’s dams are empty.

“There’s a good percentage of farmers who will not be able to produce what they normally do and that goes for vegetables, fodder crops, cattle, anything like that.

“Once the water runs out of the area, which happened about 15 years ago, the town sort of tends to die a little bit because the farmers can’t produce as much produce.”

The Jenners will struggle to grow their main crop of lucerne hay and Mr Jenner said it would dramatically lower their production.

“Only limited amount with the bore water — not the whole farm — a lot of the farm won’t have a thing on it at all,” he said.

Two farmers smile in a paddock.
Lucerne farmers Jenny and Russell Jenner at their Scenic Rim property.(

ABC News: Jim Malo

)

The Jenners and the rest of the farmers in the region are facing a year with no water at all.

Ms Jenner said he was hoping the state government had learnt from the last drought and built more water storage.

“I wish the government had more foresight to put in more water storage,” she said.

“What we really need in the produce producing areas is more water security and we need the governments to do that.”

A field of purple flowers.
A field on the Jenner’s property in Queensland’s Scenic Rim.(

ABC News: Jim Malo

)

Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) water policy adviser Sharon McIntosh said the state government should have spent the drought-free years preparing more water storage, be it a new dam or allowing farmers to store water more easily on their farms.

She said climate change meant droughts would become worse and more frequent — so the time to act was yesterday.

“There is some slow traction happening in government in regard to climate change, however I think there still is a lot of headway that needs to be done in incorporating climate change into policy, especially water,” Ms McIntosh said.

Ms McIntosh said the rebates and concessions on utilities offered to farmers in drought affected regions must continue.

Farmers pivot to diversify farms, tourism bid

A spokesman for Queensland Water Minister Glenn Butcher said water providers were consulting with farmers about how to improve water security and were providing support by increasing usable water allocations and giving utilities concessions to drought declared areas.

The farmers were being tided over by the support of tourists and shoppers, encouraged by state government programs, and diversification of their farms.

Since lucerne would not do well without irrigation, the Jenners had decided to pivot to something less water intensive.

“Basically you can grow dry-land sunflowers — we haven’t irrigated them at all. We have been lucky because we’ve had a bit of rain,” Ms Jenner said.

“When they flower, everybody who drives through town will be able to see them and they’ll make everybody happy as sunflowers do, but also create and event for the town so the businesses can enjoy some tourism coming in.”

A watering system over a farm.
Irrigation infrastructure over the Jenner’s sunflower farm.(

ABC News: Jim Malo

)

The flowers would not be for eating, but for a festival.

Ms Jenner said she hoped to sell dinners among the flowers, yoga classes, helicopter rides, and more at the Kalbar Sunshine and Sunflowers Day to help them through an otherwise tight year.

Mr McMaugh was complimentary of the state government’s ‘Go Local, Grow Local’ campaign and the relaxing of regulations that allowed him to sell his wine in the Scenic Rim Farm Box.

But he said the best help when the future was so uncertain was a visit and a smile.

“That activity has a big morale boost on people out here when they come out here, and they’re positive and they want to buy something, and there’s an opportunity for some social value there, which is difficult to quantify,” Mr McMaugh said.

Dry Lake Moogerah at 13.3 per cent capacity near Boonah in south-west Queensland.
Farmers in the region are facing a year with no water at all.(

Supplied: Seqwater

)

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World Rugby’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Martin Raftery says rugby union only reduced concussion levels with increasing red and yellow cards as NRL stare down critics


“Our initial intervention to protect the players was for World Rugby to adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ for head contact which led to higher sanctions by match officials, including penalties, yellow cards and red cards.

“Rugby is a global game so we were able to monitor eight national competitions and what we noted was that the issuing of cards, both yellow and red, resulted in lower concussion rates. But those competitions which didn’t issue more cards, even though they may have had higher penalty rates, did not lower concussion rates.

“The lesson for us was cards change behaviour, not necessarily penalties.”

The lesson for us was cards change behaviour, not necessarily penalties

Dr Martin Raftery

Rugby union’s worldwide concussion rates had been increasing between 2011 and 2018 after the code introduced head injury assessments, which provided greater awareness through the media and involved training of club doctors to diagnose concussion. There was also a lower threshold for diagnosing concussion before 2011. All other injury levels had been relatively stable over the same time.

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Papalii is in danger of missing the State of Origin series opener after being hit with a grade three careless high tackle, which carries a three-match ban with an early guilty plea.

He will miss five matches if he fights the charge at the judiciary and loses.

Raiders teammates Jack Wighton and Josh Hodgson also face missing the crucial visit of the Storm to the nation’s capital after being charged for separate dangerous contact incidents on Saturday.

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How to Increase Cellular Glutathione Levels


Learn about the only theoretical and clinically proven way to increase cellular glutathione levels.

Glutathione – what is it?

  • The antioxidant glutathione is used by all aerobic living organisms from bacteria to humans and is often referred to as the “master antioxidant”.
  • We do not need to include glutathione in our diet as it is produced by every cell in our body
  • Glutathione has many vital physiological roles including neutralizing the free radicals generated by our cells’ mitochondria during respiration.

Glutathione depletion and ill health

  • Most chronic disorders have been shown to be related to lowered cellular levels of glutathione in the affected tissue.
  • Insufficient glutathione leads to oxidative stress which results in progressive damage to cellular components, including nucleic acids, lipids and proteins.
  • As this oxidative damage accumulates, the cells and the associated tissue begin to lose physiological function, which manifests as symptoms and loss of health.

Glutathione supplement

  • If you search on the internet you will find numerous sites recommending particular supplements and foods to increase your glutathione levels. Supplements include glutathione itself, liposomal glutathione, NAC, and Ribocene.  Recommended foods include spinach, avocados and asparagus. 
  • You can try these options but none of them will elevate your glutathione above homeostasis and as a consequence they are unlikely to offer any (glutathione related) improvements to your health.
  • The only supplement that has been clinically proven to increase glutathione above homeostasis is its immediate precursor Glyteine (gamma glutamylcysteine)

Glutathione supplement benefits

  • In general, glutathione supplements do not offer any clinically proven benefits. To understand why not, we need to look at how glutathione is made in each of our cells. 
  • Glutathione is a relatively simply compound. It is composed of three amino acids (the building blocks of proteins).  Our cells use two enzymes (biological catalysts) to make their own supply of glutathione. The first enzyme joins glutamate and cysteine to produce gamma glutamylcysteine and the second adds a glycine to produce glutathione. 
  • Glutamate and glycine can be readily synthesised by cells.
  • Cysteine must be sourced from the diet either as cysteine or converted from the other sulphur containing amino acid methionine. As such, cysteine is considered to be rate limiting amino acid for glutathione synthesis.  It should be noted that Western diets have all the cysteine (e.g. it is commonly added to bread) we need to meet our glutathione making needs.

Glutathione homeostasis

  • Glutathione homeostasis within your cells is controlled by a feedback inhibition mechanism. When glutathione gets to the homeostatic set point (which varies between cell types) it interacts with the first glutathione synthesis enzyme, glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL), to slow down its activity and limit the production of gamma glutamylcysteine (GGC).
  • When glutathione begins to become depleted due to increased demand, for example during exercise, the interaction between glutathione and GCL weakens and the GCL activity increases to produce more GGC for the second enzyme, glutathione synthase (GS), to convert to glutathione.
  • The GS activity always exceeds that of GCL, which means the GGC level inside cells is always negligible relative to glutathione.
  • So, it does not matter how much glycine, glutamate, or cysteine is lying about in a cell, they are not going to be used for glutathione synthesis if the cell is already at its homeostatic set point.
  • It should be noted here, that as glutathione is used to neutralise free radicals, it itself becomes oxidised. The oxidised glutathione is then recycled back to the reduced form by the NADPH requiring enzyme glutathione reductase.

The cause of chronic glutathione depletion

  • The reason why glutathione is perpetually depleted in many chronic disorders is often related to a disruption of glutathione homeostasis.
  • What this essentially means is that the interaction between glutathione and the GCL enzyme becomes dysfunctional to the extent that the GCL activity is turned off at glutathione concentrations that are insufficient to protect the cell against oxidative stress.
  • In effect, this means the GCL enzyme is starving the cells of the GGC required to maintain a healthy level of glutathione.
  • Numerous studies have investigated the role of GCL dysfunction in the plethora of medical conditions associated with glutathione depletion.
  • These detrimental changes in GCL activity regulation may be due genetic, developmental, environmental and age-related causes.

NAC and acetaminophen overdose

  • Some benefit from NAC has been shown in conditions that involve acute glutathione depletion due to exposure to toxins.
  • Indeed, NAC is the standard treatment for acetaminophen overdose and has saved many lives since it first came into medical use in 1968.
  • Excessive consumption of acetaminophen can rapidly deplete glutathione in the liver.
  • In response, the liver attempts to make more glutathione, but it exhausts its supply of cysteine with glutathione levels continuing to decline to such an extent that the resulting extreme oxidative stress leads to cell apoptosis, tissue necrosis, complete liver failure and often death if a liver transplant does not become available.
  • The timely administration of NAC addresses the liver’s demand for cysteine to restore glutathione levels to homeostasis and consequently deal with the detoxification of the acetaminophen overdose.

Benefits of glutathione supplements or more accurately the failure of NAC and glutathione supplements

On the other hand, glutathione and NAC have repeatedly failed in clinical trials to demonstrate any tangible benefit in treating chronic glutathione depletion associated disorders.  The reason why this is the case can be explained by biochemistry and physics.

Glutathione biochemistry and why glutathione and NAC supplements do not work

  • Though glutathione does have some protective functions outside the cell in the various bodily fluids, the majority of its activity is required inside the cell.
  • This is reflected by the fact that cells contain a thousand-fold higher concentration of glutathione than extracellular fluids (e.g. plasma). So, if you take a glutathione supplement it will not be able to passively enter (via osmosis) the cells where it is often needed due to an unfavourable concentration gradient.
  • Most cell types do not have an energy dependent (ATP) active transport system for taking up glutathione against this concentration gradient.
  • What most cell types do have is an outer membrane bound enzyme, gamma glutamyltransferase (aka gamma glutamyltranspeptidase, GGT). Physicians will be quite familiar with this enzyme, as it is one that is often measured in pathology assays to confirm healthy liver function.  High serum GGT levels are indicative of liver cell damage which could be due to hepatic infection or chronic alcohol abuse.
  • This GGT enzyme effectively hydrolyses extracellular glutathione to its component amino acids, which can then enter the cell. Once inside the cell, these amino acids can then serve as substrates for the resynthesis of glutathione.  This does not mean, however, that this increased supply of glutathione building blocks will enable the cell to increase its glutathione content above any dysfunctional homeostasis.

How to increase glutathione levels in the body

  • Most physicians are well aware of the role of glutathione depletion and its associated oxidative stress in the chronic conditions suffered by many of their patients.
  • Before GGC (Glyteine) was made available to the market in the Continual G brand of supplements they had few options (and none of them efficacious) for increasing cellular glutathione.
  • All they could recommend is glutathione or NAC. But what can these really do?  The glutathione will be broken down by the GGT enzyme to the component amino acids, which can enter the cell, but they will feed into the faulty GCL enzyme and do nothing to elevate the glutathione to more healthy levels. 
  • Similarly, the NAC will enter the cell, be deacetylated, and provide cysteine to the faulty GCL enzyme, again providing no benefit in increasing glutathione to more healthy levels. This is how you can explain all the failures in clinical trials for glutathione, NAC and other similar cysteine prodrugs.

Glutathione benefits

  • Glyteine (GGC) is the one and only compound that can theoretically passively enter cells due to the absence of a concentration gradient, bypass any dysfunctional GCL activity and increase glutathione levels above homeostasis.
  • This theoretical bioavailability has been confirmed in clinical studies. For more information visit continualg.com.

Image Credit : verywellhealth.com



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Calls for change as new report finds Victorian paramedics under stress levels akin to a mental disorder


Paramedic Dean Adams was coming home from a 12-hour night shift during which a patient had threatened to murder him when he realised something had to give.

He’d barely had time to use the toilet, let alone eat anything that night, as his crew was sent from job to job — culminating in treating a man who’d assaulted a police officer, and then turned on him.

In his three years since starting as a paramedic, Mr Adams has seen the workload increase dramatically.

“The relentlessness was just unsustainable going forward, and for me that was evidenced by sleeping difficulties … it was impacting my eating patterns,” he said.

He was dreading going to work, especially to back-to-back 12-hour night shifts.

He stopped seeing friends and felt drained.

“I think we all strive to provide the best care to our patients … but there’s times where you’ve been working for 10-12 hours and you haven’t had time to stop and recover … and that’s when it becomes dangerous,” he said.

A new study, led by researchers at Swinburne and RMIT universities and obtained exclusively by the ABC, has found that like Mr Adams, many Ambulance Victoria employees are at breaking point.

More than a third feel burnt out by their work, and 10 per cent are looking to leave the profession in the next year.

Almost one in 10 are exhibiting stress levels comparable to having a severe psychological disorder, while a quarter report being under moderate levels of psychological distress.

In comparison, previous studies have found less than 13 per cent of the general population exhibits similar distress levels.

Report author Peter Holland said the research pointed to a dangerous level of emotional exhaustion in the workforce, far beyond anything he’d seen in his previous studies on nurses in hospitals.

“They’re under very significant levels of stress, to the extent that some of these people need some help themselves in that sense,” Professor Holland said.

The survey of 663 staff — about 17 per cent of on-road Ambulance Victoria employees — was completed in September last year during Melbourne’s second COVID-19 lockdown. 

But Professor Holland and co-author Lara Thynne believe the situation would not have changed since that time because workloads had increased dramatically since the lockdown ended.

“If anything, things have gotten worse,” Dr Thynne said.

She said while being a paramedic was always a high-intensity job, the research found recent trends of missing meal breaks, working overtime, and gruelling night shifts with no rest time were taking their toll.

“The damage is the emotional effects on paramedics outside work. We know paramedics [already] have higher rates of suicide, and higher rates of marriage breakdown,” she said.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown ended, Victoria’s health system has been under strain, with demand for ambulances skyrocketing.

Victoria’s hospital emergency departments are full, which leads to ramping — a situation where paramedics care for a patient in the ambulance outside a hospital until a bed becomes available inside.

This in turn prevents the crew from attending emergencies in the community.

Pair that with an increase in call-outs in recent months, and ambulance wait times are now at their worst levels in six years, according to new quarterly data.

The deadly consequences of this were evident two weeks ago, when 32-year-old Christina Lackmann died after waiting six hours for an ambulance.

It prompted the Victorian government on Friday to announce more than $750 million in the upcoming budget for more paramedics, better systems to deal with non-urgent emergency calls, and better access to beds in emergency departments.

The exact reasons for increased call-outs are not known, but Danny Hill from the Victorian Ambulance Union said his members were seeing more patients with chronic illnesses who had let their treatment go during the pandemic.

He also believes his members are increasingly taking patients who don’t need further care to hospital, because the paramedics fear they won’t be supported by Ambulance Victoria if the patient later suffers an adverse event.

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Rental vacancy rates back at pre-pandemic levels: Domain data


Australia’s rental vacancy rate is back at pre-pandemic levels, new data shows, but up to one in 10 rental homes are still sitting empty in some pockets.

Vacancy rates dropped in both Sydney and Melbourne over April to 2.9 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively, as more tenants returned to the inner-city markets where rental demand and asking prices were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The proportion of homes left vacant held steady at 1.4 per cent in Brisbane, Domain data shows, with fewer than one in 100 rental homes left vacant across the other capital cities – where rates either held steady or lifted marginally month on month.

Nationally, the vacancy rate fell to 1.8 per cent, its lowest level since March 2020, with more than 57,000 rentals estimated to be sitting empty at the end of the month. That’s down more than 25 per cent since last April when the country was mid-lockdown.

Capital City Rental Vacancy Rates

April 2021

Apr-21Mar-21Apr-20Monthly ChangeAnnual Change
National1.8%1.9%2.6%
Sydney2.9%3.0%4.0%
Melbourne4.2%4.6%2.8%
Brisbane1.4%1.4%2.9%
Perth0.8%0.7%2.4%
Adelaide0.6%0.6%1.2%
Hobart0.5%0.4%1.4%
Canberra0.8%0.7%1.4%
Darwin0.6%0.6%3.5%
Source: Domain
The vacancy rate represents the portion of available, empty rental properties relative to the total stock of rental property. The rental vacancy rate is based on adjusted Domain rental listings and will be subject to slight revisions over time.

Domain senior research analyst Nicola Powell said the decline had been largely driven by Melbourne, where there were just over 24,000 estimated vacant rental listings at the end of April, down 7 per cent from March.

The citywide vacancy rate was still elevated though, Dr Powell said, noting Melbourne was the only capital city where the rate was still up year-on-year, which she attributed to the jump in vacancies seen during the city’s two lockdowns and the market’s greater reliance on overseas immigrants and international students.

“I think Melbourne will have an elevated vacancy rate until we see international borders reopen,” she said.

Highest vacancy rates across capital city areas
April 2021

Rank

SydneyMelbourneBrisbane & Gold CoastPerthAdelaide
1Auburn (4.8%)Melbourne City (10.2%)Brisbane Inner (3.8%)Perth City (1.6%)Adelaide City (4.6%)
2Parramatta (4.8%)Stonnington – East (7.8%)Sherwood – Indooroopilly (2.8%)Cottesloe – Claremont (1.5%)Holdfast Bay (1%)
3Strathfield – Burwood – Ashfield (4%)Whitehorse – West (6.9%)Brisbane Inner – West (2.7%)South Perth (1.1%)Norwood – Payneham – St Peters (0.9%)
4Canterbury (3.8%)Stonnington – West (6.7%)Nathan (2.3%)Melville (1%)Prospect – Walkerville (0.8%)
5Botany (3.5%)Boroondara (6%)Mt Gravatt (2%)Belmont – Victoria Park (0.9%)Unley (0.7%)
Source: Domain
The vacancy rate represents the portion of available, empty rental properties relative to the total stock of rental property. The rental vacancy rate is based on adjusted Domain rental listings and will be subject to slight revisions over time. Areas are based on ABS SA3 geography that are located in a capital city GCCSA.

The largest drop in vacant properties was in the inner city, where the rate dropped to 10.2 per cent in April — down from a peak of 14.6 per cent in October — in a sign that tenants may be returning to inner-city apartment living, Dr Powell said.

“We’re definitely seeing an improvement; we’ve got a lot of people coming through inspections,” said Daniella Ferraro, a senior property manager at Harcourts Melbourne City.

Local renters were looking to upsize to take advantage of rent reductions – with the median unit rent in inner Melbourne down 22 per cent annually — while some tenants in the suburbs were looking to relocate closer to the city centre or move out of share housing while prices were lower, Ms Ferraro said.

There was also more interest from renters relocating from interstate and some home sellers transitioning back to the rental market before their next purchase; however, demand from students was still lacking.

While the number of vacant rentals was falling, Ms Ferraro expected it could be two years before rents in the area started to climb again, with rents for some properties having fallen by almost 50 per cent over the past year.

Lowest vacancy rates across capital city areas
April 2021

Rank

SydneyMelbourneBrisbane & Gold CoastPerthAdelaide
1Camden (0.3%)Mornington Peninsula (0.4%)Capalaba (0.2%)Wanneroo (0.3%)Tea Tree Gully (0.2%)
2Wyong (0.4%)Yarra Ranges (0.5%)Caboolture Hinterland (0.2%)Kwinana (0.4%)Marion (0.2%)
3Gosford (0.5%)Nillumbik – Kinglake (0.5%)Nerang (0.3%)Stirling (0.4%)Port Adelaide – East (0.2%)
4Blue Mountains (0.5%)Cardinia (0.5%)Gold Coast Hinterland (0.3%)Rockingham (0.5%)Playford (0.2%)
5Sutherland – Menai – Heathcote (0.7%)Macedon Ranges (0.7%)Coolangatta (0.4%)Kalamunda (0.5%)Gawler – Two Wells (0.3%)
Source: Domain
The vacancy rate represents the portion of available, empty rental properties relative to the total stock of rental property. The rental vacancy rate is based on adjusted Domain rental listings and will be subject to slight revisions over time. Areas are based on ABS SA3 geography that are located in a capital city GCCSA.

Vacancy rates also fell in inner Sydney and Brisbane, hitting 3.1 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively.

“We are seeing people come back to the city, but they’re coming back slowly,” said Michael Lowdon of Ray White Residential Sydney CBD.

The top end of the rental market was particularly strong, with solid demand for larger apartments and growing interest from downsizers who had opted to sell in the strong market but had yet to purchase their next home, he said.

“The middle [of the market] is okay, and at the lower end of the market, the enquiry rates are a lot higher now, but you still need to be super competitive when you come to put a price against your apartment. If it’s not competitive, you’re not going to find a tenant,” he said.

Despite the uptick in interest, Mr Lowdon warns landlords to expect at least another 12 to 24 months of softer market conditions due to an influx of new apartments poised to hit the inner city rental market. He added a rebound would be reliant on borders reopening and the return of more inner-city workers.

Areas with the biggest drop in estimated number of vacant rentals
RankCityArea
1MelbourneMelbourne City
2MelbourneStonnington – West
3MelbourneGlen Eira
4SydneySydney Inner City
5SydneyNorth Sydney – Mosman
6MelbourneMonash
7MelbourneBrunswick – Coburg
8SydneyChatswood – Lane Cove
9SydneyKogarah – Rockdale
10SydneyStrathfield – Burwood – Ashfield
11SydneyMerrylands – Guildford
12MelbourneEssendon
13MelbourneMaribyrnong
14MelbourneBoroondara
15SydneyEastern Suburbs – South
16SydneyPennant Hills – Epping
17MelbourneDarebin – North
18SydneyKu-ring-gai
19MelbournePort Phillip
20MelbourneBanyule
Areas are based on ABS SA3 geography that are located in a capital city GCCSA. These are the areas with the biggest drop in estimated number of vacant rentals.

Outside of the big cities, vacancy rates remain very low, with areas such as Orange in NSW, Shepparton in Victoria and the Whitsundays in Queensland among 25 regional areas that recorded a vacancy rate of 0.2 per cent or less.

Smaller regional markets were traditionally tighter, Dr Powell said but had seen vacancy rates fall further over the past year as more Australians looked to make a sea or tree change due to the rise of remote working during the pandemic.

While some tree and sea-changers could potentially return to capital cities in the coming months, vacancy rates would likely remain tight in many regional markets, Dr Powell said.

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The cost of renting in Brisbane reaches record levels, outstrips Melbourne prices


For the first time in years, it now costs more to rent a home in Brisbane than Melbourne, with mass migration and a near two-decade low vacancy rate shooting median asking prices to record heights.

Amid tales of tenant bidding wars and rejected applicants reduced to tears, the latest Domain Rent Report, released Thursday, revealed the average weekly asking price for a house in the Queensland capital soared by almost 8 per cent to an unprecedented $440 per week over the past 12 months – and by 3.5 per cent over the past quarter alone.

The price hike means the average Brisbane tenant is now paying $10 more a week than their Melbourne counterpart for a house, and $25 more a week for a unit after prices for the latter rose by a slightly more modest 3.9 per cent over the year to a record-breaking $400 per week.

Domain senior research analyst Nicola Powell said the report marked a sharp turnaround for the city, with houses, in particular, marking the steepest annual increase in rent prices since 2008 following three strong consecutive quarters of rent gains.

“Melbourne house rents have been higher than Brisbane’s since about 2016 so what we’ve really seen in Brisbane since mid-2020 is an acceleration in asking rents and this really goes against what was happening in the lead up [to the pandemic],” Dr Powell said.

“They had relatively flatlined since 2013.”

Dr Powell said while Queensland had always been a hot destination for interstate migrants, the pandemic and the possibility of remote working had fuelled the trend with the annual number of Australians moving to the state hitting its highest level since 2006.

“Tenants will find less choice, with the pool of available rentals shrinking by one-third compared to last year, pushing Brisbane’s vacancy rate to a multi-year low,” she said.

“House and unit rents held steady or increased in all regions across Greater Brisbane over the March quarter, apart from unit rents in Ipswich sliding a mere $5 a week. Annually, the biggest jump in asking rent was recorded for houses in Brisbane’s north and Moreton Bay North, the steepest annual increase since 2008, up 6.8 per cent and 6.7 per cent annually.”

While rent prices indeed soared across most parts of the city it was the capital’s family-friendly pockets in the middle and even outer rings that shone brightest, with houses in Bald Hills and Everton Park enjoying the biggest annual price rise after surging 10.6 per cent to $520 per week.

Hot on their heels were Kenmore, Brookfield and Moggill, where median asking prices for houses shot up by 8.2 per cent over the same period to an unprecedented $595 per week – a rental price equal only to houses in the inner-city west region.

It’s a rare rental boom that Aurora Realty Brisbane leasing manager Abi Harrington said was reaching eye-watering levels – with their agency currently managing 100,000 tenants actively seeking a home.

“We’ve gone from houses taking three weeks to rent out, to three days and even down to three hours [in the past quarter],” Ms Harrington said.

“You wouldn’t believe the gifts I have received (from desperate tenants) from gin, to flowers to cheesecake and even a bottle of champagne.

“We used to have the policy that a tenant mustn’t apply before they’ve seen the property but now we say apply first if you like the photos … and if you get approved we’ll arrange a private inspection after [because rentals are being snapped up so quickly].”

As for the soaring rents in Everton Park and Bald Hills, Ms Harrington put the increase down to tenants being simply priced out of Brisbane’s more expensive inner pockets, with houses in quiet suburbs boasting a good school catchment the number one lure.

“I’ve just listed a property in Everton Park … and in less than 24 hours I have five inspections booked in … but sometimes we get up to 15 people in the first few hours,” she said.

“This is the height of it and it’s absolute chaos. On average tenants are offering $20 to $30 dollars over the asking price but some people are surpassing that. People from Sydney and Melbourne are cashed up and headed this way because buying a house is far cheaper here and Queensland is the obvious choice as the office doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ms Harrington said soaring interstate migration was a major contributor to rising rent prices, with some southern home hunters willing to fork out $90 per week more in a move that was causing much anxiety among Brisbane residents.

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Properties for rent in suburbs like Chapel Hill and Kenmore are sparking bidding wars.

“Locals feel like they’re being pushed out … and I see this getting worse. And it’s not fair on locals living here struggling to meet that price range … and we don’t encourage [bidding wars] because we’re trying to manage expectations,” she said.

Ray White Metro West property manager Stephanie Budrodeen said with rental wars now a common occurrence in hot spots such as Chapel Hill and Kenmore, median prices, in reality, had soared beyond eight per cent to as high as 30, creating a scene more akin to an auction, with the charge being led by Melbourne families particularly desperate to bag a house in a top school catchment.

She said the pandemonium was further fuelled by the “nuts” sales market with some tenants pushed out by owners desperate to sell in a booming market, while others were forced to rent purely because there was nothing to buy.

“Two weeks ago, we just had one property [a two-bedroom unit] left on our rental roll … and that’s never happened before. But the downfall to all of this is owners think their properties are worth more than they are and this is going to make problems for the future when prices are no longer inflated,” Ms Budrodeen said.

“Tenants are in panic mode right now … and in my opinion this a ripple effect from the housing market.”

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Star Adelaide Crow Chelsea Randall is gutted to miss this week’s AFLW grand final, but hopes her clear-eyed stance on concussion acts as an example to footballers at all levels.


But it’s not hard to think of other footballers who would have spent this week exhausting every medical and legal avenue in an effort to play. Injury drama is the stuff of grand final week. In a certain men’s competition we could name, can you imagine the fuss?

Chelsea Randall (right) in action against Collingwood during the AFLW season.Credit:Getty Images

And Randall is first and foremost a footballer, a trailblazer of this pioneering era of the women’s competition, a three-time All-Australian, and already a dual premiership co-captain, which of course does not mean that she has had enough, but yearns for more. It’s why footballers play.

But as the interview shows, Randall is also a leader, conscious always of a good greater than her own.

“As much as I am gutted, devastated, sad that I won’t be taking the field with my teammates in the grand final,” she says, ” the last six months – the last 10 games – haven’t been about me. It hasn’t been about one individual. It’s been about this group.

“They don’t need me. They’ve proven that, themselves. They can get the job done without me.”

She said she would be on the boundary line, anxious and proud like a parent.

When the AFL mandated earlier this year that a concussed player sit out for 12 days, so nearly always ruling him or her out of the next game, some immediately asked: what if it’s a grand final? Now, clarified by Randall, the answer is plain: they don’t play. Full stop.

There was one solution floating around in the footy ether this week. It was to move the bye from the end of the home-and-away series to the week before the grand final. This is unsustainable in two ways. One is that the pre-finals bye has been good for the game, freshening up all teams in the finals.

The other is that a pre-grand final bye for the sake of concussion, a relatively rare occurrence, would be an overreaction. Worse, since we’ve at last decided to take head injuries utterly seriously, it would look like a work-around, which would raise doubts about how seriously we’re taking head injuries after all.

Listen to a leader with her head screwed on.

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Why Ashoka Buildcon stock is a ‘Sell’ at current levels


Continuing weakness in execution, slow order intake and mounting debt make a good case for investors to exit Ashoka Buildcon at this juncture. While the company’s plans to sell its revenue generating toll projects could be a great succour if completed, there aren’t any binding offers yet. However, the company has quite a few funding requirements in the pipeline.

SBI-Macquarie, its strategic partner in a few BOT projects, is looking to exit its stake. Owing to a binding clause in its agreement with Ashoka Buildcon, the company needs to acquire the said stake from the SBI-Macquarie fund, following its previously failed exit attempts. This was a major overhang on the stock’s performance through most part of 2020.

In February 2021 when the management announced its plans to monetise a few of its assets to fund the payout to SBI -Macquarie, the stock rallied by over 13 per cent since the announcement. The management had in their earnings call indicated that the process of documentation for the said deal (details undisclosed) would get over by March 2021. However, there hasn’t been any communication yet regarding the same. Following this, the stock price cooled off by about 18 per cent (since its recent peak in February 2021), to ₹97. The stock currently trades at 17.8 times its two-year forward EPS (Bloomberg estimates) . This is higher than its three year average PE of about 15 times . Continuing weakness in revenue generation and lower margins could lead to more correction in the stock in the coming months.

Mounting debt

The company’s consolidated debt increased from ₹5,581 crore in June 2020 to ₹5,796 crore as at the end of December 2020 quarter, largely due to an increase in working capital requirements. Besides, its existing HAM projects require a funding of about ₹165 crore by FY22. The management has also resorted for a board approval for raising another ₹550 crore debt to fund their capex plans in the City gas distribution (CGD) project. Besides, for its EPC business it targets another capex of about Rs 680 crore in FY22. Existing cash balances of the company stood at ₹541 crore (as of December 2020), of which about ₹36 crore would be utilised for the purchase of additional 49 per cent stake in Ashoka Highways (Bhandara), in March 2021. Besides, owing to pending receivables, the management has guided for working capital requirements to remain at the current levels, going ahead.

The funding position of the company, at the current juncture, seems to be entirely dependent on its asset monetisation plans. The asset monetisation plans could free up the equity investments of the company in its existing HAM projects (completed and ongoing), which amounts to ₹2,700 crore. Any delay in the plans could worsen the debt burden for the company.

The mounting debt (currently at about 14 times its consolidated equity) could also hamper its ability to garner fresh HAM projects. In the EPC segment (road construction), the firm s facing fierce competition and has witnessed a lull in order intake in the first nine months of FY21. It, however, bagged an EPC order of a renewable energy plant for NTPC for ₹503 crore during the quarter ended December 2020. With this, the order backlog stands at a healthy ₹9,152 crore — implying a revenue visibility of about 2 times its FY20 revenue. The order book predominantly comprises of road projects –– HAM based (43 per cent) and EPC (33 per cent).

That said, execution has been a dampener of sorts for the company in the last couple of quarters.

Weak execution

In FY20 the company’s consolidated revenues grew by just 3 per cent, y-o-y to ₹5,152 crore. While the pandemic hampered the revenues for the initial months of FY21, its peers, such as KNR Constructions reported healthy numbers on a nine month basis (up 13 per cent y-o-y), given the ramp up in highway construction. Ashoka Buildcon however, reported a 5.4 per cent y-o-y drop in its consolidated revenues in the first nine months of FY21. Even the toll collections (20 per cent of revenues), were down by 8.6 per cent y-o-y in the first nine months of FY21.

That apart, with slower order intake in the road EPC segment during the year, the management has lowered its margin guidance for FY22 from 12-13 per cent earlier to 11 per cent in its third quarter earnings call, in line with the EBITDA margins in the quarter ended December 2020. Besides, the management also guided for another ₹2,000 -3,000 crore worth of order intake in the last quarter of FY21 and about ₹5,000 – 6,000 crore in FY22. But execution remains key for any material ramp up in earnings for the company.

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Queensland flooding eases with seven days of sunny skies forecast, river levels falling


Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Matt Marshall said the fine weather should last for a least a week.

“There’s a lot clearer dry air over south-east Queensland now, so we’re just looking at sunshine, [and] temperatures back to normal for this time of year – pretty much for the next seven days,” Mr Marshall said.

The La Nina weather system that brought rain, flash-flooding and swollen rivers is also on the way out.

“We generally trend towards drier conditions for the next few months, and usually it’s not until a little bit later in the year that the good rainfall starts picking up again,” Mr Marshall said.

“That said though, going into April we still do have a moderate signal that we could see higher than median rainfall.” 

Despite days of rain — and with flood warnings still current — authorities are asking people to conserve water.

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