License article

After a long hold, Telstra investors are finally ahead

Telstra shares briefly touched $3.60 yesterday, finally regaining the ground lost since the Future Fund began selling down its holding in August 2009.

As Insider has recorded, Telstra is sucking in money from punters happy to buy it for the comparatively generous, and reliable, yield of 28ยข a share each year - particularly after the Reserve Bank's rate cut earlier this week.

Had the interest rate cut not coincided with a less than glorious bank profit reporting season, bank shares might also have been benefiting from the yield chasers.

Oddly enough, it was the former Commonwealth banker David Murray who, as chairman of the Future Fund, drove the reduction of its legacy 2.1 billion Telstra shares to a bare 100 million.

The fund, and Murray, have always asserted that the selldown was controlled, and it was market conditions and the telco's own performance that suppressed its price performance over the disposal period.

Still, Telstra shares were parked about $3.60 before the fund executed the first official sale of part of its holding in 2009, when 684.4 million shares were sold to institutional investors at $3.47 each.


The fund's best prices achieved for its Telstra shares were when it fulfilled agreements with Telstra to sell stock to the company to support its dividend reinvestment plan for other shareholders - it averaged $4.28 a share and reaped more than $540 million on those transactions in the 2008 financial year.

The fund did say, when it had finished selling, that its total return was $9.37 billion over the life of its investment.

That included dividend income as well as the dividend reinvestment plan sales. Scratchings on the back of Insider's envelope estimate that the fund reaped close to $2.1 billion in dividends over the years.

Pull out that money, and adjust for the big lump sales (including some at $2.66), and it would seem that the Future Fund's average sale price for a Telstra share was most probably between $3.40 and $3.46 a share.

That means those who bought the stock are also finally in front based on yesterday's close of $3.59 a share.


Shareholders in garage doormaker Alesco Corporation, who sold 19.96 per cent of the company to suitor Dulux Group on Monday night, revealed yesterday their hands on how much they sold.

The sellers were Northcape Capital, BT Financial (aka Westpac) and IOOF's Perennial. The last of those appears to have quit its entire holding at the $2 offer price, while BT shed more than 6 million of an 8.3 million shareholding, and Northcape tipped out only 1 million of its 4.75 million.

While they all filed notices roughly two days after the deal, legal beagles tell Insider the delightfully vague wording of the Corporations Act covering substantial shareholdings suggests all those fund managers have been exemplary in revealing their moves days before they quite likely had to.

A buyer of shares is deemed to be a substantial holder from the time the sale is done on the ASX. Sellers who are already substantial holders do not technically have to declare any changes until a sale is settled because they still have a relevant interest in the ''sold'' shares until they get paid.

In this case, the shares were sold on Monday night, settled yesterday, and the fund managers could legitimately have taken until Monday to confirm the sales (two business days because weekends do not count).

Meanwhile, Alesco investors can expect to see Dulux's official bidder's statement early next week.


The David Jones chairman, Bob Savage, has stepped up the rate of change in the boardroom, effectively lining up the investment banker Peter Mason to replace him by making him deputy chairman.

Mason, a comparative newcomer on a board that has been getting many calls for some generational change, takes that role from the Australian Olympic Committee president, John Coates - who apparently tendered his resignation at yesterday's board meeting.

Moving directors on has always been a challenging task for chairmen because you cannot sack them. They have to resign unless you call a meeting of shareholders - and that would be plain embarrassing, long before the cost became an issue.

Pressure on Savage for generational change has become more intense since the upmarket department store group's admission just a few weeks back that its once lucrative profit-sharing deal with American Express is about to become a millstone on earnings. As if, as a retailer, David Jones did not have enough challenges.

The most recent non-executive appointee, in 2010, was the Freehills lawyer Philippa Stone. Mason arrived in 2007.

At the end of February, the former Woolworths boss Reg Clairs declared his innings closed after 13 years.

Coates's departure leaves just Savage - who has been there since 1999 but had a torrid last couple of years including having to push the CEO Mark McInnes out for conduct unbecoming - and Katie Lahey as the only decade-plus directors.

Lahey's 17th anniversary comes up in October, about annual meeting time, and you would have to suspect she might also be moving on. DJs statement said yesterday new appointments would soon be announced.


UBS Securities found at least one, and probably more, willing buyers of the labour hire specialist Skilled Group when it crossed 4 per cent of the company late yesterday.

It may not be as sexy as advising James Packer on how best to exit his 25 per cent indirect stake in Foxtel, but the Skilled dealings are fee-generating.

The former Skilled chief Greg Hargrave, son of founder Frank, has been reducing his stake over the past couple of months - but UBS has not previously figured in those dealings.

So Hargrave is either not the seller, or UBS has found a buyer happy to take some shares off his hands at near peak prices for the rebounding Skilled. Since posting a bumper first-half result in February, its shares have climbed from $1.75 to just short of $2.50 - their best levels in three years.

Macquarie Securities, on the other hand, will be kicking itself for not getting the business. The trade came a day after the Skilled chief, Mick McMahon, presented to Macquarie's annual conference.