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Shares eased after company reporting season got off to a disappointing start, with fund managers and equity strategists eager for evidence that the sharemarket’s recent six-year highs are justified.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index and the broader All Ordinaries Index each edged down 0.1 per cent, on Monday to 5577.4 points and 5569.9 points respectively.
Australian shares took a weak lead after major equity markets in the United States and around Europe declined on Friday night. Despite flirting with brief gains during the session the local bourse edged lower in late trade.
Resources giant BHP Billiton did the most to lift the index into the black, adding 0.3 per cent to $39.10. The miner said it is set to undertake a heap leaching trial at its Olympic Dam project in South Australia. Plans in 2012 to spend $US30 billion ($31.9 billion) expanding the mine were deferred.
Main rival Rio Tinto gained 0.4 per cent to $65.36, as the spot price for iron ore, delivered in China, added 0.7 per cent to $US94.30 a tonne. When the ASX closed Dalian iron ore futures trading in China was tipping a solid gain in the spot price overnight.
Mining was the best-performing sector, up 0.3 per cent. But while the nation’s biggest miners lifted the mood in the mining services sector remains grim.
Engineering contract services provider Leighton Holdings dropped 2.4 per cent to $22.10 after it showed a 20 per cent drop in first-half net profit. However the company maintained its full-year earnings guidance.
Mining services provider Boart Longyear rose 2.2 per cent to 23¢ despite the company warning it risks breaching its financial covenants if market conditions continue to deteriorate more than expected.
National Australia Bank lifted 0.3 per cent to $34.69 as it sold a parcel of distressed loans from its challenged United Kingdom business worth £625 million ($1.13 billion).
Among the rest of the big four banks Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.3 per cent to $82, Westpac Banking Corporation lost 0.3 per cent to $34.18, and ANZ Banking Group shed 0.7 per cent to $33.52.
And here are the best and worst among the top 200 names.
Winner today was GUD Holdings, which more than made up for the falls it suffered on Friday following a poor earnings update.
Worst performing stock is Navitas, after is full-year earnings update. Who knows, like GUD, maybe investors will have changed their mind by tomorrow.
Best and worst performing stocks in the ASX 200 today.
Shares had completely reversed early losses and looked set for a last-gasp gain, but fell in the closing minutes to record the slightest of falls.
The ASX 200 closed 6 points, or 0.1 per cent, lower to 5577.4, while the All Ords eased 4 points.
ANZ dropped 0.7 per cent and was the single biggest drag on the benchmark index, while CBA and Westpac dropped 0.3 per cent. NAB gained 0.3 per cent after it announced it was selling a portfolio of dud British commercial loans to a US private equity group.
Macquarie fell 1.5 per cent, and Telstra 0.4 per cent.
Wesfarmers and Woolies both fell 0.3 and 0.2 per cent, respectively.
Miners offset the losses among financials, with BHP rallying from early losses to gain 0.3 per cent, while Fortescue jumped 3.7 per cent. Rio added 0.4 per cent.
The catalyst for the bounce in miners may have been from Chinese stockmarkets, which looked set to record strong gains over their sessions.
Making the case for stocks: Neilson says it would take "a leap of faith" for property prices to beat inflation. Photo: Nic Walker
Billionaire investor and founder of Platinum Asset Management Kerr Neilson says shares are at least as good a bet as the property market, and it would take a “leap of faith” for house prices to beat inflation over the next decade.
Timing and the “cherry picking” of historical prices helped keep property in favour with investors, he said.
But “when conditions change, a lot of the assumptions are found wanting,” he warned in a letter to clients of his funds.
Mr Neilson outlined four factors he argued undermine the case for housing as an investment:
- property returns were often exaggerated by inflation;
- the cost of taxes, rates and maintenance can absorb half of one’s rental yield;
- long-term value is determined by affordability;
- and “to be optimistic about residential property prices rising in general much faster than inflation is a supreme act of faith”.
“Today, houses cost over four times the average household’s yearly disposable income. At the beginning of the 1990s, this ratio was only about three times household incomes... this looks like the peak,” Mr Neilson said.
“To believe that home prices in the next 10 years will meaningfully outpace the consumer price index (CPI), as they have in the past, would require a remarkable set of circumstances,” he said - low interest rates, people's willingness to borrow more, greater work force participation, and wage growth that exceeds inflation.
ANZ has joined UBS today in pushing back the timing for an RBA hike, from the first quarter of next year to the second.
The economists at the locally-based bank now expect the central bank to tighten by 25 basis points in May, instead of February.
They are forecasting a further 50bps of hikes in 2016 and a 25bp hike in early 2017 to take the cash rate back to 4 per cent (see chart) - what they believe is now the neutral (or terminal) RBA cash rate.
"Despite an expected pick-up in global (and domestic) economic growth over the next three years, we believe interest rates will not need to be restrictive through this period given ongoing headwinds from a declining terms of trade and broader caution across business and households," they write.
UBS's economists are of a similar mind. They write in a new note that they also have pushed back a first 0.25 percentage point hike to the June quarter of 2015.
"We expect moderating 2H14 inflation, and a desire to remove upside AUD risks by getting closer to a likely Q2 Fed tightening, will provide the RBA enough incentive to wait until Q2, before stepping away from record low rates," they say.
They forecast the cash rate to be 3 per cent by June next year.
With the gap between US and Aussie rates set to narrow, the local dollar could come under pressure.
In a preliminary filing ahead of the release of its interim final results on August 26, the embattled drilling services company said that it was compliant with all of its covenants as of June 30 and expects to remain compliant until the end of the year, should its assumption that the market is “at or approaching market bottom” remain accurate.
Boart Longyear has had a significant change in fortunes since its market capitalisation peaked at $4 billion in 2007.
A downturn in demand from miners caused by declining commodity prices and the cooling of Chinese demand hit Boart hard in late 2012 and the Utah-based driller has struggled to recover since.
The company’s market cap now sits at around $100 million and it is in the process of a Goldman Sachs headed strategic review of the company’s recapitalisation options, including asset sales, raisings and refinancing.
Boart chief executive officer Richard O’Brien told Financial Review that the company believes the market is beginning to flatten.
“Things feel like they are not trending down and that they are staying at these levels,” Mr O’Brien said.
Boart reported revenue of $224.1 million in the three months to June 30, down from $348.7 million in the previous corresponding period but up from $197.4 million in the first quarter.
Adjusted EBITDA fell to $14.1 million in the June quarter, from $40.1 million in the prior corresponding period but was up from $3.8 million in the March quarter.
Rig utilisation has improved marginally and O’Brien said that despite no change in conditions in Australia, a slight pick up has occurred in North America.
Exploration drilling “remains subdued” but the company noted “robust” demand for drilling at production focused projects.
The company’s drilling services division generated 63 per cent of the company’s revenue in the first half, with just 20 per cent coming from pure exploration drilling.
Boart also warned that analyst estimates for full-year revenue which range from $766 million to $936 million “may not fully reflect market conditions for demand”.
Investors look to have taken the view that "the only way is up", and pushed the company's stock 4.4 per cent higher to 23.5 cents.
Investors frustrated with AMP’s persistent laggard status may soon breathe easier.
The basket case stock of the ASX 20 looks poised for a re-rating, finally, and those of a more optimistic mindset are bracing for a potential takeover approach.
While no bidder has yet emerged, many in the market consider AMP a sitting duck given its open register, the absence of any regulatory hurdles to a merger and the staunch of negative news-flow from its embattled Life division. Yet even without a buyout play under way, AMP appears a more interesting proposition of late.
According to Bell Potter, the financial services group has touched a nadir with analyst Laf Sotiriou now predicting a re-rating of the stock, as the benefits begin to flow from a $200 million cost-cutting regime and revenue ticks up in its investment platform, banking operations and New Zealand subsidiary.
In a note titled AMP – Waking a sleeping giant, Bell Potter claims the group’s life insurance arm, which weighed heavily on 2013’s earnings, has passed the worst. There should be little adverse impact this year from lower interest rates.
If the wealth management heavyweight continue to avoid any negative news-flow investors may reap a 23.7 per cent total return on the stock, marking the end of a long-running period of under-performance.
AMP shares have already enjoyed a great run this year - up 24 per cent against the ASX 200's 4 per cent, and well ahead of the financials sub-index's 6 per cent return.
From feather duster to rooster: Shares in AMP - "the basketcase of the ASX 20" - are on a tear this year. Photo: Tamara Voninski
Not even the yakuza can stop Japanese investors in their desperate hunt for yield…
Orient Corp, the Japanese lender at the centre of a scandal over loans to gangsters that engulfed Mizuho Financial Group, sold debt at about a fifth of the premium global companies pay, as investors search for yield.
The consumer lender, an affiliate of Mizuho, offered 10 billion yen ($US98 million) of five-year notes at 18 basis points over yen swaps earlier this month, in its first public straight bond. That compared with the average spread of 11 basis points for Japanese company debt and 98 for global corporates, according to Bank of America Merill Lynch data.
Unprecedented Bank of Japan stimulus has cut local corporate bond spreads to a seven-year low, prompting investors to seek riskier debt to boost returns.
Two top executives at Mizuho resigned posts this year after Japan’s second-biggest bank by assets was penalized twice in 2013 for loans via Orient to organized-crime groups known as the yakuza. The scandal led to revelations of more lending to gangsters in the financial industry, prompting the nation’s regulator to expand its probe.
“In this environment of unprecedented low interest rates, there are few places to invest,” said Takayuki Atake, an analyst in Tokyo at SMBC Nikko Securities. “Financial institutions are having to invest in securities since their lending isn’t increasing, so they’re taking a degree of risk.”
Orient, known by its brand name Orico locally, is rated BBB+ by Japan’s Rating & Investment Information, the equivalent of its third-lowest investment grade. The provider of auto and credit card loans, bailed out by Mizuho in 2003 and 2007, was rated B+ in 2002, the fourth-highest junk score.
“There can’t be many investors that like Orico, with the anti-social lending issues and the black-box element of the consumer lending business,” said Mana Nakazora, the chief credit strategist at BNP Paribas in Tokyo. “It’s a credit bubble and this is an issuers’ market.”
Qantas has no plans to stop flying over Iraqi airspace on its Dubai-London flights, based on its latest security assessments
The news comes despite alliance partner Emirates planning to stop flying over Iraq within the next week to 10 days.
Emirates president Tim Clark said he was “not comfortable” with the security situation in Iraq given many of its flights passed over territory held by Islamic militants.
He said he had issued instructions to reroute his airline’s flights.
“We can’t do it all at once because we have got an awful lot going through it, but yes we will be doing that,” he told London’s The Times.
Qantas and Emirates have an alliance but they maintain separate operations teams and the avoidance of a flight path by one does not mean the other is required to do so.
A Qantas spokesman said the airline regularly reviewed its flight paths and made any adjustments it considered prudent.
“There is no suggestion that flying over Iraq is unsafe for commercial airlines, particularly given the cruising altitude that most, including Qantas, maintain,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the situation, with safety as our top priority.”
It is understood Qantas’s two daily A380 flights on the Dubai-London route generally fly over Iraq at an altitude of 38,000 to 41,000 feet.
The alternative routes planned by Emirates would either take aircraft across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea over Cairo and into European airspace, in a move that would add around 45 minutes to flight times, or would involve flying over Iran.
“That is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the public that we take this extremely seriously and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mr Clark said of potential threats to commercial aircraft after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was downed over eastern Ukraine earlier this month.
Increasing the flight time requires more fuel and staff hours and therefore the carrier will take a financial hit unless it raises airfares to compensate.
Australia''s richest don't take home as big a piece of the national pie as do their peers in the US, Britain and Canada.
The share of national income going to Australia’s top 1 per cent of earners has levelled out for the best part of a decade – and in some cases fallen – to erode claims that inequality is worsening.
The stability in the share of Australia’s highest income earners could continue, as the Abbott government jacks up the top marginal tax rate to 49 per cent by introducing the controversial debt levy.
An analysis of tax data by the University of Melbourne, which is being fed into a global database maintained by French economist Thomas Piketty, shows the top 1 per cent took home 7.7 per cent of total income in 2011.
That ratio has remained virtually unchanged since 2006 and is only fractionally higher than at the turn of the century when it came in at 7.5 per cent.
The data confirms an end to an upward trend that was entrenched between the early 1980s to the early 2000s in the share collected by the highest income earners – a category of around 180,000 taxpayers who earn at least $211,000 and an average of just under $400,000 a year.
The figures also show that compared to Canada, Britain and the United States – where debate about rising inequality has become a mainstream political issue since the global financial crisis – Australia’s top earners take home far less of the national pie.
For instance, in the US, the top 1 per cent collected almost 20 per cent of incomes, one-third more than was the case a decade earlier.
The decade that preceded the 2008 financial crisis was marked by massive global trade imbalances, as the United States ran large bilateral deficits, especially with China. Since the crisis reached its nadir, these imbalances have been partly reversed, with America’s trade deficit, as a share of GDP, declining from its 2006 peak of 5.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent in 2012, and China’s surplus shrinking from 7.7 per cent to 2.8 per cent over the same period.
But is this a temporary adjustment, or is long-term rebalancing at hand?
Many have cited as evidence of more durable rebalancing the “onshoring” of US manufacturing that had previously relocated to emerging markets.
Apple, for example, has established new plants in Texas and Arizona, and General Electric plans to move production of its washing machines and refrigerators to Kentucky.
Several indicators suggest that, after decades of secular decline, America’s manufacturing competitiveness is indeed on the rise. While labour costs have increased in developing countries, they have remained relatively stable in the US.
In fact, the real effective exchange rate, adjusted by US manufacturing unit labour costs, has depreciated by 30 per cent since 2001, and by 17 per cent since 2005, suggesting a rapid erosion of emerging markets’ low-cost advantage – and giving America’s competitiveness a substantial boost.
Moreover, the shale-gas revolution in the US that took off in 2007-2008 promises to reduce energy costs considerably. And America’s share of world manufacturing exports, which declined by 4.5 percentage points from 2000 to 2008, has stabilised – and even increased by 0.35 percentage points in 2012.
Upon closer inspection, however, the data for 1999-2012 present little evidence of significant onshoring of US manufacturing. For starters, the share of US domestic demand for manufactures that is met by imports has shown no sign of reversal. In fact, the offshoring of manufacturing increased by 9 per cent (see chart).
Increased competitive is supposed to be bringing manufacturing back to the, but there's no evidence of an "onshoring" trend. Source: Project Syndicate.
Headlines of any form involving housing bubbles or busts, mortgage stress or real estate forecasting remain sure-fire clickbait. Given Australians' love affair with bricks'n'plasterboard, is there a week without one or all of the aforementioned?
After a couple of prominent examples last week, releases on new home sales, building approvals and housing prices should provoke a few more over the next five days. And they are as likely as the last lot to be overblown.
Fortunately there are a few level heads around trying to hose down the worst excesses, be they on the up or down side.
They just don't seem to attract nearly as many eyeballs. Whether it's been Glenn Stevens reminding people that housing prices can fall as well as rise, or Rory Robertson wagering Professor Doom, Steve Keen, to a long walk, perspective is out there.
And thus to AMP chief economist Shane Oliver, who takes just four paragraphs to debunk the latest fears of a mortgage crisis erupting as soon as interest rates rise.
But his rebuttal also provides a reason for the chase for yield on the sharemarket to continue and it underlines the folly of retirees hoping to live off income from term deposits.
In his weekly market wrap, Oliver takes specific aim at the idea that Australia's high level of mortgage debt will inevitably cause disaster when the Reserve Bank starts lifting rates again.
He notes there were similar warnings at the bottom of the 2009 cycle that didn't amount to problems when rates tightened.
Keeping a lid on things: Glenn Stevens has consistently reminded people that housing prices can fall as well as rise. Photo: Glenn Hunt
The federal government has approved Indian mining giant Adani's proposal to develop one of the world's biggest coal mines in Queensland.
The tick from Environment Minister Greg Hunt comes two months after the state government gave its approval.
Mr Hunt said 36 strict conditions would be imposed on the coal mine and rail project in the Galilee Basin.
"The absolute strictest of conditions have been imposed to ensure the protection of the environment, with a specific focus on the protection of groundwater," he said in a statement.
"I am pleased that we have been able to apply some of the strictest environment conditions in Australian history as part of this decision."
The project would have a resource value of $5 billion a year during its 60-year life, Mr Hunt said.
In May, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said environmental concerns had been addressed in approving a project forecast to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export.
Adani's project is expected to create 2,475 construction jobs as a 300-kilometre rail line is built to connect and develop its Carmichael Coal Mine, northwest of Clermont, to the controversial Abbot Point coal port, near the Great Barrier Reef.
Another 3,920 jobs would remain during mine operation.
But Greenpeace said the project would be Australia's largest coal mine, if built, adding that the government appointed Independent Expert Scientific Committee had voiced concerns about groundwater.
The activist group's program director Ben Pearson said Mr Hunt had "laid out the red carpet for a coal company with a shocking track record".
The proposed $16.5 billion Indian-owned Adani Carmichael coal mine project in the Galilee Basin has been given federal government approval. Photo: Rob Homer
We’ve all seen the disclaimer when it comes to fund managers’ returns: “past performance is no indicator of future performance”.
Well, in a way it is - just not in the way you think.
In fact past performance is a strong counter-indicator of future performance, in that only a tiny fraction of professional stock picking houses are able to stay at the top of the performance charts over three consecutive 12-month periods.
According to a study by S&P Dow Jones Indices, 3.8 per cent of the 687 actively managed US funds who were among the top 25 per cent of managers in March 2012 were still there two years later. Only 19 per cent were still in the top half of the performance league tables.
“An inverse relationship exists between the measurement time horizon and the ability of top-performing funds to maintain their status,” write the researchers. “It is worth noting that no large-cap or mid-cap funds managed to remain in the top quartile at the end of the five-year measurement period.”
“The figures paint a poor picture of the lack of long-term persistence in mutual fund returns.”
S&P don't have anything like this study for the local market, but research by van Eyk suggests a similar dynamic at play in Australia and goes one step further: when it comes to choosing funds, to find tomorrow's winners you'd be better off picking today's losers.
Only a fraction of the top US fund managers in March 2012 were still among the top performers two years later. Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices
Shares are just about back to level pegging with Friday's close, after Asian stocks shrugged off a drop in Wall Street to hover near three-year highs, with China taking the lead after data showed a robust jump in profits earned by industrial firms in the world's second-largest economy.
Profits earned by Chinese industrial firms rose 17.9 percent in June to 588.08 billion yuan ($US94.98 billion) from a year earlier, up sharply from an 8.9 percent rise in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
Recent data have reinforced market expectations that the Chinese economy is powering through its recent soft patch as the government uses targeted stimulus measures to support growth.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent, close to a three-year high of 509.23 scaled on Friday.
China's CSI300 jumped 2.3 percent and the Hang Seng climbed 0.8 percent.
Tokyo's Nikkei, which hit a six-month closing high Friday, was up 0.5 percent.
Korea's KOSPI was also 0.5 per cent higher.
President Vladimir Putin's intensifying standoff with the US and its allies over the situation in Ukraine has stock investors pulling money out of Russia as they pile into other emerging markets.
Last week, traders took $US12.3 million ($13 million) out of the Market Vectors Russia ETF alone, the largest US-dedicated exchange-traded fund tracking the nation's stocks. The moves added to redemptions of $US90.8 million in July, putting it on pace to be the biggest monthly outflow since February.
Withdrawals from the Russian exchange-traded fund are accelerating as the US and European Union seek to punish Putin for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine with deeper sanctions intended to squeeze the $US2 trillion economy. The International Monetary Fund said last week that Russia's gross domestic product will expand 0.2 per cent this year after increasing 1.3 per cent in 2013, less than half the government's forecast of 0.5 per cent growth.
Irene Bauer, the chief investment officer at Twenty20 Investments, said emerging-market ETFs make up about 25 per cent of the firm's portfolio, versus "hardly any exposure" six months ago. But it is avoiding Russia altogether.
"We are not investing in Russia because the tail risk is too high," Bauer said. "You just don't know where the crisis in Russia is going. Political risk is higher than in other emerging markets, and the economics don't look very good."
The rear fuselage of downed flight MH17: Investors are pulling money out of Russia amid expectations of deeper sanctions after the plane tragedy. Photo: Kate Geraghty.
Andrew Flanagan outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Photo: Jason South
The American businessman recently hired and then sacked by Myer on his first day — after it found he had allegedly falsified his credentials — has been charged by Victorian police with fraud.
Andrew Flanagan was appointed last month by Myer as its group general manager for strategic and business development.
But Mr Flanagan, 46, was dismissed after Myer announced he had falsified his CV and references to get the job.
It was reported that he claimed to have been a former managing director and vice president of a Spanish retailer which owns the international fashion chain Zara.
Both companies later denied they ever employed Mr Flanagan, who was introduced to Myer by recruitment firm Quest International.
Mr Flanagan appeared on Monday morning in the Melbourne Magistrates Court for a filing hearing on a charge of obtaining a financial advantage by deception at Docklands on June 6.
Healthscope has had a subdued start to its life as an ASX-listed stock, trading half a cent down from its offer price of $2.10.
The private hospital, pathology and medical centre operator was sold at a premium to its healthcare peers, at 22 times forward earnings, against 18 times for the sector, and 14 times for the market.
It trades under the ticker HSO.
Exporters may be bemoaning the "stubbornly high" Australian dollar, but according to the Big Mac Index, its valuation is spot on.
That’s right, you heard correctly, burgernomics is a serious business, particularly in determining whether currencies are at their “correct” level.
The price of a Big Mac in America was $US4.80 in July. In Australia it was $US4.81 at market exchange rates, meaning that the Aussie was overvalued by a mere 0.4 per cent, according to The Economist’s raw Big Mac Index.
It is the third time in the past 14 years that the Australian dollar has been valued at the so-called correct level. The other times were in 2013 and 2009 before the local unit began its meteoric rise.
The Economist newspaper invented the Big Mac Index in 1986 in an effort to make exchange rate theory more digestible.
It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity – a technique used to the measure the relative vale of different currencies. In an ideal world, exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in The Economist’s case, a burger) in any two countries.
Before 2009 the Aussie had been heavily undervalued, according to the Big Mac Index. In early 2001 a Big Mac cost $US1.52 at market exchange rates, undervaluing the Aussie at 40.3 per cent.
The culinary art of currency valuation - the Big Mac index says the Aussie is not terribly overvalued. Photo: McDonald's; Thomson Reuters; IMF
BHP Billiton is set to undertake a heap leaching trial at Olympic Dam in the hope it may unlock the enormous and complex ore body in the South Australian outback.
BHP already operates an underground mine for base metals and uranium at Olympic Dam, but has long held ambitions to build one of the world's biggest open cut mines on site to tap into the rest of the giant ore body.
Plans to spend close to $US30 billion ($31.9 billion) expanding the mine were deferred in 2012 when BHP decided to spend at least another four years trying to discover a cheaper and more efficient way of building the mine expansion.
The miner is about to take an important step in that process, after confirming it will conduct a heap leaching trial at the site in the near future.
The trial will see some leaching conducted at the start of the refining process, rather than midway through the process as happens now.
BHP said it believes the tactic could have several advantages over the current refining process, both in terms of the amount of metal produced and by keeping costs low.
Under the trial, BHP will divert less than 1 per cent of the ore mined at Olympic Dam, which represents about 36,000 tonnes.
BHP stressed that heap leaching was just one alternative being considered in the bid to find a way to build the Olympic Dam expansion in a cheaper way.
''The heap leach trial is the next stage of this part of the evaluation process,'' wrote BHP, in documents submitted to the Federal Government.
The deferment of the Olympic Dam expansion in 2012 was a major disappointment for South Australia, which had expected to enjoy the financial benefits of the expansion.
The Olympic Dam contains copper, gold, silver, uranium and potentially other valuable commodities. Photo: Supplied
Workers must be willing to move interstate and overseas to where they are needed, according to key members of the Business Council of Australia.
The push is one of a suite of priorities to be outlined by BCA president Catherine Livingstone today in her first major speech.
Ms Livingstone will also release a McKinsey report examining how the economy can transition from dependence on mining to health, agriculture and other areas.
Members of the BCA said the government must invest in infrastructure and housing to make less developed states more attractive to workers.
Companies should also pay incentives to encourage the labour force to move, they say.
“Our fly-in, fly-out concept is very unique to Australia and reflects our cultural mindset that we are just not willing to move for work,” KPMG chairman Peter Nash said. “In the United States you find a much more mobile workforce, and if you want more people to move, you have to build the infrastructure and housing to make it more appealing.”
Ernst & Young managing partner Rob McLeod suggested that bonuses should be linked to whether employees are willing to move. “Business needs to think about linking incentives to mobility: if you are not willing to move, you don’t get as many dollars,” he said.
“You also need to try harder to sell it to workers.”
A report published by the Productivity Commission last month recommends the government abolish stamp duty to increase the supply of housing and help alleviate unemployment, which has risen from 5.7 per cent to 6 per cent over the last year.
“Business needs to think about linking incentives to mobility: if you are not willing to move, you don’t get as many dollars.”: Ernst and Young managing partner Rob McLeod. Photo: Tanya Lake
Drug developer Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals has received an unsolicited $95 million takeover offer from controversial, NASDAQ-listed drug company Retrophin, which has sent its share price soaring by 47 per cent.
Retrophin, which has a market capitalisation of $US281 million ($299 million), has proposed a complete takeover. It has offered either 0.175 Retrophin shares per Clinuvel, which is equivalent to $2.14 a share, or $2.17 in cash per share.
Shares in Clinuvel, which is developing therapies for rare skin diseases, jumped 28 per cent to $2.15 at 11am AEDT in trading on Monday, from Friday’s closing price of $1.68.
The spike means the stock has increased in value by 130 per cent from a 12-month low of 92¢ hit in January.
Retrophin has bought about 4.88 per cent of Clinuvel, the company said in a statement.
The bid comes at a delicate time for Clinuvel, which also announced the sudden passing of its long time director Jack Wood.
The Melbourne-based biotechnology company is awaiting clearance from the European drug regulator for the use of its drug Scenesse in the treatment of a painful skin disease called erythropoietic protoporphyria. The review process is expected to be completed by October 2014.
Retrophin is run by Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund founder who made his name taking short positions in biotechnology stocks. The 31-year-old set up Retrophin three years ago.
Clinuvel has appointed advisory firm Greenhill in its defence against the bid. It has advised shareholders to take no action.
Treasury Wine Estates chief executive Mike Clarke’s high-stakes gamble on the biggest promotional drive in the history of the company appears to have paid off, as he pushes to evade a potential takeover by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
An avalanche of buyers have scooped up a discounted $650 wine fridge by buying six bottles of high-end Penfolds wines after Mr Clarke launched an aggressive advertising blitz for the month of July, which will give Penfolds sales a fast start to the new financial year.
Under the offer, if drinkers bought six or more bottles of high-end Penfolds wine from a retailer, they could buy a 30-bottle Vintec temperature-controlled wine cabinet for $200 plus $55 in delivery charges, instead of the usual price of $650.
It is understood that up to 12,000 of the Vintec wine cabinets will be delivered to wine buyers across Australia who have already taken advantage of the promotion and bought at least six bottles of the Penfolds Bin series of luxury wines by July 30.
The high volume of Vintec cabinets taken up by Penfolds wine buyers under the offer means that Vintec will supply from the Penfolds promotion alone the same number of cabinets and wine cellar units it normally sells in an entire year. The promotion has been heavily subsidised by Penfolds, which has partnered with Vintec.
Penfolds generates about 75 per cent of total profits at Treasury, which three months ago received a $3.1 billion buyout proposal from KKR.
Treasury shares are 1 per cent lower at $4.94.
Would you like a fridge with your wine? Chief executive Mike Clarke's advertising blitz has helped boost Penfolds sales this month. Photo: Arsineh Housplan
Santiago Medina frowns as he recalls Argentina’s economic crisis at the time of its 2001 sovereign debt default, when he lost his job and took part in street protests.
“Those were tough times,” says Mr Medina, who sells newspapers at a small kiosk beside a traffic-clogged avenue in Buenos Aires. “I don’t understand why the government wants to risk default again. It’s irresponsible: people are going to suffer.”
Despite such painful memories, Argentines are poised for a default on Wednesday – their third in just over three decades. The trigger would be a missed $539m interest payment after mediated talks between the government and a group of “holdout” creditors made no apparent progress last week.
The growing prospect of default has begun to focus minds on what would come next. Economists broadly expect a recession in the country would deepen, inflation to rise and capital flight – possibly triggering a second devaluation of the peso this year.
Still, few believe the consequences of a default would be as dire as 13 years ago, when unemployment reached nearly 25 per cent and forced tens of thousands of Argentines on to the streets to scavenge for cardboard to sell to recycling plants. The economy is not in as deep a crisis as in 2001, when Argentina had suffered from a four-year recession before defaulting. The size of the forgone debt would also be smaller – a maximum of $30bn compared with $80bn.
A default is also unlikely to have consequences across emerging markets. Unlike in 2001, Argentine debt is now held by a smaller pool of investors, such as hedge funds, who are accustomed to sharp price swings and greater volatility.
Singaporean Frasers Centrepoint has declared its $2.6 billion offer for Australand as its ‘‘best and final’’, in the absence of a higher, competing proposal.
The offer, which is shedule to close on Thursday, August 7, will go unconditional when Frasers recieves more than 50 per cent acceptances for the $4.48 a share offer.
However, the shares are currently trading at $4.51, prompting market speculation that rival Stockland, which hold 19.9 per cent of Australand, may be considering a new move.
According to a release today, Frasers said the Australand directors, including the managing director, Bob Johnston, have now accepted the offer in respect of all of the securities they hold.
Classifieds giant REA Group has paid $106 million for 17.2 per cent of iProperty Group, an online property business that operates in South East Asia.
iProperty, founded by Young Rich list member Patrick Grove, has digital property advertising operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, as well as investments in India and the Philippines.
REA, which is the operator of Australia’s No. 1 property marketing website realestate.com.au and is 61.6 per cent owned by News Corporation, bought the stake in iProperty from French real estate business SeLoger.com.
“This acquisition provides us with a strategic stake in one of the fastest growing real estate markets in the world and complements our existing business in Hong Kong, and the recent launch of MyFun.com and our partnership with Soufun.com in China,” REA interim chief executive Peter Tonagh said in a statement to the stock exchange.
“The iProperty Group’s portfolio of brands are strongly positioned in each of their respective markets throughout South-East Asia.
“We understand and respect the business models in play in these markets and look forward to working with the iProperty Group Board to support the continued delivery of their exceptional results.”
REA is seeking representation on the iProperty board.
REA shares are 1.5 per cent lower at $47.29, while iProperty stock is up 0.4 per cent at $3.50.
GWA Group will divest its Dux Hot Water heater and Brivis Heating and Cooling businesses as the household fixtures and fittings provider reported an 11 per cent rise in unaudited pre-tax profit to $43.8 million.
GWA considers the Dux and Brivis businesses non-core and will consider returning “a portion” of the capital to shareholders after the sale.
The company said on Monday that it will target growth in kitchen, bathroom and doorway products, and provided a trading update and unaudited financial results for the year ended June 30, 2014.
Revenue for the 2013-14 year is up 2 per cent to $576.7 million, while trading EBIT rose 8 per cent to $72.3 million.
“Revenue growth in the traditional bathrooms and kitchens business, Gainsborough and Brivis, was offset by declines in the Dux Hot Water and the Gliderol Garage Door business,” the company said in a statement to the ASX.
GWA said its net profit after tax of $18.6 million - compared with $32.4 million last year - was hurt by a $17 million restructuring charge to the Gliderol business announced in December.
GWA that, subject to the finalisation of its audited financial accounts, it expects to declare a fully-franked dividend of 5¢ a share.
The audited full-year result and final dividend end will be reported on August 19.
GWA shares are 2.2 per cent higher at $2.78.
The Australian dollar is about as pricey as traders can bear at the moment, according to a note this morning from BetaShares’ chief economist David Bassanese.
He agrees with RBA governor Glenn Stevens that, sooner or later, the local unit has to conform to macroeconomic fundamentals and follow the country’s declining terms of trade.
This is the measure of the value of exports versus the value of imports. As commodity prices soften, the relative cost of imports rises.
Any doubts that the dollar is trending downwards were put to rest with its feeble response to last week’s higher-than-expected quarterly inflation statistics and some encouraging manufacturing data from China.
According to Bassanese, “due to valuation concerns, it seems few traders want to hold the $A much beyond current levels”.
“Given the current level of the terms of trade and relative interest rates, the $A should ideally be trading closer to US82 cents,” he says.
Can't fight fundamentals: the Aussie should follow the terms of trade lower in coming years.
Trading in LNG Ltd has been halted ahead of a capital raising by the energy junior, hot on the heels of an announcement that the company will buy an LNG project in Canada for $US11 million.
The Bear Head LNG project is located in Richmond County, Nova Scotia. The key assets, according to the LNG statement, include a 255-acre site with the beginnings of infrastructure for an eventual gas processing plant and the project rights to a previously proposed LNG import terminal.
The company says it plans to "transform Bear Head into a 4 mtpa LNG export facility with potential for future expansion".
LNG Ltd will make an announcement on the share placement to “sophisticated and professional investors”.
Three months ago the stock was trading at 64c – today the shares fetch $3.25 each as investors have piled into the company on the strength of a planned LNG project in the US.
LNG will be back trading by Wednesday morning at the latest.
Education provider Navitas's full year profit has fallen 31 per cent after writedowns to its university division overshadowed stronger revenues
Navitas made a net profit of $51.58 million for the 2013/14 financial year, down from $74.6 million a year ago.
The result was weighed down by $30.5 million in goodwill writedowns, mostly to its university programs division.
Navitas shares fell sharply earlier in July after Macquarie University announced it would end a partnership with the company from 2016.
But the universities division continued to grow despite the writedowns, helping to lift they company's full year revenue 20 per cent to $878 million.
The company's english programs division and its creative media education business SAE also recorded strong revenue growth during the year.
Chief executive Rod Jones said the company expected further growth across all three divisions and expects to lift underlying earnings to between $162 and $172 million for the 2014/15 financial year.
The company announced a fully-franked final dividend of 10.1 cents, compared to 10.2 cents a year ago, taking the full year dividend to 19.5 cents per cents, the same as last year.
Navitas shares are 2.1 per cent lower at $5.06.
Shares have opened lower, led by weakness in the banks and Woolies and Wesfarmers.
The ASX 200 is down 11 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5572.5, while the All Ords is 10 points lower at 5564.5.
The big four banks are all lower.
Major miners are mixed. BHP is 0.1 per cent down, Rio has shed 0.4 per cent, but Fortescue has climbed 0.6 per cent.
Gold miners are offsetting the falls after the precious metal climbed, with Newcrest up 2.2 per cent. Telstra has added 0.2 per cent and Resmed 0.9 per cent.
Newcrest Mining bonds are delivering the best returns this year among metal producers even as the gold miner prepares for new writedowns at a floundering asset inside an extinct volcano.
Debt securities issued by Australia’s biggest gold producer returned 23 per cent this year through July 24, compared with 15 per cent for the world’s largest extractor Barrick Gold, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index of dollar notes sold by investment-grade miners.
Shareholders have done well too - the stock is 37 per cent higher this year, against a 2 per cent gain in the ASX 200 materials index.
Falling costs have buoyed the company, which last week flagged a charge of as much as $2.5 billion, mainly on its Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea.
While the writedown may raise Newcrest’s gearing by as much as 6 per cent, the miner forecasts cash flow will stay positive after production costs fell 8 per cent in the three months to June 30 and gold rose 3.4 percent. Output expenses have been helped by a decline in the Australian dollar, which averaged 10 US cents less in the first half than it did in the same period a year earlier.
For every one-cent drop in the Aussie, earnings before interest and tax are boosted by $28 million, the Melbourne-based company said in February.
“Cost-cutting initiatives and the recent move in the Australian dollar have provided some relief,” Tariq Chotani, a credit strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said. “The company’s plan to reduce capital expenditure has also been a credit positive overall.”
National Australia Bank has agreed to sell a £625 million ($1.13 billion) parcel of distressed loans from its UK commercial real estate portfolio to an affiliate of New York-based buyout group Cerberus Global Investors.
The bank has confirmed the transaction, saying it represented a “substantial de-risking of the portfolio”. It said the sale would cut the gross loans balance of the portfolio by 20 per cent to £2.38 billion as at 30 June 2014, and gross impaired loans from the portfolio by 48 per cent.
The portfolio is part of the loan book of Clydesdale Bank, which NAB bought in the late-1980s. Clydesdale’s underperformance has been traced to its exposure to commercial property outside London. NAB has transferred about £3.5 billion worth of loans to the Australian parent in the last two years.
These loans are being sold by Morgan Stanley in tranches as part of “project chestnut”, a wider program to sell non-core assets and free up capital. First-round bids started in June and a number of hedge funds reportedly lined up, encouraged, in part, by growing optimism about the UK economy.
The positive market conditions are underlined by the speed in which NAB has run down its commercial property book, given it was £5.8 billion 18 months ago.
NAB said on Monday the transaction would result in a small gain above net book value and would release an estimated £127 million of capital for the NAB Group.
The loans included in the sale are either in default, passed maturity or near maturity.
Hiving off debt: NAB is taking risks out of its UK property portfolio.
Australia's iron ore miners will report higher profits next month, thanks to 12 months of brutal cost cutting and a huge increase in export volumes, which have more than offset lower export prices.
But the trend for higher exports to outpace price declines is set to reverse soon. The new financial year is expected to herald the start of an earnings decline for the nation's iron ore industry that could run for several years.
While the methods that have delivered better profitability in 2014 will be deployed again – Australian miners are expected to raise iron ore exports by 12 per cent in 2014-15 – most are tipping bigger declines in iron ore prices, with consensus suggesting the benchmark price will be between 15 per cent and 20 per cent lower.
The lower profits are likely to be most pronounced at single-sector iron ore miners such as Fortescue, Atlas and BC Iron, whose net profits after tax are tipped to fall by between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in fiscal 2015. That's despite plans to raise export volumes by more than 25 per cent at Fortescue and 17 per cent at Atlas.
BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto produce several commodities, but both rely on iron ore for more than half their earnings and the iron ore divisions of both are also tipped to suffer a slide in earnings over the next three years.
The outlook is rosiest at Rio, where the falls are expected to be slight, and halted by a strong improvement in earnings towards the end of the decade when iron ore shipments are tipped to explode towards 360 million tonnes a year.
The federal government's commodities forecaster, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, in a recent outlook paper on the sector, said the volume of iron ore exports had risen by about 21 per cent in 2013-14 from the year before, while the value of iron ore exports rose by 30 per cent. But in the 2015 financial year, the forecaster expects a 12 per cent rise in export volumes to provide just a 3.1 per cent rise in export value.
It's crunch time for companies as earnings season looms.
Australia’s top fund managers are hoping profit reporting season will justify rising stock valuations that have propelled the ASX to six-year highs.
While earnings-per-share growth has averaged around 7.6 per cent per annum over the past decade, the past four financial years have seen growth average minus 2 per cent.
But in a two-year bull run, investors have looked past this and brushed off concerns about a lacklustre local economy, profit downgrades, a drop in the iron ore price and an Australian dollar that keeps punching higher.
Instead they have opted to place their faith in the ability of global central banks to restore order to the world economy and stayed loyal to shares, and their healthy dividends, as record low interest rates make other investments look second-rate.
But fund managers such as Schroders head of Australian equities, Martin Conlon, said ageing populations, excessive debt levels and a range of other headwinds are conspiring to make revenue and organic earnings growth increasingly difficult to generate.
“A disproportionate amount of earnings growth is currently being driven by acquisition, buy-back and re-leveraging activity stimulated by the lure of low-cost funding,” Mr Conlon said.
“This has rarely ended well in the past, however identifying inflection points is always guesswork.”
For Australia’s top companies, the reporting season is crunch time.
Households are paying off their home loans faster as banks slash interest rates to record lows, with National Australia Bank saying 85 per cent of its mortgage customers are ahead of their minimum repayments.
New figures from NAB show a high proportion of customers in its $241 billion home loan book continue to pay more than the monthly minimum on their mortgage, putting them further ahead of their payment schedules.
In another sign of consumer caution, the bank's customers are paying off credit card debt faster, with the number of accounts paid in full rising 6 per cent in the past year.
These development have come as the major banks last week cut fixed interest rates to new lows of less than 5 per cent, while the banks also are offering similar variable rates once discounts are included.
Along with surging house prices, the rivalry between banks is raising concerns about a decline in lending standards in the $1.3 trillion mortgage market.
But, despite regulators warning about the risks of very cheap debt, NAB – which has about 16 per cent of the mortgage market – says the figures show households remain "prudent" in managing their debts. NAB's executive general manager of lending and deposits, Antony Cahill, said customers were taking advantage of the record low interest rates by putting away extra income.
"These are themes that point to the Australian consumer being a little bit more careful, a little bit more prudent in terms of understanding debt and ensuring they keep that under control," Mr Cahill told BusinessDay.
He argued customers were rushing to pay down debt because of greater conservatism and more access to information about their finances, thanks to digital banking.
NAB says customers are getting more 'sophisticated' about how they manage their mortgages. Photo: Fiona Morris
Not a great start to earnings season...
Construction giant Leighton has suffered a 20 per cent slide in first half profit after writedowns and restructuring costs offset an increase in revenue.
The company made a net profit of $291 million for the six months to June 30, down from $366 million a year ago.
That was despite a five per cent lift in revenue to $11.05 billion for the period.
The profit result was affected by $28 million in property write-downs and restructuring costs, while the 2013 result had been skewed by a one-off $107 million gain from the sale of the group’s Telco assets.
The profit result was affected by $28 million in property writedowns and restructuring costs. Photo: Eddie Jim