Skip to Content

Markets Live: Miners do it again

by August 24, 2017 General

Surf and skate wear retailer SurfStitch Group, one of the most hyped stocks of 2015, has collapsed, folding under the weight of two class actions, an ASIC investigation and legal action by its largest shareholder.

SurfStitch directors have appointed John Park, Quentin Olde and Joseph Hansell of FTI Consulting as administrators, just days before the embattled online retailer was due to release its full-year results.

SurfStitch chairman Sam Weiss said the appointments were due to several significant external challenges including two shareholder class actions brought by Quinn Emmanuel and Gadens, protracted litigation with the Crown Financial Group and an ASIC investigation, which had created high levels of uncertainty and hurt the company’s ability to trade.

“The administrators have been appointed with the intention of preserving value for stakeholders in the business whilst recapitalisation options are pursued,” said Mr Weiss.

The group’s trading businesses, SurfStitch (Aus), SurfDome (UK) and Swell (US), and publishing businesses MagicSeaweed (UK) and Stab (Aus & US) are unaffected by the appointments and will continue to trade as normal.

Mr Park said legal proceedings against the parent companies would be stayed following the appointments, which would provide the group with breathing space to focus on trading into the critical December peak period.

The administrators will investigate recapitalising the business in an attempt to secure a better outcome for stakeholders, Mr Park said.

The first creditors meeting will beheld on September 5.

SurfStitch shares were suspended in May after falling to just 6.8¢, a fraction of their December 2014 issue price of $1, cementing the company’s reputation as the worst float for many years.

Woolworths’ 11-month share price rally appears to be running out of steam as investors question the pace of the retailer’s turnaround in Australian supermarkets and digest the dire outlook for Big W.

Woolworths shares fell 3 per cent or 81¢ to $26.12 on Thursday, their lowest level for four weeks, even though several analysts upgraded 2018 and 2019 profit forecasts to take into account the rebound in food earnings in the June half 2017.

Woolworths shares had risen 21 per cent since September, when the stock slumped as low as $22.32 in the wake of the retailer’s $1.2 billion 2016 bottom line loss.

Until Thursday, Woolworths was trading at a multiple of 22 times forecast 2018 earnings, a hefty premium to Wesfarmers, which was trading on a multiple of 16 times forward earnings, even though the outlook for profit growth over the next three years is similar for both companies.

“With Woolworths trading on a 2018 PER of 22 times versus Wesfarmers on 18 times … we feel the market may be overestimating the likelihood of a sustained turnaround,” Goldman Sachs analyst Adam Alexander said in a report.

Goldman Sachs increased its 2018 earnings per share forecast by 4.8 per cent and its 2019 forecast by 4.2 per cent to take into account stronger than expected earnings growth in Australian food in the June half.

Earnings from Australian food fell 2.4 per cent in 2017 after plunging 41 per cent in 2016, but EBIT rose 13 per cent in the June half and full-year profit would have been up 8.3 per cent if not for the payment of more than $150 million in staff incentives, which pushed up the cost of sales.

Woolworths chief executive  Brad Banducci has given no guidance for 2018, but if the strong momentum continues into 2018, earnings growth from food will offset a second year of losses of $150 million from Big W.

Trade me shares are tanking today, down 7.1 per cent. 

New Zealand’s largest online auction site warned earnings growth will slow in the coming year as it ramps up investment. 

Trade Me posted a 26 per cent jump in annual profit as it reaped the benefits from its earlier spending on staff, product development, marketing and sales.

Net profit rose to $94.4 million in the 12 months ended June 30, from $74.9m a year earlier, while revenue increased 7.7 per cent to $234.9m.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation up 11 per cent to $155.7 million and net operating profit up 12 per cent to $93 million.

The firm’s earnings growth has been tepid over the past few years after it raised spending to reinvest in its business.

Chief executive Jon Macdonald said the years of accelerated reinvestment in people, product development, marketing, and sales, has set the company up for success over the medium to long term.

However Mr Macdonald warned that the pace of growth that the company achieved in its last financial year wouldn’t be sustained this year.  

Trade Me chair David Kirk also noted the company faces competition from global rivals such as Amazon, with the US company slated to establish operations in Australia later in 2018.

While Trade Me won’t be able to match Amazon for product breadth or on price for all products, Dr Kirk said the Kiwi company’s local brand, the trust it has built over the last 18 years and its local network economics would remain powerful competitive advantages.

Australia may not win any prizes for resisting the global slide towards worsening income and wealth inequality, but it has succeeded in maintaining its status as one of the world’s leading opportunity societies.

The reasons, according to a major comparative study by the US-based Stanford Centre on Poverty and Inequality – which Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has used buttress his attack on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s “politics of grievance and envy” – include Australia’s healthcare system, better “work-life” balance, welfare safety-net and skills-based immigration.

Above all, the report provides strong evidence that parental wealth matters less in Australia for the future income of children than in most other countries, with the exception of only Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada and South Korea.

Report author Miles Corak, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa, generated the findings by looking at the strength of the tie between what a father earns versus what their sons take home in adulthood.

“At one extreme, a father who makes twice as much as another (i.e., 100 per cent more) can expect his son to earn 50 to 60 percent more in adulthood, a very high level of intergenerational rigidity found in countries like Peru, South Africa, China, and Brazil,” Professor Corak writes.

“At the other extreme, the earnings disparity between such children shrinks to less than 20 percent in countries like Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Canada.”

In Australia, the disparity is less than 30 per cent, whereas the US and UK are close to 50 per cent.

The report poses a number of theories for why mobility is stronger in countries like Australia, including the fact that poorer households are better placed than most to provide “stable and enriching” family environments.

This may, for instance, be because of better access to basic education for children as well as the fact that children living in low-educated households have fewer mothers in poor health, compared to the US and UK.

Just a bit more on Village Roadshow’s: this extract from this morning’s investor presentation is a tad unusual. The company dedicated an entire slide to write in capital letters that the deaths from a faulty ride at its Dreamworld theme park in October of last year “COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN CONTEMPLATED”.

That statement was on page 3 of the presentation after two pages of introductions, in case you were wondering what has occupied management’s collective hive mind over the past 11 months

“Management could never have contemplated such an event,” the company added in its next slide (yes, the bolding was theirs). “The odds of this happening have been estimated as hundreds of millions to one.”

Net profits in Village’s theme parks division flipped from a $16 million gain in FY16 to a $7 million loss over the most recent financial year, a result that helped drive the halving of the group’s ordinary earnings. After write-offs, Village recorded a bottom-line loss of $66.7 million.

A heroic Mark Wahlberg and a cute kelpie couldn’t save Village Roadshow from a terrible year.

Australia’s own Hollywood film financier posted a $66.7 million loss last financial year, down from an $15.7 million profit a year earlier, driven by a big write-down in the value of its Wet’n’Wild theme park in western Sydney.

The results illustrated how the deaths of four tourists on a water ride at the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast in October reverberated through Australia’s tourist industry.

Village Roadshow’s competing Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild Gold Coast parks were deserted by thousands of holidaymakers horrified at deaths at the Ardent Leisure-owned park. Profits at Village Roadshow’s Gold Coast parks plunged from $28 million to $200,000.

At the same time, company’s much hoped-for movie hits didn’t inspire viewers. Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day, which both starred Wahlberg, Red Dog: True Blue and Power Rangers were less popular than expected.

The American stories told in the Wahlberg films about a blow-out on oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and a bomb attack at the Boston Marathon didn’t catch on with Australians.

Red Dog: True Blue, was a follow up to the 2011 romantic comedy, Red Dog, which became the eighth highest-grossing Australian film by telling the story a cattle dog living in a West Australian mining town.

Critics felt the sequel, which was aimed more at children and starred a different dog, was overly emotionally calculated. “There are marketing paw prints all over it,” reviewer Paul Byrnes wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Melboure-based company relies on popular films to attract audiences to its 83 movie theatres in Australia, Singapore, the US and Britain, and to generate profits through suppling movies to cinemas and television networks.

Shares are down 1.6 per cent at $3.8. 

Here’s AFR Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd’s take on Spotless:

It is hard to congratulate Mandeep Manku from New York hedge fund Coltrane on his pyrrhic victory in the long running battle for control of facility services company Spotless.

Manku has gone to ground and is not willing to talk about the fact that he will not be accepting Downer EDI’s $1.15 a share cash offer for his 10.6 per cent stake in Spotless.

Downer owns about 87 per cent of the target company and controls the board which will now be chaired by John Humphrey, who replaces Garry Hounsell.

The radio silence from Manku is in sharp contrast to his high public profile in April when he said the Downer offer did not adequately reflect the value of Spotless’ contracted earnings base.

He always said Coltrane had invested in Spotless for its “long term value potential”. Clearly nothing has changed since that statement was made.

Coltrane is set to remain a long term shareholder in Spotless even though there is a very good chance the company will be delisted from the ASX in the next 12 months.

Delisting is not possible at the moment because the Spotless situation does not meet the criteria in section 2.1 of guidance note 33 in the ASX Listing Rules. It says a delisting is allowed if the “number of holders of ordinary securities having holdings with a value of at least $500 is fewer than 150”.

But it is likely that in a year from now when there has been little if any turnover in Spotless shares the ASX would look favourably on allowing Downer to delist Spotless and save $1 million a year in listing fees.

Coltrane has every right not to accept but the Spotless investment proposition has changed since it built up its stake from late 2016 until early this year.

Read more here

Renewable power producer Infigen Energy has posted a sevenfold increase in full-year profit but has cautioned on uncertain wind conditions, volatile power markets and a pullback in momentum of green certificate prices as clouding the outlook for the coming year.

Net profit for the year to June surged to $32.4 million, from $4.5 million a year earlier. Sales climbed 13.5 per cent to $196.7 million on generation that edged up 1 per cent to 1487 gigawatt-hours.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation jumped 25 per cent to $149.7 million, while underlying Ebitda rose 16 per cent to $139.3 million. The underlying figure slightly beat Infigen’s downgraded guidance in June, which was driven by poor wind conditions in the autumn.

Infigen said it made “substantial progress” in implementing its strategy in the year, expanding its business and strengthening its participation in the Australian energy market.

After reaching financial close on the Bodangora wind farm in NSW in the June half, Infigen expects to build further new projects and diversify its challenges to market for the sale of electricity and Large-scale Generation Certificates.

“The plan prioritises investment in new projects in regional markets that contain the greatest opportunities for value accretive growth,” Infigen said.

Shares in Infigen are up 0.3 per cent at 77¢.

Shareholders in Spotless Group who are refusing to accept the $1.15 per share cash takeover offer from predator Downer EDI won’t be paid any final dividend as the Downer-controlled Spotless board puts the squeeze on the outliers.

Spotless on Thursday announced it had tumbled to a bottomline loss of $348 million for 2016-17 after big one-off costs of $464 million from restructuring, asset write-downs and impairments along with the extra costs of defending the $1.2 billion takeover, triggered a dive into the red.

Revenues were 5.3 per cent lower at $3.01 billion. Spotless also revealed that its chairman Garry Hounsell, would be stepping down on August 31, strengthening the Downer hold on the board.

The troubled laundries business operated by Spotless, which the company looked at selling last year, suffered a 12.3 per cent slide in profits in 2016-17 which the company blamed on lower yields and margin pressure.

Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation from the laundries business slipped to $62.6 million from $71.4 million.

Spotless, which had four Downer representatives on its board compared with just two Spotless representatives prior to Mr Hounsell’s departure next week, won’t pay a final dividend. Professor John Humphrey will become the new Spotless chairman.

Spotless paid a final dividend of 5.0¢ last year. Downer holds 87.5 per cent of Spotless after a tortuous $1.2 billion takeover bid which began in March.

Lawyers will be the only winners if a class action against Commonwealth Bank goes ahead, writes BusinessDay columnist Michael Pascoe:

Two ambulance-chasing firms are inviting CBA shareholders to punch themselves in the head and pay the firms for the privilege.

A narrower version of the story is that lawyers Maurice Blackburn and litigation funder IMF Bentham are out to profiteer by provoking one group of innocent CBA shareholders to rip money off another group of innocent CBA shareholders and further damage the share price in the process.

It’s a prime example of how the often-noble class action vehicle can be used primarily to benefit lawyers and litigation funders gaming the legal system.

The MB/IMF class action is not necessary to “teach the CBA a lesson” – the regulators’ actions and market reaction are doing that. It won’t punish the people most responsible for the CBA’s money laundering failure – they are mainly gone or going. It’s about generating fees and profits for MB and IMF.

Leaving the twists and quibbles of the courts out of it, the very-well-paid legal eagles and their financiers are seeking to punish the millions of ordinary Australians who bought CBA shares before August 17, 2015, and held onto them.

MB is using the excuse that those who bought CBA shares after August 17, 2015 and before August 3, 2017, need compensating for the bank not immediately disclosing its money laundering failure, on the basis that the share price would have been lower when they bought in. The scandal has knocked a few per cent off the CBA share price.

Ironically, the ambulance chasers’ own legal action could make the share price fall worse for all CBA shareholders. 

Go ahead, pay a lawyer to punch yourself.

Read more.

The High Court is set to begin hearing cases today concerning the eligibility of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, National Senator Matt Canavan, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts and two Greens Senators Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam to sit in Parliament.  

While the developments are intriguing, Deutsche Bank’s Adam Boyton writes, broader points about the relationship between politics and the economy are being lost. 

Namely, governments with very small majorities are typically somewhat more prone to volatility. Wafer-thin majorities also make delivery of true productivity enhancing reform more difficult.

The exact catalyst that distracts a Parliament and injects uncertainty into a government differs, to be sure, from time to time. So for us, while interesting, the current ‘citizenship crisis’ doesn’t really make Australia any more prone to political risk than it has been since the outcome of the July 2016 election. The ‘citizenship crisis’ is simply the symptom.

The underlying issue is that the tightness of a number of recent elections, the short tenure of Prime Ministers since the 2007 election, the lack of support for serious productivity enhancing reform in that environment and in many instances a back-sliding on past achievements (often the ‘cost’ of keeping minor parties and cross benchers happy) is likely to all conspire to further entrench Australia’s weak productivity performance.

We see that in turn conspiring to keep wages growth weak (in a partly post-Phillips curve world). That is, the real risk of the ‘citizenship crisis’ is that it becomes another factor that ‘locks in’ weak productivity and wages growth.

Southern Cross Austereo says it is expanding into the out-of-home market via a partnership with shopping centre owner QIC to provide content across digital screens in shopping malls.

The radio broadcaster and regional television business announced the partnership along with its full-year results on Thursday where it posted a 40.5 per cent uptick in profit to $108.6 million. Underlying profit was up 21.5 per cent to $93.8 million.

During the year, Southern Cross sold its northern NSW TV business to WIN Corporation for $55 million – $45 million upfront and $10 million in the 2017-18 year, and received broadcast licence fee relief from the government.

Southern Cross also continued its push to reduce debt under chief executive Grant Blackley and cut its debt pile by 18 per cent to $321 million, which helped to reduce financing costs by 24 per cent.

“In FY17 SCA has delivered on a number of our key objectives: further optimising our sales and improving the monetisation of our assets, and successfully transitioning our television broadcast business across to the Nine affiliation including rolling out fifteen new local regional news services,” Mr Blackley said.

“SCA continues to invest to improve our content and marketing with the introduction of new formats and the incorporating sixty four regional radio stations in the HIT and Triple M families.”

Southern Cross’ partnership with QIC will see it provide the audio visual content for digital screens across a range of shopping centres in Canberra, Toowoomba, Robina, Logan and Melton.

Southern Cross shares are up 2.7 per cent at $1.355.

OZ Minerals expects the $916 million development of its Carrapateena copper and gold mine in South Australia to reach project payback by 2024 after it lifted ore reserve estimates by 13 per cent and the board officially gave the final green light.

The company delivered a feasibility study update this morning which outlined the first cash flow from the project would be generated in the fourth quarter of 2019, after a phased work program begins in September, 2017. It is Australia’s largest undeveloped copper project.

The official green light for Carrapateena and the fresh timeline came as the company announced a sharp jump in net profit after tax to $80.6 million for the six months ended June 30, 2017, up from $29.5 million. Revenue increased to $446 million from $398 million. The company will pay a fully franked interim dividend of 6¢ per share on September 21.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Hissey said the result “appears clean” and was generally in line with EBITDA estimates.

He said the formal go-ahead for Carrapateena and its updated financial metrics will have a much bigger influence on the share price than the first half results, given there had been “some scepticism” about the project in financial markets.

OZ chief executive Andrew Cole said a tight focus on costs at the Prominent Hill mine and better copper prices were behind the sharp rise in profits.

He said calendar 2017 was expected to be another strong year at Prominent Hill, with copper production expected to be between 105,000 to 115,000 tonnes.

The company’s confidence in the economics and robustness of the Carrapateena project had gathered momentum, with the net present value of the project having risen by 18 per cent to $910 million in the latest update of the feasibility study.

OZ Minerals has $625 million in cash on its books and no debt.

OZ chairman Rebecca McGrath said the Carrapateena development could be funded from cash on hand and expected cash flow from the Prominent Hill mine without the need for debt, and with the current dividend policy maintained.

OZ Minerals shares are up 2.3 per cent at $8.96.

The Australian market is down 3 points 5724 in early trading, after a weak lead from overseas markets and as the banks trade lower, with CBA down 0.7 per cent. The Australian dollar is trading at US79.1¢ in early moves.

A buoyant mining sector is giving the index a helping hand and earnings are also a key driver. Here are today’s earnings-related movers:

  • Ardent Leisure +0.3%
  • Here, There, Everywhere (APN) -4.7%
  • Altium +0.2%
  • Alumina +4.7%
  • Flight Centre +8.2
  • MYOB Group -1.2%
  • Oz Minerals +1.5%
  • Resolute +0.9%
  • South32 +3.3%
  • Southern Cross Media +2.3%
  • Nine Entertainment Co +3.7%
  • Scentre -1.4%
  • Santos 0.0%
  • Village Roadshow 0.8%
  • Perpetual +2.7%

It’s back to the black for South32:

South32 took advantage of stronger commodity prices in 2017 to push itself back into the black with a $US1.2 billion net ($1.5 billion) profit for the year the year-earlier net loss of $US1.6 billion.

Revenue rose 20 per cent to $US7 billion while underlying earnings before interest and taxes quadrupled to $US1.6 billion.

“The combination of our high operating leverage and stronger commodity prices delivered a substantial increase in financial performance,” chief executive Graham Kerr said.

“Free cash flow more than tripled to $US1.9 billion and we finished the year with a net cash balance of $US1.6 billion.

South32 declared a final fully franked dividend of US6.4c per share to be paid on October 12 to shareholders on record at September 15.

The dividend is worth a total $US334 million or about 50 per cent of South32’s underlying earnings in the second half.

Scentre Group, the country’s largest property trust and the owner and operator of Westfield malls, is on track to deliver full-year earnings growth of 4.25 per cent.

The retail giant reconfirmed its full-year guidance after booking interim funds from operations of $638 million, representing 12.01 cents per security, up 3.5 per cent.

The FFO figure is used in the property sector for earnings.

Statutory profit for the group in 2017 first half was $1.4 billion, including $929 million of revaluation.

Scentre has paid out distribution of 10.86 cents per security, up 2 per cent in the first half. It has forecast distribution growth of 2 per cent to 21.73 cents per security for the full year.

“Scentre Group is very pleased with these first-half results, which highlight strong operating performance and reflect the benefit of our strategic focus on delivering long-term sustainable growth,” said chief executive Peter Allen.

The earnings result was drive by a rise in comparable net operating income of 2.6 per cent for the first half.

Comparable specialty sales in the portfolio – a key metric watched closely by analysts – grew 2 per cent over the past 12 months.

But it slowed to 1.5 per cent for the six month period. Releasing spreads, another key metric, fell 2.6 per cent.

Strong sales growth was seen in the food retail, food dining, technology and appliances and retail services categories.

Rising equity markets and growth in its private wealth business have seen fund manager Perpetual increase net profit by 4 per cent to $137.3 million in 2016-17.

A fully-franked final dividend of $1.35 a share will be paid on September 29, up from $1.30 a share, taking total dividends to $2.65 a share.

The $31 billion Perpetual Investments posted pre-tax profit of $116.5 million, down 1 per cent.

“We are pleased our financial performance and the strength of our business [has] allowed for an increased final dividend,” chief executive Geoff Lloyd said in a statement.


Despite all the smoke and mirrors surrounding Washington, markets are languorous, writes IG analyst John Kicklighter:

The US equity indexes were virtually unchanged through the past trading session. Not only did the close over close barely register, but the day seemed to carve out no range at all. Had it not been for the gap lower on the New York session open, we would have thought it were a holiday.

Some would say that we are in the middle of the ‘Summer Doldrums’ that frequently sees the final two weeks of August drag along with virtually no movement at all. However, that would be be ignoring the feel of unease that is clear just beneath the surface. Resting volatility – the moving average of the VIX – is holding well above the completely deflated levels of late July / early August. Further, we have seen too many sudden jerks higher in activity measures to find any serious comfort. This is not a US phenomenon only. Global equity investors should remain wary.

 From political risk to monetary policy, the top event risk moving forward is the three day ‘symposium’ hosted by the Federal Reserve’s Kansas City branch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming from August 24 to 26. This event carries market moving potential even in the most mundane of conditions – and our environment is far from that.

There are a number of areas of concern in this event that traders should watch. For the short-term speculative sighted, the views of the Fed’s policy bearings versus say the ECB’s (the group’s President is due to speak at the event on Friday) can leverage a clear move in EUR/USD. However, big picture, the importance for this event is reflection on protectionism, the collective downshift in monetary policy towards dovish bearings this past month and the question of effectiveness in monetary policy having already hit the floor.

Read more.

The competition watchdog has given the green light to a takeover of Network Ten by Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, shaking off concerns about News Corporation gaining a greater stranglehold in the Australian media market.

Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon lobbed a conditional bid for Ten last Friday along with Oaktree Capital Management and Anchorage Capital Group. The pair are still prevented from purchased the free-to-air broadcaster by media ownership regulations.

The government is trying to remove the laws which prevent Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon from buying Ten but has so far been unsuccessful, failing to come to an agreement with crossbench Senators last week.

Parliament resumes on September 4, so it will be up to Ten’s receiver PPB to make a choice about pushing back a potential sale.

Mr Gordon cannot buy Ten because of the “reach rule”, which prevents a television network from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population.

Mr Murdoch cannot buy Ten because of the “two-out-of-three rule”, which prevents the ownership of a newspaper, TV network and radio station in the same market.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Thursday said it would not oppose the 50-50 takeover of Ten, the home of Masterchef and Survivor, by the private investment vehicles of Mr Gordon and Mr Murdoch.

The ACCC said it had no concerns about Mr Gordon’s involvement in the transaction – as owner of regional broadcaster WIN Corporation and affiliate partner of Ten it’s audience and advertisers had no crossover.

However, Mr Murdoch as co-chairman of News Corporation, which has a large array of media assets across Australia, was subject to examination.

“The ACCC is not oblivious to the fact that significant influence can be exerted through partial shareholdings and family connections, however the ACCC did take into consideration that this is a proposed 50 per cent acquisition by Illyria [Mr Murdoch’s investment vehicle],” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

Across the Tasman, in the only notable local economic news of the day, data showed that New Zealand posted a July monthly trade surplus for the first time in five years as a recovery in dairy export prices helped boost exports,

July’s trade surplus of NZ$85 million reported by Statistics New Zealand was a far cry from July 2016’s NZ$351 million deficit, which was in part due to the importation of a large aircraft.

“July months are typically deficits,” said Tehseen Islam, an overseas trade manager at the Ministry of Trade.

“This is the first July surplus since 2012 and only the 11th July surplus since 1960.”

Exports jumped 17 percent in July versus a year ago, led by higher prices across commodities, particularly milk powder, butter and cheese.

International dairy prices at auctions rose sharply in the second half of 2016, but have moderated in recent months after a rally earlier this year.