Markets Live: Profit misses crimp ASX
Shares in The Star Entertainment Group have shot up 4.8 per cent to $5.34, with the company one of the standout movers on the ASX today.
It said the lingering impact of a slump in international VIPs hit its full year profit, with the casino operator’s normalised earnings dropping 11 per cent.
The Star posted normalised net profit of $214.5 million for the year to June 30; Citi analysts had expected underlying profit of $217.8 million.
But statutory profit – which is not adjusted for win rates – hit a record $264.4 millon, up 36 per cent on the previous corresponding period.
The Star said second half revenue growth was strong, rising 6 per cent in Sydney and 9 per cent on the Gold Coast as customers numbers were boosted by a series of renovations and upgrades carried out in the first half of the year.
International revenue, which was hit hard when a number of employees from rival Crown Resorts were arrested in China in late 2016, fell 18.6 per cent on a normalised basis.
But chief executive Matt Bekier said The Star’s strategy of pushing into areas of Asia outside of China, and catering more to high-end tourists is working.
“Our strategy of diversifying international revenues and providing a more compelling high-end tourism proposition for VIP and Premium Mass customers is showing signs of good growth,” he said.
“We are also expanding our source markets and sales teams to cover a broader international footprint – with Premium Mass guests visiting from 13 countries in FY2017 – and we continue to assess the North Asian VIP business.”
The Star did not provide specific guidance but said that trading levels in the first months of the 2018 financial year were ” exhibiting domestic gaming volume growth on pcp, driven by Sydney and the Gold Coast.
“Revenues have been impacted by lower domestic table hold rates, which can fluctuate over relatively short periods of time.”
The company declared a fully franked final dividend of 8.5¢ up 13.3 per cent.
Here’s the AFR’s James Thomson on board changes at BHP:
BHP Billiton shareholders have had their second win in two days, with Grant King bowing to investor pressure on opting not to stand for election to the board.
Just a day after BHP confirmed it would sell off its controversial shale division, addressing a central criticism from investors led by activist US hedge fund Elliott Associates, the resources giant said that “owing to concerns expressed by some investors” Mr King had decided would not face shareholder at this year’s annual general meetings.
A concerted campaign against Mr King among investors had gathered steam in recent months, with critics questioning his record at Origin, which has been forced to take a series of huge writedowns on its investment in Queensland LNG project, called APLNG.
BHP on Wednesday stressed that the decision was Mr King’s alone.
Director Malcolm Brinded, who joined the board in April 2014, will also depart the board “given his involvement in ongoing legal proceedings in Italy relating to his prior employment with Shell”.
Departing Wesfarmers finance director Terry Bowen will join the board along with John Mogford, a 33-year veteran of oil giant BP and career oil executive.
Outgoing chair Jac Nasser described the appointments as an “outcome of our structured and robust approach to board succession”.
But analyst Peter O’Connor of Shaw & Partners said on Wednesday morning that the changes were more signs of the coming “cultural rejuvenation” under new chairman Ken MacKenzie, who takes over on September 1.
“Ken MacKenzie is prepared, no doubt, after around 137 meetings over a couple of months listening to investors,” Mr O’Connor said. “Our channel checks across the global investment community suggest that the market is warming to the opportunity.”
The ASX 200 slips into the red, trading down 4.6 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 5745.50 as early gains dissipate in a session marked by another slew of corporate results.
Financials are the heaviest drag on the index, with insurer IAG tumbling 7.1 per cent and Commonwealth Bank losing 0.5 per cent. Coca-Cola Amatil is down 2.8 per cent.
Woolworths is paring an early advance to trade 0.5 per cent higher as rival Wesfarmers rises 0.5 per cent.
Mining giant BHP adds to yesterday’s 1.1 per cent rise by climbing another 1 per cent.
Of the smaller companies reporting today, Star Entertainment is up 4.3 per cent and a2 Milk has moved 5.3 per cent higher.
The New Zealand dollar is slipping a bit today after the New Zealand government trimmed its economic growth and budget surplus forecasts a month before the general election.
It was recently buying 72.33 US cents, down from 72.80 cents before the update was released.
Surpluses from 2019 through 2021 will be slightly lower than previously forecast, according to a pre-election fiscal update released today.
Economic growth will accelerate to 3.5 percent in the year to June 2018, a touch less than estimated in the budget, and will slow more than previously expected in later years.
The fiscal update still paints a picture of a robust economy as the ruling center-right National Party seeks a rare fourth term in office at the Sept. 23 election.
The National Party has promised tax relief and increased assistance for low and middle-income families, while the opposition Labour Party, resurgent under new leader Jacinda Ardern, has pledged more spending on health, education and social services for those most in need.
“There is limited room for any additional expenditure beyond what is already proposed,” Finance Minister Steven Joyce said. Anything significant before 2020 “would involve more borrowing or raising additional tax revenues,” he said.
The surplus for the June year just ended is now expected to be NZ$3.7 billion ($2.7 billion) — more than double the projection in the May budget.
Here’s AFR Chanticleer columnist Michael Smith on Woolworths:
Brad Banducci has steered Woolworths’ core supermarket business back from the brink but neglected problem child Big W is spoiling the company’s transformation story.
One of the highlights of Woolworths’s full-year results was stellar same-store sales growth in the fourth quarter which confirms the battle with Coles is going well.
Woolworths is no longer the underdog in the supermarket wars after investing $1 billion into prices and service and winning back market share from its rival.
Like-for-like sales in the June quarter rose 6.4 per cent which compares with a 0.7 per cent fall for Coles. Second-half earnings for the Australian food business also rose 13 per cent, further evidence the recovery is gaining momentum.
The problem for Banducci is that he inherited so many problems at Woolworths when he became chief executive in February last year that he could not fix them all at once.
Distracted by the exit from loss-making Masters and efforts to revive its core supermarkets business, Woolworths is belatedly turning its focus to Big W which former Perpetual and 452 Capital money manager Peter Morgan has called a “basket case”.
Big W posted a worse-than-expected loss before interest and tax of $150.5 million for the year. The latest in a string of executives brought in to fix the business is David Walker who had been acting in the role since November.
The pressure will be on Walker to outlast his predecessors and prove the doomsayers who do not believe the third turnaround plan for the business in just four years will deliver results.
The nation’s second largest private hospitals operator Healthscope posted a near 40 per cent slide in full year net profit.
Earnings at its key hospitals business were hit by softer market conditions and margin pressure as costs increased more than than health fund price increases but posted a marginal increase.
Full year 2017 group revenue climbed 3.8 per cent to $2.318 billion while group operating EBITDA rose 3.5 per cent to $411.4 million.
Statutory net profit for the period fell 38.8 per cent to $110.9 million with the bottom line impacted by an impairment loss of $54.7 million in relation to the sale of the group’s medical centres announced a week ago, and non-operating expenses after tax of $17.4 million. Operating NPAT declined 5.6 per cent to $180.0 million.
The $3.8 billion company did not provide formal full year 2017 guidance but in February said second-half growth in its key hospitals division will match that of the first half – when operating earnings rose 2.2 per cent.
JP Morgan analyst David Low had been looking for the company to report revenue of $2.38 billion, NPAT of $177.9 million and earnings per share of 10.3c. He had expected operating NPAT to decline 5.6 per cent to $185.6 million.
A final unfranked dividend of 3.5 cps was declared, and payable on 28 September, taking the full year dividend to 7 cents per share compared with 7.4 cents per share a year ago.
New chief executive Gordon Ballantyne expects 2018 full year operating EBITDA for the company’s hospitals division to be broadly inline to that of 2017.
Healthscope has underperformed at the top line in the first half compared to rival Ramsay Healthcare and analysts are hoping that Mr Ballantyne will provide more disclosure to allow a better understanding of this weaker performance.
Shares were down 14.2 per cent at $1.88.
Dominant gas pipeline owner APA Group has posted a 32 per cent jump in net profit for the full year, as it reaped the benefits from acquisitions and growth investments.
Profit after tax rose to $236.8 million, while EBITDA, the figure most closely watched by the market, climbed 10.5 per cent to $1.47 billion, slightly ahead of its own guidance and market expectations.
Sales rose 11.1 per cent to $2.33 billion. APA declared a final distribution of 23¢ per share, in line with guidance and up 2¢ from a year earlier.
Chairman Len Bleasel described the result as “solid” and said it demonstrated APA’s “disciplined growth and acquisition strategy”.
Earnings grew in particular in NSW, where APA saw a full year of contribution from its takeover of Ethane Pipeline Income Fund, and in Queensland where APA took over AGL Energy’s stake in the Diamantina power plants in 2016.
EBITDA for this coming year should be within $1.475 billion and $1.51 billion, APA said. Distributions for the full year should be about 45¢ per security, up from 43.5¢.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Johnston said the outlook “encapsulates current consensus expectations” although noted his estimate was for 2017-18 EBITDA was higher, at $1.529 billion.
Chief executive Mick McCormack said APA had highlighted about $1.5 billion of growth opportunities 12 months ago, and has since committed to more than $1.2 billion in projects, with more to come.
Those growth investments, including a new pipeline in Queensland and renewables projects in Western Australia and Queensland, would drive revenues starting in the 2019 financial year, he said.
The gas pipeline sector has been the subject of several regulatory reviews as government and regulators have sought to address the tight east coast gas supply sector.
But Mr McCormack said the tightening regulatory environment had not had an impact on APA’s guidance for earnings growth.
APA shares are 0.1 per cent higher at $8.42.
Here’s a bit more on that potential CBA class action:
The Commonwealth Bank faces a potential investor class action over its disclosure of more than 53,000 alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws, following a sharp fall in its share price when the scandal emerged earlier this month.
Plaintiff law firm Maurice Blackburn and litigation funder IMF Bentham this morning said they would investigate a potential class action on behalf of CBA shareholders, citing the hit to the bank’s share price. Maurice Blackburn said it was “astounding” the bank did not tell investors about the alleged breaches earlier.
The law firm said it could be the largest shareholder class actionin Australian history.
The action is focused on how the bank disclosed allegations that it failed to properly report or monitor suspicious transactions, and that its ATMs were used by criminal gangs to wash millions of dollars.
IMF Bentham said it was investigating claims relating to alleged misleading or deceptive conduct by the bank, and alleged breaches by the bank of its continuous disclosure obligations, relating to Austrac’s legal action agains the bank.
Each contravention of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act carries a maximum penalty of $18 million, meaning CBA could face a massive fine.
“Austrac alleges that CBA contravened the AML/CTF Act on more than 53,000 occasions. The Austrac allegations are extensive and it is astounding that the market would not be advised of such serious and repeated breaches as soon as the company became aware of them,” national head of class actions at Maurice Blackburn, Andrew Watson, said.
CBA shares are up 0.3 per cent at $78.87.
Markets have advanced in early trading, as investors take on board a slew of earnings as well as a more positive tone in US and Europe markets overnight. The benchmark ASX 200 index has climbed 11 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5761.
Woolworths shares are up 1.3 per cent. It reported underlying net profit from continuing operations slipped 3.6 per cent to $1.42 billion in 2017 as a rebound in Australian food earnings in the June-half failed to offset massive losses in BIG W discount department stores.
Insurance Australia Group fell 7.1 per cent. Annual profit climbed almost 50 per cent to hit $929 million, but underlying margins felt the sting of higher motor claims and an increase to natural peril allowance.
A number of other companies reported today. Here’s how those earnings are being received so far:
- A2 Milk +4.2%
- APA Group +0.2%
- Bapcor +0.9%
- Bega Cheese +0.2%
- Coca-Cola Amatil -3.9%
- Healthscope -13.2%
- iSentia -10.9%
- Qube Holdings +1.9%
- Sirtex -12%
- Star Entertainment +1%
- St. Barbara +1.7%
- Steadfast -5.3%
- Tassal +5.5%
- Vocus Communications +0.8%
- WorleyParsons -1.8%
The Australian dollar traded a touch lower, at US79.12¢.
Coca-Cola Amatil is sticking to its aspirational target for mid-single-digit earnings per share growth despite a 4 per cent fall in underlying net profit to $190.1 million in the six months ending June and a flat outlook for the year.
The result, which was dragged down by CCA’s Australian beverage business, fell slightly short of consensus forecasts around $194 million.
CCA also booked $50 million in one-off restructuring costs in Australian beverages, taking bottom line net profit down 29.3 per cent to $140.1 million.
Earnings from Australian beverages fell 13.2 per cent as sales and volumes in carbonated soft drinks and bottled water went backwards, offsetting strong profit growth in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and in alcoholic beverages and coffee.
CCA will pay an interim dividend of 21¢ a share, in line with that in the first half of 2016.
CCA shares have fallen 16 per cent this year to $8.47 amid concerns about the impact of container deposit schemes due to come into effect in 2017 and 2018 in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland.
Analysts have estimated that CCA’s Australian beverage volumes could fall as much as 4 per cent and annual earnings before interest and tax could decline as much as 7 per cent as price rises to cover the cost of the scheme dent demand.
Confidence in CCA’s prospects has also taken a hit from Woolworths’ decision to refuse to stock the bottler’s new Coca-Cola No Sugar variant and to delete several lines of Mt Franklin bottled water.
And then there’s this:
The bulls are back in charge, writes IG strategist Chris Weston:
A break above 2475 for the S&P 500 (the 17 August high) and we start talking new all-time highs again in the worlds institutional equity benchmark and it seems the bulls have latched on to an article in Politico around tax reform in the US.
The cynics among us would still suggest the details of the article are too optimistic, but the headline “Trump’s team is said to make strides on tax reform plan” have seemingly thrown some lift back into the market and with the main players apparently holding a consensus on a plan, then perhaps, just perhaps, the Trump administration could deliver on one of its objectives. ‘Buy the dip’ is apparently not dead.
Mining stocks are having their time in the sun and while BHP closed up 2.1% in London, we can see a strong performance from mining sector in US trade. Again, we can look at ETFs here and see the XME ETF (SPDR S&P metals and mining) gaining a sizeable 2% and this bodes well for the Aussie equity open.
USD/JPY has built on the gains we saw yesterday and clearly the market has defended the ¥108.82 low I spoke about yesterday and that seems important. AUD/USD traded as high as $0.7951 through Asia trade yesterday but has found sellers easier to come by and is testing Friday’s low of $0.7910. A close through here and the pair prints a bearish key day reversal and opens up a possibility of a move lower. Naturally in this environment, we have seen implied volatility crushed and we are staring at the US Volatility Index (“VIX”) trading down to 11.5%.
Beleaguered telecommunications provider Vocus Group’s $228 million Perth to SIngapore submarine cable will be live by July 2018 as it looks to get ahead of a rival consortium led by Bevan Slattery of Telstra, Google and Singtel.
On Wednesday, Vocus booked a $1.5 billion loss for the 12 months to June 30, compared with a $64 million profit in the previous period. The loss is largely related to a more than $1.5 billion writedown of assets across its Australia and New Zealand businesses announced last week.
Underlying profits were up 50 per cent to $152.3 million – Vocus completed the acquisition of Nextgen in October 2016 – missing the company’s guidance following a downgrade in May, as flagged last week, of between $160 million and $165 million.
Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation came in at $366.4 million, hitting guidance of between $365 million and $375 million.
Much of Vocus’ financial results were released last week after it announced the writedowns and the telco provided its 2017-18 guidance on Monday after private equity giants Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and Affinity Equity Partners walked away from making a bid for the company.
In announcing its result on Wednesday, Vocus said it planned to have the Australia Singapore Cable ready to go live by July 2018. The company had originally penciled in a September 2018 launch date but last December it brought that forward to next August.
“We’ve been able to achieve the earlier date through condensing the program of works to deliver ahead of schedule, in July 2018,” Vocus Group chief executive Geoff Horth said.
BHP has appointed outgoing Wesfarmers finance director Terry Bowen and former BP executive John Mogford as directors and revealed Grant King would leave the board, due to concerns raised by some investors.
In a statement to the ASX, outgoing BHP chairman Jac Nasser said owing to concerns expressed by some investors Mr King decided not to stand for election at the miner’s annual meeting and would retire on August 31.
There were reports up to 40 per cent of BHP’s Australian shareholder base were contemplating a vote against Mr King at the November meeting.
Mr Nasser said Mr King, who was appointed in March, would be missed.
“His experience managing through challenging industry dynamics and a complex regulatory environment, as well as his deep understanding of oil and gas, were beneficial in board discussions, and will be missed,” Mr Nasser said.
He said the appointments of Mr Bowen and Mr Mogford, effective on October 1, were “excellent additions” to the board.
“The appointments are the outcome of our structured and robust approach to board succession, and are based on a five-year planning outlook, consideration of the skills, experience and attributes required to effectively govern the business, and exhaustive global searches for suitable candidates.”
Gold weakened a touch overnight, with spot gold declining 0.5% to $1285.52 an ounce, as the US dollar edged higher and investors showed more appetite for risk.
Still, Bank of America Merrill Lynch sees gold on track to climb to a four-year high of $1400 an ounce by early next year, buoyed by lower long-term US interest rates and lack of progress by President Donald Trump in delivering economic reform.
Prices will also rise in dollar terms as a shift in economic cycles between the US and Europe strengthens the euro, the bank’s global head of commodities research Francisco Blanch said.
The Federal Reserve is not tightening as fast as people expected, and the European Central Bank is set to start tapering, “so some of that leads to a higher euro eventually, combined with more stagnant long-term rates in the US, and that’s a tailwind for gold,” Blanch said.
Bullion has jumped 12 percent this year as the dollar weakened, turmoil in the Trump administration cooled optimism over reforms and tensions with North Korea sparked fears of conflict
Meanwhile, iron ore’s recent stellar run stalled overnight as the US dollar ticked higher, with the metal down 0.4% to $US79.65 a tonne overnight.
“Caution and position squaring ahead of Jackson Hole were the dominant themes overnight. The US dollar benefitted, the euro did not,” noted ANZ strategists.
“A risk on tone across markets saw precious metals suffer. However, the subsequent rise in the US dollar did dent investor appetite for industrial metals,” they noted.
Donald Trump has assailed plenty of chief executives on Twitter, but now it appears the US President may be on the receiving end from Wall Street, writes AFR’s Washington correspondent, John Kehoe:
Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, who joined Twitter in June, appears be making a habit of subtlely chiding President Trump on social media.
Blankfein, who has 48,000 followers compared to the President’s 36 million, is not explicit and never mentions Trump by name.
As the solar eclipse occurred yesterday in the US, Blankfein mused on social media, “Wish the moon wasn’t the only thing casting a shadow across the country. We got through one, we’ll get through the other. #SolarEclipse2017”.
The tweet is open to interpretation, but in the context of Blankfein’s other recent tweets it seems likely that he was ribbing President Trump.
Last week, Blankfein, who is Jewish, joined other business executives in deploring the racist riots by Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
President Trump was widely condemned by business and political leaders for his equivocal response, in which he blamed “both sides” for the violence and said there was some “very fine people” protesting the removal of Civil War statues.
Amid the furore, Blankfein channelled a famous phrase coined by president Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most revered leaders.
“Lincoln: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Isolate those who try to separate us. No equivalence w/ those who bring us together,” Blankfein tweeted.
Blankfein is taking a risk in being seen to take subtle digs at the controversial President.
President Trump has threatened to hit Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos with anti-trust laws and accused the e-commerce giant of not paying enough tax, in the wake of the newspaper’s critical reporting of him.
Trump lashed the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant Merck last week for “ripoff drug prices”, after Kenneth Frazier quit his manufacturing council and criticised the President’s response to Charlottesville. Trump blasted other deserting CEOS as “grandstanders”.
The A2 Milk Company’s net profit surged nearly 200 per cent to $NZ90.6 million in the 2017 fiscal year with profits and revenue up strongly due to booming demand for its a2 Platinum baby formula both in Australia and China.
The New Zealand company also announced the intension of up to a $40 million on-market buyback over the next 12 months. In addition, the board said it remains open to considering a special dividend in light of progress on the buyback and future market conditions. No dividend was declared today
Managing Director Geoffrey Babidge said the company’s continued growth reflects increasing consumer acceptance of the a2 brand and the benefits of dairy-based products free from the A1 beta casein protein type.
“We are the fastest growing brand by value in Australia,” he said to analysts. “This was clearly an exceptional performance for FY17.
“China is a key focus on how we are taking this business forward. Our direct sales continue to grow.”
Group revenue for infant formula was up more than 55 per cent to $NZ549.5 million with group a2 Platinum infant formula revenue up 84 per cent and sales to China more than doubling.
Citi analyst Sam Teeger was tipping full year revenue of $NZ555 million, 2 per cent above guidance. He was expecting EBITDA of $NZ125 million, or 5 per cent below consensus.
Mr Babidge said he is very focused on continuing to grow the company.
Since the start of the year, shares in the infant formula and milk group have risen 114 per cent and it’s the fourth best performer in the S&P/ASX 200 over the past 12 months.
Markets cheered up a bit overnight. Here are some of the highlights:
- SPI futures up 32 points or 0.6% to 5745
- AUD -0.4% to 79.11 US cents (Overnight range: 0.7898 – 0.7951)
- On Wall St, Dow 0.9%, S&P 500 +1%, Nasdaq +1.4%
- In New York, BHP +1.2%, Rio +2.1%
- In Europe, Stoxx 50 +0.9%, FTSE +0.9%, CAC +0.9%, DAX +1.4%
- Spot gold -0.5% to $US1285.52 an ounce
- Brent crude +0.4% to $US51.87 a barrel
- Iron ore -0.4% to $US79.65 a tonne
- Dalian iron ore -4.3% to 576 yuan
- Steam coal +0.1% to $98.40, Met coal +0.8% to $195.25
- LME aluminium -0.3% to $US2075 a tonne
- LME copper -0.1% to $US6580 a tonne
- 10-year bond yields: US 2.21%, Germany 0.40%, Australia 2.64
On the economic agenda:
- Skilled vacancies data for July at 11am AEST
- This evening there is a clutch of European flash PMIs
- Tonight US crude oil inventories
Stocks to watch:
- Trading ex-dividend: AGL Energy, AMP, Pact Group
- Beach Energy raised to overweight at Morgan Stanley
- Cedar Woods Properties cut to hold at Morgans Financial
- Corporate Travel cut to hold at Morgans Financial
- Northern Star raised to neutral at UBS
- REA Group cut to hold at Morgans Financial
- SmartGroup cut to neutral at Credit Suisse
- Sydney Airport raised to sector perform at RBC, upped to buy at UBS
- Technology One cut to hold at Wilsons
It’s another massive day for corporate earnings. The ASX companies reporting today include:
- APA Group
- Coca-Cola Amatil
- Insurance Australia Group
- Saracen Mineral
- sentia Group
- Qube Holdings
- Star Entertainment
- Tassal Group
- Vocus Communications
Insurance Australia Group’s annual profit climbed almost 50 per cent to hit $929 million, but underlying margins felt the sting of higher motor claims and an increase to natural peril allowance.
On Wednesday IAG said that full-year profit attributable to shareholders for the period ended June 30, 2017, soared 48.6 per cent to $925 million.
But the $16 billion insurer’s underlying insurance margin fell short of expectations, dropping 2.1 per cent to 11.9 per cent, which included the impact of higher claim costs in its short tail motor businesses in Australia and New Zealand, and elevated large losses in its commercial classes.
An increase of $80 million to the general insurer’s full year 2017 natural peril allowance had an adverse impact of around 70 basis points.
Revenue from ordinary activities was down 1.6 per cent to $16.50 billion, while insurance profit was $1.3 billion, up from $1.2 billion in 2016.
For the full year 2017 gross written premium was up $11.81 billion versus $11.37 billion the year before.
“This improvement was driven by higher than expected prior period reserve releases, partially offset by a natural peril claim cost increase which resulted in an allowance overrun of over $140 million.,” IAG said in a statement.
The insurer produced a headline insurance margin of 14.9 per cent in the current financial year, towards the upper end of the revised guidance of 13.5-15.5 per cent provided on 28 June 2017.
IAG declared a full year fully franked dividend 33 cents per share