Monthly Archives: March 2019

ASX posts weekly gain as BHP rallies

Resources giant BHP Billitonis having a tough time of it lately. The benchmark ASX200 rose 1.1 per cent on Friday and 0.5 per cent for the week to 4916. Photo: Angus Mordant
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Australian shares finished the week in positive territory as commodity prices continued to lift from recent record lows, aided by signals from Europe and Japan that central banks will add to stimulus if needed to boost the global economy.

Spurred on by a 7.4 per cent recovery rally in BHP Billiton, the benchmark ASX200 rose 1.1 per cent on Friday and 0.5 per cent for the week to 4916, while the All Ordinaries put on 1 per cent on Friday and 0.4 per cent for the week to close at 4969.6.

The European Central Bank opted to leave interest rates unchanged in its decision overnight, but ECB president Mario Draghi said it would consider easing in March  if the global market turmoil persisted.

“Downside risks have increased again amid heightened uncertainty about emerging market economies’ growth prospects, volatility in financial and commodity markets and geopolitical risks,” Mr Draghi said.

Meanwhile, reports out of Japan suggested the country’s central bank could add to monetary stimulus as early as next week to counter the hit to inflation from crude oil’s slide and a stronger yen, sparking a near-5 per cent surge in the Nikkei index.

The prospect of more monetary stimulus from key central banks also buoyed the Australian dollar on Friday, pushing it to a weekly high above US70¢.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said central banks were “turning dovish”.

“This started with the Fed last week and now the ECB is signalling more easing at its March 10 meeting if things don’t improve.

“In the week ahead the Fed is likely to signal a pause in raising interest rates to allow it to reassess the outlook and the Bank of Japan is expected to either ease further or be more dovish.”

However, said Dr Oliver, it was too early to say Australian shares had recovered.

“With global growth worries likely to linger and US shares having only at a 13 per cent fall despite having more valuation concerns than other markets it’s too early to say that we have seen the low. So the Australian share market could yet be tipped into bear market territory.”

In major commodity news, the global iron ore trade may be disrupted after Vale, the world’s largest producer, was ordered by a Brazilian court to temporarily close one of its main ports following alleged environmental breaches. Futures for the raw material in Asia surged.

Aided by the Vale news and a recovery in commodity futures, BHP was one of the top performers on Friday, jumping 7.4 per cent for the day – and 1.2 per cent for the week – to $15.26 after struggling badly over the past weeks. The gains come after the miner’s stocks rose 10 per cent in London trade, leading a broader recovery rally in the sector.

Rio Tinto rose 3.3 per cent for the day and 0.3 per cent for the week to $39.65 and Fortescue also rallied hard, adding 6.2 per cent for the day, but finishing flat for the week, to $1.54.

The banks were lower for the week: Westpac 3.7 per cent to $29.93, National Australia Bank 0.3 per cent to $26.92 and Commonwealth Bank 2.9 per cent to $76.56, while ANZ Bank slumped 6.2 per cent to $23.35 on talk of a possible dividend cut.

Shares in Medibank Private rocketed 11.6 per cent for the day and 16.2 per cent for the week to $2.50  after the insurance giant upgraded its full year profit forecast.

Medibank Private says its full year operating profit is expected to exceed $470 million, $100 million above its previous guidance. This comes after unaudited figures show an operating profit of $270 million for the six months to December 31. Medibank said it had saved more money than expected by clamping down on improper claims.

The week’s best ASX200 performer was Treasury Wine Estates, after the Penfolds-maker’s half-year earnings exceeded expectations, boosted by strong demand in Asia.

Treasury Wine shares soared 17.5 per cent for the day and 19.7 per cent for the week to $9.28.

Treasury Wine said that pre-tax earnings in the six months to December are expected to be between $140 million and $150 million, beating market expectations of $120 million.

“Our Asia business performance is particularly pleasing as we benefited from increased shipments to the region ahead of Chinese New Year in February,” chief executive Michael Clarke said.

Full-year earnings are now expected to be at the upper end of Treasury Wine’s forecast range of $270 million to $290 million.

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Kidman sale imminent with Shanghai Pengxin Group in box seat

Australia’s biggest cattle station is expected to be sold to Shanghai Pengxin Group. Photo: Glenn CampbellThe federal government is poised to wave through the high-profile sale of Australia’s largest private landholding, the S. Kidman & Co farm portfolio, after blocking the deal in November on national security grounds.
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Chinese conglomerate Shanghai Pengxin Group is understood to have edged out other rival bidders including firms from China and Hong Kong, as well as a Canadian teachers’ pension fund. The sale, believed to be worth around $300 million, could be announced as early as next week, sources close to the deal said.

As foreshadowed by Fairfax Media, the revised deal sees the world’s largest cattle farm, the 24,000 square-kilometre Anna Creek, carved out from the sale in an effort to appease Treasurer Scott Morrison. The sale price reflects a $50 million valuation of Anna Creek.

The Treasurer blocked the original deal over concerns of Anna Creek’s proximity to a weapons testing range in the Woomera Prohibited Area. Foreign bidders have also secured Australian partners as a condition of the bid.

The carve-out is understood to have satisfied Foreign Investment Review Board concerns, but the deal remains subject to final government approval.

Kidman’s assets comprise a string of 10 cattle stations straddling three states, altogether occupying 2.5 per cent of Australian agricultural land. Even excluding Anna Creek, the land changing hands is around the size of the Czech Republic, or more than double that of Belgium.

The sheer geographic scale of the asset, and sensitivity toward Chinese investment, has seen the deal emerge as a major foreign investment test for the Turnbull government.

Pengxin, a frontrunner in November along with a number of other competing Chinese bids, was understood to have questioned the national security grounds raised by the Turnbull government, given it was only flagged very late in the FIRB process.

Chinese bidders believed it had more to do with the public backlash following the Port of Darwin revelations.

“Everyone was conscious of the FIRB risk at the inception but up to very late in the process the impression … was that it’s a manageable risk,” one source close to the transaction said.

“Towards the end it became apparent that view was probably wrong and the Woomera issue was elevated.

“This is after the Port of Darwin entered into the picture. Therefore it proves that [the] FIRB process is not independent and it’s very political.”

The federal government is tightening rules around the foreign ownership of what it considers critical infrastructure owned by the states, following damaging revelations late last year that the Port of Darwin had agreed a long-term lease with a Chinese company with purported military ties.

The move could potentially scupper Victorian state government plans to cash in on the privatisation of the Port of Melbourne – with cashed-up Chinese bidders also understood to be circling.

Kidman bidders made offers to carve out Anna Creek, or parts of Anna Creek, at the time of the previous application, but it became clear the deal was dead in the water.

Kidman chief executive Greg Campbell said he would not be drawn into details of the various bidders, and said the enterprise was in a “holding pattern” until the government announced its decision.

“We have gone as far as we can go practically, and that’s by Anna Creek, a quarter of the area, not being sold, and Australians being part of the bid syndicates. There is a notional reduction of land area held by foreigners because of Australian content being part of the ownership,” Mr Campbell said.

“If the Treasurer says ‘no, you can’t sell to foreigners’, then we’ll go back to the drawing board to work out where to go from there”.

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New Helloworld boss Andrew Burnes puts the focus back on franchisees

New Helloworld chief executive Andrew Burnes wants to compete better against rival Flight Centre. Photo: Daniel MunozNew Helloworld chief executive Andrew Burnes will harness the drive of the company’s travel agency franchise owners, rather than competing against them, to make the diverse group more competitive against rival Flight Centre Travel Group.
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“I think we’ll be undertaking some changes in the year ahead to ensure we align our online strategy and our retail strategy,” he said after Helloworld shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the purchase of his private company, AOT Group, on Friday. “I believe with our business that our online strategy has to be complementary with our retail franchisees.”

Mr Burnes, who is also the federal treasurer of the Liberal Party in an election year, and his wife Cinzia, now an executive director of Helloworld, have emerged as the largest shareholders in the listed company with a 40 per cent stake.

He said it was the Helloworld head office’s responsibility to hand over business to travel agents whether through the door, on the phone or online rather than to develop a separate, competing online offering.

Mr Burnes said it was also important that Helloworld’s corporate arm, QBT, which handles bookings for the whole of government travel contract, stuck to competing for business only at the bigger end of town.

“We have a very important business network of agents specialising in the [small and medium enterprise] sector,” he said. “And so we’re very careful to try to ensure that in our own QBT space we are in the bigger end of the corporate travel space and getting out of the way of our many excellent Helloworld for Business members and allowing them to get on with their business as well.” Franchise model

Helloworld uses a franchise model whereas Flight Centre owns almost all of its travel agencies. Mr Burnes said he did not believe the differing business models made Helloworld less competitive.

“The franchisees are running their own small to medium – and in some cases, quite large – businesses,” he said. “They are extremely highly motivated. They look after all of their own personnel, their own leasing issues, their own community-based marketing and brand marketing for their brands. That is something that in the Flight Centre model is completely the opposite.”

The Helloworld brand launched in 2013 as part of an effort to consolidate marketing efforts around a single brand rather than maintain the separate Harvey World Travel, Jetset Travel, Travelscene American Express and Travelworld brands.

The size of the Helloworld network shrunk by 9 per cent in 2014 and 2 per cent in 2015, in part due to franchises unhappy with the rebranding deciding to exit.

Mr Burnes said it was understandable that not all owners were happy with the brand change, but he said he was hopeful he could turn the tide and begin to enlarge the network again.

“I think if we can provide a compelling enough model … then yes I’d like to think that there are franchisees who maybe were part of it, they might come back,” he said. “And I’d like to think that some who were never part of it might come over.”

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner this month said he hoped the Helloworld-AOT merger would have a positive impact on the travel industry.

“It is important for us that we in the bricks and mortar space have financially strong competitors,” he said. “If everything works well for them it could be a reasonably positive outcome.”

Acting Helloworld chairman Rob Marcolina said the company planned to provide more information on the outlook of the newly merged group alongside its half-year results on February 24. The company is searching for a new chairman and an independent director. Mr Marcolina, an executive at major shareholder Qantas, said candidates had been short-listed and an announcement was expected within a few months.

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Australian Open 2016 rising star Bencic wins

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland follows through in her third-round match against Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine. Photo: Michael DodgeA year ago Belinda Bencic walked, barely noticed, out of the Australian Open after the first round. It was not a surprise.
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The teenager had abundant promise but was callow and unready. Julia Goerges wiped her.

In the year since she has played five women ranked in the top five. She won every match. She beat Caroline Wozniacki three times, Simona Halep once and, best of all, Serena Williams was the other one.

Serena only lost six times last year. One of those was to Bencic.

From being a qualifier in 2015 she arrived at this year’s Open seeded 12. On Friday she accounted for Kateryna Bondarenko in three sets 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 and will now play last year’s runner-up Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.

“I’m very happy to play all these big players. That’s what I play for. For sure, I will prepare good and just be really excited,” Bencic said.

“I just feel like I’m not as nervous when I go to the court any more. I mean, when I played last year I was very nervous. I didn’t really know what to do on the court. Now I’ve got a lot of confidence.

“When I go to the court, I stay more calm and really try to think more about what I have to do. For sure, I think my serve has got better, which helps a lot in the game.”

In the seemingly unchanging narrative of modern tennis Bencic arrives – with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the men’s game – as the face of the next generation. The narrative is not radically different though: Bencic is Swiss.

To Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka and from Martina Hingis before that now the Swiss add Bencic. It is not a massive plot change.

Bencic won the junior Wimbledon and French titles in 2013 and was the newcomer of the year in 2014 after she cut her ranking by 179 places to finish the year in the top 50 and came after she won her first two WTA titles. When she won the first of those titles she was the second youngest woman – Wozniacki was the youngest by 66 days – to have won a WTA premier-level title.

She made the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2014 in her first grand slam appearance and was the youngest woman to reach a US quarter-final since … Hingis, the countrywoman who routinely sits with her dad and coach, Ivan, in the players’ seats courtside.

Last year she ended the year 14th and the eyes of the world tracked her continued rise ever more closely.

“I think when you’re a good junior and you have the success early, you kind of have to learn it and you have to deal with it. You just take it as a normal thing,” she said.

“I try to really stay on the ground, stay humble. I mean, just not do everything like in press, but also let your results on the court speak a lot for you. Just mainly focus on the tennis and not on how popular you are or trying to build up your image or something.”

Hingis has helped deal with that pressure. She also follows other Hingis habits, like playing doubles in tournaments to avoid having to practise.

“No one likes to practise, I mean, when it’s really hard. It’s better to play doubles where can you have fun and still like you can try some things.”

She is still practising though, and training. She is fitter and stronger now than 12 months ago.

Since March Bencic has won every match that has gone to a third set. Friday’s was the 15th in a row. Even she was even surprised at the stat.

“Really? That’s good. That’s good. Because I was losing a lot, and then my dad and my coach were like ‘you don’t have any fitness. You have to do this and that’. Now I was like ‘see’?

“I don’t know if it’s only fitness, but also the focus and the belief that you can really play the best at the most important points and you really can’t do any stupid mistake in the third set when it’s 4-all.”

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Australian Open 2016: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga amazes with set-saving winner

It was the shot that got the tennis world talking. Down set point in the second set of his third-round match on Friday against compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert, French ninth seed Jo Wilfried-Tsonga came to the net before being forced to scamper to track down an attempted lob.
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Not only did Tsonga get to the ball, he managed to hit a crisp, one-handed backhand winner, preventing Herbert from squaring the match at one set all.

Having saved the set, Tsonga went on to win it, claiming a two-sets-to-love lead. It’s been a big few days for the 2008 finalist, who drew plaudits after assisting an ailing ball girl during his second-round match on Wednesday night.

Hewitt bubbles over

Journalists generally head to press conferences searching for no more than some good quotes to fill their stories.

And Lleyton Hewitt’s media appearance following his final Rod Laver Arena bow on Thursday night was indeed most noteworthy for the dual major champion’s rubbishing of match-fixing claims levelled against him. But while things then bubbled over, it had nothing to do with any of those allegations.

Midway through a lengthy press conference, Tennis Australia staff began walking down the aisles holding champagne flutes. It quickly became apparent that Hewitt – who was seated alongside his children Mia, 10, Cruz, 7, and Ava, 5 – was to receive a toast.

In walked TA chief executive Craig Tiley, who saluted “Rusty”. Tiley described the recently appointed Davis Cup captain as “Australia’s finest ever competitor”. He continued paying tribute to the South Australian. “On behalf of everyone in the world of tennis, our sport, thank you for who you are, thank you for what you’ve done, and also what you’re still going to do. Well done,” Tiley said.

The press conference moderator then called for three cheers, although judging by the amount of champagne left on the table afterwards, TA over-catered.

Hewitt had a sip too, although he didn’t anticipate an all-nighter given he had doubles commitments with Sam Groth on Friday.

“I saw Grothy in the locker room and he was already asking about practice tomorrow and warming up tomorrow,” Hewitt said. “I might have a quiet beer. That’s it.” Tournament Director @CraigTiley proposes a toast to @lleytonhewitt during his final press conference. #ausopenpic.twitter南京夜网/FZhFk1Gl9o— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2016

Bruce, alrighty

Their presence at the press conference wasn’t the first time the Hewitt kids were in the public eye on Thursday night.

Hewitt was caught by surprise when a noise erupted during his on-court interview with Channel Seven commentator Bruce McAvaney. He turned to find his offspring walking onto Rod Laver Arena to greet their father. Cameras soon panned to Lleyton’s wife Bec, who was visibly teary.

Hewitt described his wife of 10 years as his “rock”, before McAvaney took matters into his own hands, declaring it would be “more home than away for Lleyton now with Bec”, alluding to Bec’s acting role as Hayley Smith on long-running Seven soap opera Home and Away.

McAvaney’s effort prompted corporate bookmaker Sportsbet to open a market on the next program the veteran broadcaster would attempt to jam into an interview. X Factor is the favourite at $4, with Packed to the Rafters at $9. We suspect that might have been a fair bit shorter had Pat Rafter not retired 14 years ago.

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