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Archive for November, 2018

13 November
Comments Off on Activism may explain the ASX’s recent run

Activism may explain the ASX’s recent run

The prospect of increased shareholder activism has shone a bright light on the Australian market, says Credit Suisse, and could be behind the local bourse’s recent run.
Nanjing Night Net

With little to no positive macroeconomic news and no obvious local drivers, investors still poured into Australian equities on Tuesday, nudging the index closer to the 6000-point mark.

News of American hedge fund Elliott Associate’s calls on BHP Billiton to hive off its petroleum assets, downgrade its ASX listing and collapse its dual-listed company structure prompted a sharp spike in Australia’s largest miner on Monday, followed by a mild correction on Tuesday.

“This BHP story has turned the spotlight back on Australia,” says Hasan Tevfik, head of Australian equity research at Credit Suisse. “Corporate law is much more accommodating here for this type of shareholder activism. That could be the reason behind the current market attention.”

There are a series of encouraging aspects that might be drawing the attention of international shareholder advocates. The lack of corporate cross holding – where a publicly-traded corporation owns stock in another publicly-traded company – and a robust legislature that supports shareholder rights are just some of the reasons why Mr Tevfik believes Australia is ripe for an influx of shareholder activists agitating for an increase in shareholder value.

“I was always surprised the biggest international activists weren’t really considering Australia, but now that seems to be changing,” he said. Shareholder jostling

Elliott’s move is the latest in a spate of shareholder jostling around the world. Shares in American Whole Foods surged more than 10 per cent in the United States this week following the news that activist firm Jana Partners had taken nearly a 9 per cent stake in the struggling natural foods seller and called for a serious reconsideration of the struggling whole foods strategy.

“Broadly you’ve seen a rise in corporate activism around the world and it seems to be appearing in Australia more often,” said Kerry Craig, global markets strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

“Business models have been challenged in the last couple of years and it’s working elsewhere in the world. It would certainly be able to work here.”

However, more broadly, experts were scratching their heads on Tuesday given Australian shares have found considerable buying support, despite a mixed commodities picture and weak direction from the United States, where shares have been drifting listlessly sideways.

“The Australian market is almost running out of excuses to keep pushing higher,” said Matt Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual Investments. He pointed to a tightening US Federal Reserve policy and a heightened sense of political risk weighing on US equities, two elements that don’t seem to be influencing Australian investors at present.

“The dividend yield is still fairly attractive and earnings in Australian companies are still robust enough so that’s perhaps why there is some broadbased buying,” Mr Sherwood said.

“But considering we haven’t been in 6000 territory since 2007, I’m pretty sure we’ll get some selling once we hit that level. We certainly aren’t that far away.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

13 November
Comments Off on Coles plays catch-up with Easter checkout promise

Coles plays catch-up with Easter checkout promise

Coles is playing catch-up to an overstaffed Woolworths with its promise to boost checkout operators for the busy Easter weekend, according to broker UBS.
Nanjing Night Net

On the eve of the second busiest shopping week of the year, analyst Ben Gilbert said industry insiders suggested Coles started to “ramp up” staffing as early as March this year following a “relatively weak” January and February for the supermarket chain.

“While this is partly due to Coles cycling stronger numbers in the previous corresponding period, the relative degree of investment at Woolworths has made it harder for Coles to take market share, requiring it to take action,” Mr Gilbert said.

“Coles’ ‘I’m Free’ campaign focused on opening about 10,000 extra checkouts across the country over the weekend of 8-9 April, which we believe was in part in response to the visible benefits of increased investment at Woolworths.”

The Wesfarmers-owned Coles announced it would open an additional 13,570 checkouts on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday this week to cut down on waiting times at its chain over Easter but it denied this was in response to Woolworths.

Coles dismissed the UBS analysis, claiming the broker didn’t visit enough Coles stores to draw any meaningful conclusions, however, its investment in bumping up staffing for Easter and before Christmas suggests the chain has identified staff increases as an “opportunity,” according to one market watcher.

“Coles clearly thinks there is an opportunity associated with increasing staffing levels,” he said.

By comparison UBS said Woolworths had “over-invested” in labour but its staffing decisions hadn’t been as “thoughtful or forensic”.

“It begs the question as to whether Woolworths has over-invested or Coles has cut too hard and is now responding via investing more,” Mr Gilbert said.

“We believe it is likely to be a bit of both … over time a more sustainable level of staff investment should incorporate a gradual wind-down of Woolworths’ labour investment, while Coles gradually invests more as it experiences mean reversion.”

Woolworths claims its adjusted its staffing levels to reflect changing shopper patterns.

Woolworths supermarkets director of stores, Michael James said it was all about ensuring the chain had team members in store, at the right time, in the right departments and on the right days.

“We have also increased team members in the fruit and vegetable section to meet the growing customer trend for fresh food,” Mr James said. ??? ??? “This commitment to team members in this department has been recognised by our customers, with ongoing item growth in fresh produce.”

Coles’ lower labour costs make it more profitable, according to UBS but the broker has forecast Woolworths’ food margins will overtake Coles in fiscal 2019 as a result of better execution across “key aspects” of its business.

“The most material opportunity will in our view be labour based on the analysis of store staffing, while we acknowledge our sample size is small, it is consistent with commentary from Woolworths management and recent (staffing) initiatives at Coles,” Mr Gilbert said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

13 November
Comments Off on Tough time for Seven’s new HR boss

Tough time for Seven’s new HR boss

Seven West Media has moved to again beef up its senior female ranks with the appointment of Katie McGrath as its head of HR for the culturally beleaguered group.
Nanjing Night Net

McGrath joins the company at what would no doubt be a very interesting time in the human resources offices of Kerry Stokes’ Seven.

The company has been racked with a spate of staff-driven scandals including alleged rampant credit card spending, alleged inappropriate affairs, as well as an alleged fraud and also strenuously denied claims staff have a case of “white line fever” on the weekends.

The most high-profile scandal was the nasty fall out of chief executive Tim Worner’s affair with junior staffer Amber Harrison, accused of inappropriately spending hundreds of thousands on the company credit card.

Allegations she mainly disputes and had said, prior to a gag order being placed on her, were grossly inflated after settlement negotiations between her and the company fell over.

And don’t forget the Perth newsreader Talitha Cummins who alleges she was sacked on maternity leave and sued. There’s also Amy Taeuber a former reporter for the network in Adelaide, who recently settled a bullying case with the company after a direct manager insisted that because she was a triplet she must be a lesbian because one in three women are.

Stay classy, as Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy would say.

McGrath, who will will report to Worner, replaces Seven’s former head of HR Melanie Allibon. Allibon left the company before Christmas – just days ahead of Harrison dropping the public bomb on Seven.

McGrath comes armed with a long HR background, a commerce degree and a psychology degree – possibly the best weapon in dealing with the morass of poor behaviour at the media house.

And McGrath is no stranger to dealing with serious corporate issues.

Before joining Seven she was head of HR for ASX-listed Enero Group – a little group that might be better remembered as the highly diversified media “player” Photon Group.

McGrath joined Enero’s turnaround team and is considered to have been vital in changing Photon from being Australia’s worst conglomerate into a slim-lined, boutique media manager.

Her appointment comes a day after the company’s appointment of former iiNet executive Maryna Fewster as director of operations for Seven West Media in WA. Bank incentives

Some interesting stats and facts have come out of the big banks’ answers to questions on notice from the parliamentary committee charged with bashing our banks (albeit sometimes with a wet lettuce).

Brian Hartzer’s Westpac has told our pollies in response to questions on notice from Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite that it did pay incentives to staff in its super switching call centre at BT.

BT’s campaign to switch Westpac customers into BT super accounts is currently subject to civil action by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. In that case the regulator alleges the program was a breach of new bank rules that advisers must act in their clients’ best interests. According to Westpac, “both revenue and sales quality components” are taken into consideration along with other measures. It’s a hell of an admission considering the bank paying incentives to staff is a key plank of ASIC’s case. Westpac told CBD it had nothing to add to its answers when we called.

And of course, Westpac is not alone. If you ever get the feeling your NAB teller is trying to sell you something, rest easy, you’re not crazy.

Andrew Thorburn’s NAB has responded to questions on notice to the same inquiry and according to the other red bank a staggering 78 per cent of their customer-facing staff are able to participate in the company’s group short-term incentive program. The bank includes the “financial” performance of staff as well as a range of other more friendly measures to determine whether to give staff members a bonus. By the count of those numbers, it appears only the branch security guard and the cleaner are the only ones not able to get a bonus.

A spokeswoman for NAB told CBD all NAB tellers “have a balanced scorecard, and financial measures in the scorecard are equally weighted among other measures, such as customer advocacy and risk management”. “We consider not just what is achieved, but how it is achieved,” the spokeswoman added. If a staff member does not demonstrate NAB’s values (like “passion for customers” and “doing the right thing”) they not only risk losing their bonus, but can face disciplinary actions.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

13 November
Comments Off on News Corp guts photography departments amid job cuts

News Corp guts photography departments amid job cuts

Executive Chairman of News Corp Michael Miller in the Emirates Marquee on Derby Day. Photo by Jesse Marlow. . Photo: Jesse MarlowNews Corp will sack significant numbers of photographers in each capital city, in the first news to emerge from what is expected to be major lay-offs in the nation’s biggest newspaper company.
Nanjing Night Net

Up to 40 photography jobs are at risk in Melbourne alone, with some people hired back as freelancers, according to sources. In Adelaide, a department of 24 photographers is expected to be reduced to just eight.

However, a News Corp spokeswoman denied cuts would be this deep.

She confirmed it will be changing its photographic model from a “100 per cent in-house model to a hybrid model where we retain a core team of specialist photographers combined with freelance and agency talent”.

“These changes are part of the ongoing process of reorganising our operations to respond to market conditions and the changing demands for how we produce and publish our content.

“This is not about removing a certain number of roles – it is about putting a new structure in place and that organisation and staffing of that new structure will be put in place by each newsroom as they see fit.”

“There will be redundancies as a result of these changes,” she added.

Further editorial cuts are believed to be aimed at the newsrooms of Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Brisbane’s Courier Mail, and the Adelaide Advertiser.

The Australian is reporting that print edition production teams will be targeted.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) condemned the cuts to front-line editorial staff.

MEAA’s media section director Katelin McInerney said: “These are mastheads that pride themselves on being newspapers of the people and a voice for the communities they serve – these cuts serve no one.”

“Cutting the very staff who tell the stories of our society’s marginalised and vulnerable – particularly those photojournalists who create the images we, as audiences, rely on to cut to the heart of an issue in a powerful, compelling and instantaneous way – has proved an ultimately futile stop-gap measure for news companies.”

The Herald Sun is the nation’s most read printed newspaper, with an average daily audience of 1.2 million. The Daily Telegraph averages one million readers every weekday. However, when combined with online numbers these papers have a smaller monthly audience than Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald, according to the latest data from Enhanced Media Metrics Australia [EMMA].

In November 2016 News announced plans to cut $40 million in costs, but did not specify how many jobs would go. It currently employs about 2015 people across its metropolitan, regional and suburban papers.

Ms McInerney said 10 roles at News Corp’s Gold Coast Bulletin were made redundant recently.

“It is fair to say that the Gold Coast Bulletin incident last week was incredibly disappointing and we asked the company at that juncture what to expect,” Ms McInerney said on Thursday.

“But they were not moving to confirm anything at that stage and were holding their cards close to their chest.”

She added that it makes no sense for media companies to target journalists in job cuts because “those are the people who produce that news and content”.

“It is not a sustainable and sensible model as more and more readers and audiences are turning to traditional outlets…in their daily news and information.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax Media, publisher of this website, recently also announced plans to cut $30 million in costs from its Metropolitan Media division, but would not specify how many jobs were likely to go. This division publishes The Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age, papers that have already been through significant staff reductions in recent years.

Fairfax already uses a hybrid photography model incorporating photographers from Getty Images.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

13 November
Comments Off on $A takes a dip but avoids a dive

$A takes a dip but avoids a dive

The Australian dollar’s 2017 surge appears to be at an end, with the currency falling in the past few weeks to dip below US75?? earlier this week.
Nanjing Night Net

But investors and analysts see little reason for alarm, with some short-term trader support for the currency keeping it from falling too far too fast.

The Australian dollar started the year at US72??, and surged above US77?? in the middle of March, capping off a period in which it was one of the world’s best-performing currencies.

But as of three weeks ago, it started to drop, falling below 75?? this week – its lowest level since January. It clawed back some lost ground on Tuesday to trade just above the US75?? mark.

On a trade-weighted index basis – where the Australian dollar is compared to a basket of currencies weighted by the volume of its trade relations with those countries – the Australian dollar rose rapidly for most of this year to hit a peak on March 15. It has since declined 1.9 per cent, giving up around half of its yearly gains. Steady interest rate disappoints

Chief economist of Colonial First State Global Asset Management Stephen Halmarick argues a shift in how markets were pricing the odds of a Reserve Bank of Australia interest rate hike has been behind the dollar’s decline.

“In early March, there was this kind of building up of expectation that the RBA was finished cutting interest rates, and if anything, the next move was gonna be up. The strength of the housing market was behind that view.

“And then, a few factors – particularly weak economic data releases – have reduced the expectations of rate hikes, and brought some discussion of rate cuts back into the equation. Our view hasn’t changed – which is that the RBA is on hold. But the balance of risks have shifted.”

After starting to price in the chance of a rate hike later this year, markets now see a 16 per cent chance the RBA will cut in December, pushing back the possibility of tightening to the first quarter of 2018.

“That’s weighed on the dollar – that’s the main thing,” Mr Halmarick said.

This narrowing interest rate differential is already playing out in some asset classes. The spread between US and Australian government bonds has narrowed, particularly on the shorter end of the yield curve. The yield spread between US-Australian two-year bonds has shrunk to 0.4 per cent – its narrowest level since the global financial crisis – making it relatively less attractive to hold the Australian-dollar dominated bonds.

Mr Halmarick, like others, does not expect a large shift from the dollar’s current valuation. “For the next six to 12 months, we see the Aussie dollar in the low US70s,” he said. PIMCO points to iron ore price

Robert Mead, the Australian portfolio management head of global bond investor PIMCO, views the dollar’s recent falls as an unwinding of its unduly elevated levels earlier in the year, which he attributed to the soaring iron ore price. Iron ore is now 20 per cent off its peaks in February, but hasn’t dragged the dollar down violently with it.

In Mr Mead’s view, the Aussie is “around fair value now”.

“From an investment perspective it means there’s no benefit to having active portfolio exposures to the Aussie dollar,” he said. It’s a relatively neutral positioning PIMCO is replicating around most currencies at the moment.

“The strength of the AUD between mid-January and mid-March looks to be the anomaly, rather than the weakness we have seen in the past few weeks.

“Iron ore prices were a major driver of the Australian dollar strength in Q1 and prices are now settling near the lows of the year. Iron ore inventories at Chinese ports are close to record highs and Chinese steel margins have been under some pressure which has contributed to recent downward momentum on the Australian dollar.”

In the short-term, support for the dollar could be discerned in recent price movements, said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at foreign exchange provider AxiTrader.

He pointed out the dollar dipped below US75?? at several points early this week. But whenever this happened, it was quickly bid back above that threshold, suggesting some buyers were viewing any dip below this as a good buying opportunity.

He was also reluctant to offer strong indications as to where the Aussie will go in the future, saying it was “a difficult one to parse right now”. “I’ve been bullish and bearish this year, and it’s only four months in”.

Still, Mr McKenna believed the dollar was more likely to fall than rise, describing it as “incredibly vulnerable”.

“There’s been a turning in the key drivers of the currency,” he said. “There’s been a mini-collapse in the iron ore price. The Australia-US interest rate differential is falling. That’s two legs of what were previously strong underpinnings kicked out from under the table.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.