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iSelect looking to raise more than $25m

INSURANCE broker iSelect is seeking to raise more money before a sharemarket listing or trade sale next year.
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The raising follows the appointment of former corporate development head David Chalmers as chief financial officer last month, and the appointment of Greg Camm, formerly of ANZ Banking Group and AMP, as a director.

With its punchy ads and relatively long history, iSelect is Australia’s biggest insurance infomediary and has long been considered likely to float. The raising would value the 12-year-old business at more than $350 million.

The bid to raise more than $25 million at $18.50 a share this week comes as iSelect reported $112 million in revenue for the 2012 financial year, and earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation of $24.1 million. Both were up on the previous year.

Health funds, which insure about half of Australians, were rocked this year by the federal government’s decision to means-test the private health insurance rebate from July.

Health insiders say the consequences of this decision won’t be known until the second half of 2013, when prepaid policies expire and policyholders must choose to either retain, dump or downgrade their coverage in the face of large effective price rises.

But iSelect said yesterday that regardless of the impact of means-testing, it believed its fundamentals were strong and a sale in the first six months of 2013 was a possibility.

Health insurance provides the bulk of iSelect’s business, but the Melbourne-based business also helps people choose between products in car, life and travel insurance, broadband, utilities and home loans.

It makes money through one-off payments from service providers for the recruitment of new members and through trail commissions over the life of policies. The federal government’s Future of Financial Advice laws have banned trail commissions to financial planners.

Last month, listed health insurer NIB said that health funds ought to get used to customers chopping and changing their policies. Twenty-two per cent of NIB’s health insurance sales for the year to June came from insurance brokers, more than double the previous year.

Although between 15 and 20 per cent of people switching their policy or new to health insurance use iSelect, Australia’s two largest health funds, Medibank and Bupa, largely bypass the channel.

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

Iron ore surge puts Fortescue ‘on front foot’

A RESURGENT iron ore price should allow Fortescue to push back against its banks and avoid breaching covenants, investors say.
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Fortescue is due to come out of a trading halt today, imposed on Friday after a leaked report the previous day that it was seeking relief from its loan covenants.

One source told BusinessDay that last week’s media leak came from a bank trying to lower the price of entry to Merrill Lynch’s $1.5 billion loan syndicate.

The source expected Fortescue would shortly announce it had gained covenant relief and that Merrill Lynch had completed its loan syndication.

Credit Suisse analyst Matthew Hope yesterday said Fortescue was ”on the front foot now”.

With the Chinese government announcing new infrastructure spending and the steel mills’ buying strike over, alongside the US Federal Reserve’s QE3 (quantitative easing) program and fresh measures to gain control of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, Mr Hope said it was ”a big positive week, last week”.

After Friday’s recovery in the iron ore price back above $US101.50 a tonne, he said, Fortescue could ”push back” on its lenders.

Mr Hope said most loan covenants were backward-looking – that is, they related to historical earnings – and, given the next test would come on December 31, would be based on the company’s most recent accounts released in August, so it would be some time before any breach became evident.

But Anna Kassianos, resources and energy analyst for Platypus Asset Management, remained wary, saying the company was still vulnerable should iron ore prices fall again.

She said it would take an equity investment at a premium by an off-take partner like Baosteel, or a strategic investor like Glencore, to make Fortescue a more attractive investment.

If Baosteel invested it would show they ”really believed in a sustained recovery of the iron ore price”, Ms Kassianos said.

Glencore, she said, had always coveted a stake in iron ore and, with Mick Davis likely to lose control should the takeover of Xstrata succeed, its emphasis would shift to shelving capital spending on longer-term expansion projects and aiming for shorter-term gains.

Fortescue was a more attractive takeover target for the likes of Glencore since last Friday’s victory in the High Court, which could give it access to Rio Tinto’s rail lines in the Pilbara, she said.

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

World’s central banks shout: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

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UP TO 23 central banks from around the globe have included Australian dollar assets in their foreign exchange reserves, underlining the wide appeal the currency holds among overseas investors.

In a sign this interest goes beyond major trading partners, central banks that hold the dollar range from the National Bank of Kazakhstan to Sweden’s Sveriges Riksbank, an internal Reserve Bank document shows.

The document, released yesterday under Freedom of Information laws, said 15 central banks held Aussie dollar assets and a further eight could possibly be holding the currency. Some of the larger institutions holding the dollar include Germany’s Bundesbank and the central banks of Switzerland, Hong Kong and Russia.

Central banks that may have invested in the dollar include those of Indonesia, Iceland, Jordan and Moldova, the document said.

Central banks, which have historically invested heavily in euros and US dollars, are looking to diversify in response to the dour outlook in these economies.

Chief currency strategist at Westpac, Robert Rennie, said Australia’s AAA credit rating and strong economic outlook was an attractive combination for investors, when compared with many other nations.

”It’s entirely logical that central banks are looking away from the traditional US dollar and euro cores in their portfolios,” he said.

Such strong interest among foreign investors is one reason for the dollar’s resilience despite a weaker economic outlook and falling commodity prices, economists say.

Foreigners held 77 per cent of Australia’s $245 billion government debt in the June quarter, just below a record 79 per cent in March.

In a separate document, written in April and released yesterday, Chris Potter from the Reserve’s international department wrote: ”The apparent preference shift and resulting portfolio shift of foreign investors towards Australian dollar government securities has increased Australian dollar demand.”

Yesterday’s documents, released after an FOI request from Bloomberg News, also show the bank has been examining if the dollar may be overvalued – a complaint of some manufacturing employers and unions.

A briefing titled ”Is the Australian Dollar Overvalued?” was prepared in February, but was redacted except for a comment that ”strong $A demand from foreign central bank purchases” had supported the currency.

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

Now, mining services in the frame

THE spotlight has swung firmly onto mining services companies after Macmahon Holdings requested a trading halt in preparation for a downgrade on the bullish 20 per cent increase in profit guidance that it issued last month.
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The board will meet today to discuss the impact on profit guidance of one particular project and the outlook for $4.1 billion in construction projects under tender, given a number of major mining projects, including Gina Rinehart’s $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore project, will potentially be delayed until conditions stabilise.

Almost 25 per cent of Macmahon’s client base is government-related, and as resources companies are

making decisions to delay projects, governments are reducing their infrastructure work.

The issue for mining services companies is that when projects are put on hold, even for a short time, the pricing on the contracts will be reset, which means there will be an inevitable crunch on profit margins.

Macmahon is not alone. Others in the sector – including Ausdrill, Boart Longyear, NRW Holdings, UGL, Bradken, Emeco and Sedgman – have seen their shares decimated in the past few weeks as investors dumped stock in preparation for the loss of future projects. Not surprisingly, hedge funds have targeted the sector.

Construction giant Leighton Holdings was the exception yesterday, standing out like a beacon as its shares surged more than 8 per cent on rumours that French-based construction group Vinci SA was toying with the idea of making a bid for Leighton’s major shareholder, Germany’s Hochtief, or Hochtief’s major shareholder, Spain’s ACS, which would ultimately put Leighton in play. The speculation came from an interview with the boss of Vinci in a German edition of the Financial Times and was then picked up by Bloomberg and spread throughout the market.

The speculation was given added credence due to the debt-laden state of ACS, which is carrying more than €9 billion ($11 billion) of debt, and which recently sold some valuable assets to help pay down some of the debt. Since ACS bought into Hochtief, mainly to gain access to the jewel in the crown, Leighton, the Leighton operations have been a massive disappointment, both stock price wise, profit wise and from a capital perspective.

But the ownership structure is complicated and any takeover of Leighton would not be straightforward.

Meanwhile, it has taken the focus off Leighton’s exposure to the mining sector, as miners are being forced to reassess some of their projects and expansion plans in light of the uncertainty gripping China.

It might sound simplistic but miners have been caught out by the fact that costs remain too high at a time when commodity prices have been falling.

When commodity prices are rising, miners become production driven at any cost, and when commodity prices fall, the headroom closes between the cost of production and sale price, and resources companies become more cost and production driven. Mining services companies get caught in the crossfire with their work cut back and margins squeezed.

It is a situation that has been going on for months, but the hope has been that commodity prices would spike back up and China’s economic growth would spurt ahead.

Instead, volatility and uncertainty are featuring into the equation, forcing companies exposed to the mining sector to bring it to account now.

BHP Billiton opened the floodgates on what was going on when it finally announced it was mothballing two big projects, including the $30 billion Olympic Dam expansion. Then came Nathan Tinkler with reports of his various financial woes, and Fortescue Metals Group, which spooked the market two weeks ago when it pared back its expansion plans, sacked staff and announced the sale of one of its assets. Fortescue’s more recent revelations that it is in discussions with its key banks to allow a waiver of its debt covenants next year has done little to bolster confidence in the sector.

Last week, NRW Holdings went into a trading halt after Fortescue announced it had delayed its expansion plans. When it returned to trading, it revised down its revenue for 2013 and its growth prospects.

The world’s biggest drilling company, Boart Longyear, also warned it was revising down its earnings and revenue outlook.

The word is Fortescue’s banks will capitulate but will attach certain conditions on the iron ore miner, including agreements that it won’t pay dividends. It is also likely to announce an equity issue when its share price recovers to provide a buffer for the debt holders.

In the past few weeks, more and more mining companies have started to review projects with a view to putting some of them on hold until they can gauge what is going on in China. Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project is being wound back and, last week, it was reported that it unofficially told some Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) clients to stop work. The ECIs have been bracing themselves for an official letter.

Meanwhile, everyone is watching and waiting for the next move, with China taking centre stage.

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

Romney firm reputed to be awaiting Allans coda

THE former boss of stricken music retailer Allans Billy Hyde believes a buyer may still be found for the business even though receivers have started shutting it down.
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Market sources said Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was among potential buyers circling the group.

”A number of discussions are ongoing with interested parties,” said John Helme, the former joint managing director of the chain’s owner, Australian Music Group Holdings.

He declined to comment on whether Bain was among those interested parties, but criticised the decision last week of receivers Ferrier Hodgson to start the process of shutting down AMG’s 24 company-owned stores across Australia.

”Last week’s news was premature from our perspective,” he said.

”We remain hopeful that there will be a credible buyer. With such an iconic business you have to question such a hasty decision.”

A Ferrier Hodgson spokesman declined to comment.

Ferrier Hodgson partners James Stewart and Brendan Richards were appointed receivers of the struggling group on August 23 by secured creditor Revere Capital, owed about $27 million. Revere is a subsidiary of Valco Capital Partners, the private equity arm of retail shutdown specialists Hilco.

Last Wednesday, after failing to sell the business as a going concern, Mr Stewart announced a clearance sale to get rid of AMG’s stock, valued at about $45 million, after which the stores will be shut down.

Its 56 head office employees were made redundant as part of preparations for the eventual shutdown of the entire business, which employs about 610 people in its stores.

AMG lost $40.9 million in the year to July 3, 2011, the latest period for which accounts are available.

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

Joint Australian, NZ currency rejected

‘The much smaller size of NZ’s economy means it would probably be hitching itself to the stronger Aussie dollar.’A CURRENCY union between Australia and New Zealand has been rejected by top economic think tanks in both countries, with Europe’s woes with the euro weighing heavily on the proposal.
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For decades a shared currency has been floated by economists as one way of reducing business costs and boosting trans-Tasman trade and investment. The ”Anzac” was suggested as a name.

A joint discussion paper from the productivity commissions of Australia and NZ will dismiss the proposal today. It says that without political integration, the move would give each country less flexibility in managing its economy.

Monetary union would require interest rates to be the same in both countries, giving them less room to respond to local economic conditions. Currencies also tend to act as ”shock absorbers” for economies, by falling in times of weakness, which helps to make exporters more competitive.

But the much smaller size of NZ’s economy means it would probably be hitching itself to the stronger Aussie dollar.

While the paper conceded trade may be increased by a common currency, it added: ”Monetary unions also entail some risks. They imply a loss of autonomy over monetary policy and exchange rate flexibility, which are important tools for macroeconomic stability. There are few instances where monetary union has worked effectively without some degree of political union.”

The proposal for a single currency was examined as part of an inquiry into how to deepen economic relations between Australia and NZ.

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

Chief executives find bonuses a bit skimpy

CASH bonuses for the heads of Australia’s biggest companies have fallen to levels not seen before the financial crisis as profits and share prices have come under pressure.
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The latest annual remuneration report by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, showed average bonus payments of $1.25 million last year were down to their lowest level since 2004. The bonus payments were 20 per cent below the previous year.

The ACSI report, to be released today shows the fixed pay of chief executives in Australia’s top 100 listed companies held steady in 2011.

Overall, the average cash pay for a top-100 CEO declined 8.9 per cent from 2010 levels to $3.05 million, reflecting the fall in bonus sizes.

ACSI chief executive Ann Byrne said a more mature conversation on executive pay was taking place between boards and investors.

”It is clear that directors began listening to shareholder views on bonus sizes during 2011 and began making the adjustments that have continued into the first part of 2012,” she said yesterday.

Even so, about 90 per cent of chief executives still received some form of bonus payments over their fixed pay cheque, she noted.

The analysis of remuneration for nation’s top 200 companies by ACSI, which advises the nation’s biggest superannuation funds, throws new light on how much our corporate leaders are really paid.

It shows the pay gap between what is reported in company disclosures and what chief executives often end up taking home. BHP Billiton’s Marius Kloppers was last year paid $11.08 million, but his realised pay was $17.3 million, the ACSI report shows.

Minimum disclosures often fail to take into account the upside chief executives often receive from additional packages such as deferred bonus shares or cashing in on options, which is a right to acquire shares in a company often at a heavily discounted price.

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

Leighton jumps after takeover talk

RUMOURS about a potential takeover saw Leighton shares jump more than 8 per cent to close $1.32 higher at $17.05 yesterday, along with confirmation its desalination plant is now producing drinking water.
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News that a French construction company could be interested in Hochtief’s Australian asset, Leighton Holdings, and a large late trade on Friday afternoon sent investors with short positions scrambling to cover themselves.

A Financial Times Deutschland interview with Xavier Huillard, chief executive of Vinci, revealed ”mergers and acquisitions are in [Vinci’s] genes” and that he finds Australia an ”interesting market”.

He agreed Vinci could be interested in particular activities of debt-laden Spanish firm ACS, which is the biggest shareholder in Hochtief, which owns 54 per cent of Leighton Holdings.

However, Vinci also likes to have full control of its investments, Mr Huillard said, and with Leighton’s complex ownership structure it would not have full control of the Australian company.

Leighton spokesman Justin Grogan said: ”We have no comment to make on the rumour which is a matter of speculation about our major shareholder and their major shareholder.”

A more likely explanation for yesterday’s 8.4 per cent jump against a market that closed 0.3 per cent higher was investors covering their short positions at the ”sniff of a takeover”, according to Commonwealth Bank equity analyst Ben Brownette.

”When you see that kind of volume go through a stock in that circumstance it would appear to be short covering,” he said.

Investors with short positions purchase shares when they believe the share price has bottomed.

Mr Brownette added that talk of Leighton as an acquisition target demonstrates how attractive the company’s geographical footprint across Australia and Asia is to global construction firms and illustrates how undervalued the stock is.

Leighton Holdings yesterday also revealed drinking water has been flowing for seven days from one of three streams at the desalination plant being built by its subsidiary Thiess in Victoria’s south-east. It made the announcement after construction partner Suez Environment put out a similar one on Friday afternoon.

However, the consortium – dubbed AquaSure – will still be denied revenue of $1.8 million per day from the Victorian government until it is operating at full capacity. Leighton has already flagged a $106 million hit to this year’s earnings because of delays at the plant.

”Under the contract, as per most public-private partnership contracts, payments do not commence until project milestones are met,” a spokeswoman for Water Minister Peter Walsh said.

”The current work program has the plant being finished by February 2013. The full payment of the holding charge of $654 million per annum will commence at that time.”

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

Twiggy shaken by the wind in resources sector

THE Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Well, some of the time.
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As the great iron ore truck in the sky prepares to unload on Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Metals, it’s good to know that even when you’re faced with selling a few assets to keep the banks happy there’s still a payday to look forward to.

Particularly given that Twiggy owns a great swath of Fortescue stock.

Twiggy’s wealth took a hit in the hundreds of millions last week as iron ore prices – and Fortescue’s share price, to which Twiggy’s wealth is inextricably linked – tumbled and concerns were raised about Fortescue’s ability to service its debt.

Twiggy spent about $38 million increasing his stake before the share price was mauled last week as iron ore prices slumped, leading to unpleasant talk about the need to raise capital if those lenders of the odd billion in debt don’t like it.

One can only wonder if an equity raising were to eventuate – and Citi analysts suggest a $500 million capital raising may be necessary – whether Twiggy might use any of the $41 million dividend he will receive to tip into a raising.

Or whether it’s best to hang onto what he still has while he’s got it.

What disclosure?

WHEN Aquila Resources 2011 full-year results were released, the coal and iron ore explorer’s executive pay restraint looked admirable.

In a year when the company reported a near doubling of an annual loss to $64.5 million, Aquila told shareholders that executive chairman and CEO Tony Poli’s salary rose just $14,500 to $572,000. Turns out Tony did a bit better than that, pocketing another $169.4 million. Easy mistake to make.

As the Australian Council of Super Investors pointed out yesterday, Poli had the largest gap between realised pay and reported pay in its latest report card on CEO remuneration on the back of a tidy gain on an exercise of options granted in 2005.

”In December 2010 he exercised 5 million options approved at the 2005 AGM with an exercise price of $4 each and received 19.2 million shares in exchange for a total value at the time of exercise of $169.36 million,” ACSI points out.

There’s no suggestion Aquila has under-reported Poli’s remuneration. We’d hate to appear presumptuous but perhaps the corporate plod might look at pay disclosure requirements.

Note of distinction

A NOTE from the corporate plod straight from the ”we don’t know whether to laugh or cry” files has come to our attention.

The watch-puppy has reminded financial market players of the difference between buffer money and client money. Specifically, it pointed out that ”buffer money is not client money”.

We’d hate to think that means those wearing smart suits and ties at the pointy end of town are having trouble figuring out the subtle difference between what is their money and what is yours.

Market participants regularly deal with large amounts of money relating to financial products on behalf of clients, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission explained. They are required to hold client money in trust accounts for investors who pay them to trade in financial products on their behalf.

”Buffer money is the term used to describe money added by a market participant to the trust account to ensure that the client money trust account has adequate funding,” the plod intoned.

Having pointed out the basic difference, ASIC goes on: ”Buffer money is not client money, as it does not fall within the client money definition in … the Corporations Act, and cannot be considered to be money for the purposes of a client money trust account.”

ASIC adds that the practice of depositing buffer money in a client money trust account is not permitted.

We suspect it’s trying to point out it’s not a good look to use client money to meet funding levels.

Disparate interests

ALIGNING shareholder and management interests may not be easy, but for shareholders at AGL, the contrast is stark enough.

Earnings per share slumped to 24¢ in the year to June from 118.5¢, but that didn’t stop directors giving chief executive Michael Fraser a hefty pay rise – he took home $6.3 million, up from $3.4 million a year earlier.

Still, even using the company’s reckoning of ”underlying” earnings per share of 100¢ for the latest year, up from 91.4¢ a year earlier, Fraser has done very well for himself, although perhaps the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, with the key to shareholders’ prospects lying with the purchase for about $450 million (plus a rather large lump of debt) of Loy Yang A during the year.

Tide’s out

WATCH this space: Steve van Barneveld, boss of Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Ports, quit last Monday as a director of another Tinkler entity, Ocean Street Holdings, just as it squared off against Mirvac over a small matter of about $17 million it owes the developer for an unfinished property transaction, by order of the Supreme Court.

Van Barneveld’s resignation was effective immediately.

It will be interesting, when the matter reconvenes for a directions hearing in the New South Wales Land and Environment Court this morning, what new evidence Ocean Street seeks to bring as to why it should not have to abide by the umpire’s decision.

[email protected]南京夜网.au

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

Del Piero knows silverware but not the ‘Holy Grail’

The grounds of Budgewoi Football Club. Budgewoi Football Club.
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Alessandro Del Piero faces the media in Sydney yesterday.

FROM the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to the humble surroundings of Budgewoi?

Until last night, this was the fate set to be bestowed on one of the greatest footballers of all time, Alessandro Del Piero.

”Our Holy Grail” – perhaps a more apt description for the 70,000-seat Olimpico – is how the Budgewoi Football Club website describes the modest Budgewoi Sports Complex on the central coast.

Pleasant a facility though it is, it could have hosted one of the most eagerly anticipated football events of 2012: Del Piero’s first match in a Sydney FC shirt.

It was there that Sydney were due to face the Newcastle Jets in a friendly match this Saturday, set to be held behind closed doors.

You couldn’t get a venue further removed from the place where Del Piero played his last competitive match. It was at the Stadio Olimpico, in front of a packed house, where his club of two decades, Juventus, faced Napoli in the Coppa Italia final on May 20.

Napoli won 2-0, but when Del Piero was substituted in the 68th minute both sets of fans gave him a standing ovation.

However, amid the exploding interest in Del Piero’s arrival – and the certainty of thousands trying to get a glimpse of Saturday’s clash – the match was cancelled last night by Newcastle, the host club.

The match could still be played elsewhere if the clubs can agree on a venue, but Sydney officials confirmed last night that they had no say on where the match would be played if it were to go ahead.

Del Piero now has just 18 days to prepare until his first A-League match for Sydney, away to Wellington Phoenix, on October 6.

The club has only one game left before the season proper – another closed-doors friendly, against Central Coast at Macquarie University on September 27.

Asked about his fitness at his first official news conference at the Star casino yesterday, Del Piero said he wouldn’t have any problems, having worked out with a team in Turin.

”I am coming from two months training with my personal trainer and with a young team in Italy,” he said. ”I do everything I can do to stay in better condition.

”Now I need to go with the team, to know the other players, the coach [and] what he needs.”

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