Talking Business 2021
Welcome to Talking Business, a podcast produced in Melbourne Australia. The podcast is available on the Acast app, the Apple Podcast store or wherever you go to get your podcasts. Or you can get it at the Business Acumen website at www.businessacumen.biz.
I am Leon Gettler. My job is to review and monitor the week’s news in business, finance and economics. I bring it all to you, every week.
This is episode number 4 in our series for 2021 and today’s date is Friday February 26.
First, I’ll be talking to Colin Hewitt, the founder and CEO of Float, a Scottish accounting software startup that opened an office in Sydney in 2019, and he will talk about the lessons businesses can learn from managing finances during so much uncertainty. And I will be talking to Indeed economist Callam Pickering about the latest unemployment figures.
But now, let’s talk to Colin Hewitt.
Embattled casino giant Crown Resorts is facing full-scale inquiries in two states after Victoria said it would launch a royal commission into the James Packer-backed gambling company. Former federal court judge Raymond Finkelstein, QC, will run the six-month investigation into Crown and assess the suitability of the gambling giant to hold its Victorian casino licence in light of the “serious findings” from NSW. In the wake of the Bergin report in NSW, which found Crown unsuitable to hold a licence at its freshly built Barangaroo tower in Sydney, the $6.9 billion company is now also battling to keep hold of licences for its casinos in Melbourne and Perth. Western Australian authorities launched their own inquiry last week. The latest regulatory push came as long-time Packer family friend and advertising veteran Harold Mitchell quit the Crown board. He had been urged to reflect on his directorship, held since 2011, by Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC, when her report came out last Tuesday. Mr Mitchell’s departure makes four directors who have left since the Bergin report dropped, along with Andrew Demetriou, Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston. Chairman Helen Coonan was last week elevated to executive chairman after chief executive Ken Barton also resigned.
Australia’s job market will shrink by 11% by 2030 due to the rise of increasingly capable automation technology, knocking 1.5 million people out of work and stranding a million beyond a digital divide, a new study by global technology research firm Forrester has warned. The study follows the progress of the effects of automation on different types of employment, encompassing nearly 400 occupations tracked by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It highlights numerous roles, such as “office cubicle” administration that it says will drop by half, while showing the emergence of greater demand for some knowledge workers, digital specialists and “human touch” workers. Forrester’s report groups 391 occupations into 12 different so-called “automation personas”, saying jobs in the same category will be affected similarly by automation over time. It found that, as well as changing roles, the workforce structure will change also, with as many as one in three workers moving to the contingent labour force, taking side gigs from online marketplaces. Unsurprisingly a cohort known as “digital elites” is expected to grow in size significantly, with a 25% increase in the number of roles created. Data scientists are one example raised by Forrester, with software and app developers, network and systems administrators, mathematicians and information security specialists in demand.
The Bank of Queensland is vying to take on the big four after confirming that it will buy ME Bank for $1.3 billion. The deal will create a bank with $88 billion in assets and nearly 1.5 million customers On Monday the bank confirmed the 100% purchase of ME Bank and said it would fund this via a $1.35 billion equity raising. ME was founded 27 years ago by a group of Australian super funds and pitches itself as an alternative to the traditional banks for everyday Australians. Its biggest sources of revenue is home loans, which it relies largely on mortgage brokers to facilitate.
A registered Aboriginal heritage site has been damaged at one of BHP’s Pilbara iron ore mines, despite the major miner pledging in June to consult with traditional owners before disturbing sites in the area. In late January, a culturally significant rock shelter was impacted at BHP’s Mining Area C project in the Pilbara, causing a rockfall at the site. It is understood neither BHP or the Banjima people are clear on what caused the damage. Mining Area C is adjacent to BHP’s $US3.06 billion ($A4 billion) South Flank project, which is under construction and will be the largest iron ore mining and processing facility ever built in Western Australia. It is located on Banjima’s traditional lands in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, 130 kilometres north-west of Newman. The news comes almost a year after fellow Pilbara miner Rio Tinto drew international condemnation when it destroyed 46,000 year old Aboriginal rock shelters while blasting at Juukan Gorge in the same region. The destruction of Juukan went against the wishes of the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, shocked investors, forced the resignations of former chief executive Jean-Sebastian Jacques and two of his deputies, and sparked a federal parliamentary inquiry.
Facebook has agreed to restore Australian news on its platform “in the coming days” following an agreement with the government on amendments to a proposed law that would force Big Tech to pay for news. The world’s largest social media company said on Tuesday it was satisfied that “a number of changes and guarantees” it had agreed with Canberra addressed its concerns over the bill. The proposed law is being debated in parliament and could become a model for other governments’ efforts to reframe the relationship between dominant tech platforms and the media. Facebook had argued that the legislation “fundamentally misunderstood” its interaction with publishers and penalised the company “for content it didn’t take or ask for”. It abruptly blocked the sharing of news in the country altogether last week, causing a public backlash after access to critical emergency services and health pages was cut off. The changes could give Facebook and Google, the companies most vulnerable to the code, more flexibility to escape the most stringent aspects of it. For example, authorities would have to consider whether a company had made a significant contribution to the news industry by reaching commercial deals with media businesses. The contentious final arbitration model contained in the code will be stipulated as a “last resort” when commercial deals cannot be reached.
Grocon chief executive Daniel Grollo, along with all executives have been made redundant as part of the latest wave of administrations at the troubled building giant. The departure of Mr Grollo ends the chain of members of the Grollo family started by scion Luigi Grollo. The move comes as Mr Grollo’s luxury sub penthouse in the Eureka Tower is now on the chopping block after the construction scion placed 45 more corporate entities into administration on Monday. Mr Grollo was among 20 staff who were made redundant two weeks ago, before the announcement made on Monday that 45 additional Grocon corporate entities would be placed into administration. KordaMentha restructuring has been handling the administration of the 42 corporate entities and will now combine the additional 45 into a joint administration. Monday’s move widens the collapse to 87 Grocon corporate entities, capturing major companies that had so far avoided the precipice.
As many as five coal-fired power stations will be running at a loss by 2025 and at least one faces early closure as the ageing generators struggle to compete against cheaper renewables surging into the national power grid, say researchers. NSW’s largest coal-fired power plant, Origin Energy’s Eraring on the shore of Lake Macquarie, is headed for the biggest loss by 2025 followed by Mount Piper and Vales Point B, if electricity prices stay at 2020 levels for the next five years. The Gladstone power station in Queensland part-owned by Rio Tinto, and Energy Australia’s Yallourn W in Victoria, will tip into loss-making territory if power prices dip even lower than 2015 levels. At least one power station is likely to face closure several years sooner than planned, say the researchers from think tank the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Green Energy Markets. This comes as the National Party pushes for the Commonwealth’s green bank – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – to fund coal and gas power plants
And the profit season continues. Reliance Worldwide reported a 12.8% increase in revenue to $642.4 million while net profit soared 82.4% to $91.4 million. EBITDA rose 32% to $166.3 million. Bluescope reported a first-half net profit after tax of $330.3 million, up 78% from a year ago. Chorus said that first-half net profit reached $NZ24 million, compared to $NZ31 million in the same period a year ago. Operating revenue reached $473 million, from $483 million. Costa Group swung to a full year statutory net profit of $60.8 million, from a loss of $36.1 million a year ago. Profit from ordinary activities rose 295.9% to $67.4 million. Lendlease reported a 29.6% fall in revenue to $5.2 billion while net profit slid 37.4% to $196 million. Audinate swung to a loss of $1.3 million, from a profit of $312,000 a year ago. Revenue dipped to $15.4 million, from $16.1 million, hurt by a strengthening Australian dollar. Insurance services business PSC Insurance Group has posted a $13.6 million after-tax profit for the first-half of the 2021 financial year, a 55% increase on the first half of fiscal 2020.. NIB Holdings revenue was steady at $1.3 billion while net profit climbed 16% to $66.3 million. Group claims expenses rose 0.9% to $1 billion. Listed investment company WAM Global’s first-half net profit rose 80% to $49 million. MACA reported a first-half net profit of $11.6 million, down 3% from a year ago. oOh!media swung to a full year loss of $35.7 million, from a profit of $13.7 million a year ago. Online book seller Booktopia increased its 2021 sales and earnings forecasts despite posting a $19.8 million loss for the December-half. The loss included one-off costs of $4.1 million associated with its $25 million initial public offering in December and costs of $18.6 million for the conversion of preference shares. Westgold Resources posted a $301.8 million revenue in the six months to December 31, a 32% increase on its $228.9 million effort for the first six months of the 2020 fiscal year. The company’s after-tax profit jumped 390% to $47.5 million. 3P Learning’s net loss has widened to $1.9 million on sales up 3% to $24 million for the half-year to December 31, 2020. Tyro reported a record positive earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $8.5 million and a statutory net loss after tax of $3.4 million, an 82% improvement. Medicinal cannabis company Cann Group reported revenue from sales of $1.08 million for the six months to December 31, 2020, compared with $570,000 the year before. Its operating loss widened in the period to $9.4 million from an $8.4 million loss a year ago. Ampol posted a full-year loss of $485 million, mainly due to coronavirus restrictions limiting travel. Perenti reported a first-half net statutory loss after tax of $63.8 million, from a profit of $38.2 million last year. Underlying net profit after tax was $44.6 million, down from $60.1 million a year ago. New Zealand broadcaster Sky Network has more than tripled its net profit to $NZ39.6 million on sales of $NZ356.9 million for the half year to December 31, 2020. Hub24’s revenue rose 18.9% to $64.1 million while net profit climbed 1.4% to $6.1 million. Online tradie platform Hipages has posted a statutory net loss of $5.9 million for the half-year to December 31, 2020, but said its pro-forma or adjusted net profit of $1.5 million beat expectations as revenue growth and cost savings boosted margins. Insurance broker network owner AUB Group’s revenue rose 3.1% in the first half of fiscal 2021 to $168 million, while its after-tax profit jumped 44.5% to $24 million. National Storage REIT’s revenue rose 14% to $99.6 million while net profit slid 33% to $101.4 million. Alumina reported a statutory full year net profit after tax of $US146.6 million, down 31% from a year ago. Gas pipelines owner APA Group has posted an $11.7 million after-tax loss in the first half of fiscal 2021 due to a $249.3 million non-cash impairment recognised against the Orbost gas processing plant. Ramelius Resources’ revenue soared 116% to $342.2 million while EBITDA climbed 193% to $192.8 million. Net profit after tax rose 297% to $81.3 million. Online beauty retailer Adore Beauty appears on track to beat its full-year prospectus forecasts after delivering a 180% increase in net profit to $2.5 million for the December-half, buoyed by sales of at-home beauty products. Underlying earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortisation soared 188% to $5.2 million, exceeding interim prospectus forecasts of $3.3 million. Monadelphous has delivered an 11% increase in interim net profit to $31.6 million. Aged care provider Estia Health, whose Melbourne homes have been the centre of major virus outbreaks, reported a loss after tax of $5.3 million for the first half fiscal 2021, reflecting the impact of COVID-19 and the ongoing funding and financing challenges of residential aged care. Superloop narrowed its first-half net loss to $18.9 million, from $21.4 million a year ago. PolyNovo’s revenue rose 24% to $12.6 million however it still recorded a loss after tax of $3.5 million. Asset manager VGI Partners has reported a full-year net profit down 7% to $25.9 million on revenue of $56. 8 million. Worley’s revenue slid 29.3% in the first six months of the new financial year while net profit slid 61.1% to $60.1 million. Spirit Technology Solutions, previously known as Spirit Telecom, turned a first-half net profit of half a million dollars, and reported revenue more than tripled to $44 million. Online jobs marketplace Freelancer has narrowed its full-year net loss for 2020 to $646,000 versus $1.5 million in 2019. Nickel miner Western Areas has reported a net loss down 148% to $12 million on sales down 21% to $122.7 million for the half-year ending December 31, 2020. Online retail marketplace Mydeal.com.au Limited swung to a first-half loss of $2.3 million from a profit of $0.8 million and revenue more than tripled to $21.2 million. Oil Search reported a full year net loss after tax of $US320.7 million, from a profit of $312.4 million a year ago. Sleep treatment business SomnoMed has reported a net profit down $274,859 to $491,571 on sales down 7% to $30.8 million. Gold miner Silver Lake Resources’ statutory after-tax profit rose 48% to $65.8 million. Gold miner Perseus Mining reported its first-half profit rose 21.3% to $36.1 million after revenue rose 4.5% to $386.7 million. Medibank Private first-half net profit rose 27% to $226.4 million. Accent Group’s revenue rose 5.3% to $478.1 million while profit climbed 57.3% to $52.8 million. Steadfast Group’s revenue rose 8% to $378.6 million while its net profit climbed to $73.4 million. Scentre Group swung to a full-year loss of $3.8 billion, from a profit of $1.2 billion a year ago. Nine Entertainment reported a 2% fall in revenue to $1.16 billion while net profit soared 79% to $182 million. Ethical fund manager Australian Ethical Investments’ underlying net profit after tax was $4.9 million on operating revenue up 10% to $25.9 million for the half-year to December 31, 2020. Appen said that full year profit rose 21.4% to $50.5 million, after revenue increased 11.9% to $599.9 million. Sydney Airport reported a loss of $145.6 million. Woolworths’ revenue climbed 10.6% to $35.8 billion while profit soared 28% to $1.1 billion. Nanosonics reported a first-half net profit of $1.46 million, down 74% compared to a year ago. Vitamins business Blackmores has reported a half-year profit down 3.7% to $18.9 million on sales down 3.1% to $302.6 million. Regis Healthcare said that first-half net profit declined 9% to $11 million after revenue increased 6.3% to $353.1 million. Mayne Pharma swung to a $181.3 million loss for the first half, SeaLink Travel reported a first-half statutory net profit after tax of $32 million, up 266.4% compared to a year ago. Bega Cheese reported a 154% increase in first-half net profit to $21.7 million, after revenue dipped 4.5% to $707.7 million. IOOF Holdings’ net profit slid 52.7% to $54.4 million. Monash IVF has guided to full-year reported net profit of $23.7 million to $25.7 million over the $11.8 million of 2019-20.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to Matt Nguyen, policy lead at Reset Australia, who is concerned about the amendments to the media bargaining code the government brought in to get Facebook on board. And I’ll be talking to economist Nicholas Gruen analysing whether Jacinda Arden’s well-being budget actually works.
In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at talkingbizz, on Facebook and on LinkedIn. And if you want, leave a comment. Wishing you all a safe and healthy week and looking forward to bringing you Talking Business next week.