Surprise, surprise. Pitcher Partners is being sued. The Twigg family claim PP helped Max Twigg, race car driver & former owner of the Byron Bay Hotel, misappropriate $127.8 million in family trust money.
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 18 in our series for 2022 and today’s date is Friday June 3.
First, , I’ll be talking to Brisbane fitness entrepreneur Tim West – who is behind Aussie boxing gym startup UBX which has sealed a UK expansion deal.
And I’ll be talking to economist Saul Eslake about the economic challenges for the new Albanese government
But now, let’s talk to Tim West.
Australian home prices have fallen nationally for the first time in at least 20 months, according to two leading monthly indices. Both indices — from CoreLogic and REA’s PropTrack — put the national monthly fall at about 0.1%. CoreLogic records that as the first monthly decline since September 2020, while PropTrack has it slated as the first fall since the COVID-19 pandemic started. CoreLogic reported much bigger home-price falls for Sydney (-1%) and Melbourne (-0.7%), dragging down the national average, while PropTrack estimated both cities eased 0.3%.
The Australian economy slowed to 0.8% in the March quarter due to floods, following a rise of 3.6% in December, The economy grew 3.3% year-on-year.
Peter Dutton has lashed Australia’s top corporate executives for siding with Labor and other parties, saying he would focus on policies to benefit small business as the Liberals’ new federal leader. Mr Dutton said on Monday the Liberals had become “estranged from big business” in recent years and he wanted to be a voice for “the forgotten people” in small and micro business. He accused business leaders of focusing on social policies while failing to “speak out” on economic issues, including industrial relations, tax and wages reform. The new Opposition Leader’s view was promptly rejected by some of Australia’s leading corporates, who accused Mr Dutton of misreading the situation if he interpreted “socially responsible” positions they had adopted on climate change or gender equality as a repudiation of the Liberal Party. Mr Dutton, the former defence minister who said some chief executives were now closer to the other parties than the Liberal Party, was critical of the “absence of strong voices that we would have seen even a decade ago within the last generation of business leaders”. Leading corporate figures said big business policies on economic issues, which some might perceive as closer to the Liberals’ own, did not mean their views on social matters were a “no-go zone” for conversation and left to the government to decide. One senior business figure said union officials would “scoff” at the suggestion big business preferred Labor when the top corporates continued to advocate for company tax cuts, industrial relations reform and wage rises linked to productivity.
AGL, the largest Australian electricity provider, has abandoned a controversial plan to split its coal-fired power plants from its retail electricity business following weeks of pressure from tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes for faster climate action. The board said on Monday that it would back down from the proposal, announcing a review of the company’s strategic direction and a “renewal” of the company’s leadership involving half of AGL’s current board departing. Central to Cannon-Brookes’ opposition to the demerger was the pace of AGL’s plans to shut down its coal-fired power stations, which climate advocates and many investors warn is out of step with the goals of the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Earlier this year, AGL brought forward the closure of its Bayswater coal plant in NSW from 2035 to 2033, while Loy Yang A in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley would have its 2048 closure date brought forward to 2045. The company’s third coal-fired power station, Liddell, is due to close next April. However, campaigners and some shareholders have been pushing for the company to align its closure dates more closely with the United Nations’ calls for developed countries to quit coal-fired electricity by 2030. Since becoming AGL’s biggest shareholder, Cannon-Brookes has made it clear he will continue to use his influence to advocate for accelerated closures by 2035 Shareholders in AGL, which has assets spanning fossil fuels and renewable energy, have seen the value of their holding collapse more than 60% in the past five years. This has largely been because the influx of cheap renewable energy across the east coast has eaten into the profits of coal-fired power stations, which account for the bulk of the company’s profits. The change came about after Cannon-Brookes launched a large-scale campaign, “Keep it Together Australia”, arguing AGL’s split would leave two smaller companies less able to fund accelerated closures of coal-fired power stations in line with global climate targets, and risk leaving those generators as stranded assets. Shareholders had been set to vote on June 15 on a proposed split of AGL’s retail operations from its ageing carbon-intensive assets. The company now concedes the plan will not secure a required 75% approval from voting shareholders, and says it will report back to shareholders in September after completing a review of its strategic direction. The review will consider how the company can create long-term shareholder value amid accelerating pressure to decarbonise and provide affordable energy, and any new approaches for alternative third-party transactions. The company plans to undertake further consultation with parties, including Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures, shareholders, communities, and government, and says the demerger proposal has so far cost $160 million following estimates it could cost $260 million.
Crown Resorts has been hit with a record $80 million fine over its illegal practice of accepting Chinese bank cards at its Melbourne casino to fund gambling and disguising the transactions as hotel expenses. The gambling giant processed $164 million in China UnionPay card payments and netted more than $32 million in revenue through the scam between 2012 and 2016. The matter came to light last year during Victoria’s royal commission into the group. The newly formed Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission said on Monday afternoon that it would impose an $80 million fine on the James Packer-backed group over the scandal. It is the first time Victoria has hit Crown with a fine of more than $1 million after the state increased the maximum possible penalty it could impose to $100 million last year following the explosive royal commission. The scam breached the prohibition on Crown accepting credit or debit cards at the casino for gambling and its obligation to keep accurate accounting records. It also left Crown susceptible to dealing with the proceeds of crime. Crown said in a statement that it “acknowledges its historic failings” and that it was “committed to the delivery of a comprehensive reform and remediation program”. The commission said it was also considering further penalties against Crown related to wrongdoing uncovered during the royal commission, which, as with inquiries in NSW and Western Australia, found Crown was unfit to hold its casino licence. The casino group still faces a blockbuster fine which could run to the hundreds of millions of dollars from the financial crimes watchdog, AUSTRAC, which has alleged Crown took $1 billion in revenue from “high-risk” VIP customers, including some with known criminal links. Crown’s regulatory pain comes as a takeover by the New York-based private equity firm Blackstone reaches its final stages. Shareholders, including major investor James Packer, voted to accept the $8.9 billion deal on May 20. Blackstone still needs final approval from state gambling regulators before it gets the keys to Crown’s casinos in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
Australian farmers are set to deliver a third consecutive bumper season of crops, but food prices will continue to climb due to a maelstrom of pressures on supply chains. This winter, farmers will capitalise on plentiful rains to plant a record 23.83m hectares — almost the size of the UK — up 1% on last year But quality of production may be hit by waterlogged fields, and some farmers have had to replant multiple times due to floods. And food prices will continue to rise, as the war in Ukraine, fuel costs, labour shortages and weather disasters inflict unprecedented havoc on food supply chains. Grocery food prices have jumped 4% in the previous three months alone. Farmers face higher costs for diesel and agrochemicals such as pesticides, and are expected to cut back on fertiliser use; A report by ANZ has warned of a prolonged food crisis into 2023, caused by lost exports from Russia and Ukraine, and poor global harvests from extreme weather
Business leaders have warned companies face “apocalyptic’’ damage from spiking gas prices as motorists confront months of pain at the bowser, with petrol to remain above $2 a litre, driven by Europe’s oil blockade on Russia. The rise in energy costs, coupled with a predicted 10% rise in food prices, threatens to deepen cost-of-living pressures and extend a surge in inflation, which reached a 20-year high of 5.1% in the March quarter. The rise in global oil prices to above $US120 a barrel came after the European Union said it would ban all imports of Russian oil by ship in retaliation for the Ukraine war, a move that would block about two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports. The Australian Energy Market Operator on Tuesday scrambled to impose a cap on gas markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane after wholesale prices soared 80 times normal levels. Anthony Albanese said briefings with Treasury and finance included issues of cost of living. The spike in wholesale gas prices followed a cold snap that drove demand higher, exacerbated by last week’s collapse of energy retailer Weston Energy. The rise in energy prices came as David Williams, an investment banker specialising in agribusiness, predicted food prices would soar 10% this year.
ANZ could pay another hefty price for its faltering technology and processing systems after ASIC said it was suing the bank for alleged unlawful fee slugging that has raked in tens of millions in revenue since 2016. ASIC alleges that between May 2016 and November 2018, around 165,750 ANZ customers were inappropriately charged cash advance fees and interest for credit card withdrawals. It is alleged that the fees and interest were charged because ANZ’s banking platforms – including the ANZ app and the internet platform – were displaying incorrect account balances. ASIC also alleges that ANZ has not yet fixed the technical problem and that customers continue to be affected. ANZ has stumped up more than $10 million to compensate 165,750 customers affected by the systems failure before November 2018. However, ASIC is seeking compensation for customers affected by the problem in the last four years and pecuniary penalties because of the bank’s alleged failure to do all things necessary to ensure its credit activities were conducted “efficiently, honestly and fairly”. ANZ said it was considering the ASIC legal claim, but did not comment on whether it would defend the Federal Court action.
Consumer advocates are calling on the federal government to urgently regulate cryptocurrency exchanges to protect consumers, amid evidence the “volatile, complex and high-risk products” are causing severe financial harm. The call comes amid carnage in cryptocurrency markets, with the price of bitcoin 55% lower than its peak in November. Algorithmic stablecoin terraUSD crashed in early May, surprising investors who thought it was supposed to be a more secure asset than other crypto investments. CHOICE senior policy adviser Patrick Veyret said Australians expected the same level of consumer protection and regulatory oversight for crypto assets as they do with other financial products. Crypto is not currently recognised a s financial product under the financial services laws that ASIC enforces, except for exchange traded funds linked to crypto assets. Mr Veyret said exchanges that sell or control crypto assets need to be subject to strong legal obligations, including a ban on market manipulation.
National accountancy firm Pitcher Partners has been accused of “knowingly assisting” former businessman Max Twigg to rip off his mother in a lawsuit that could leave the firm on the hook for $140 million in damages. Diane Twigg is alleging Pitcher Partners breached its fiduciary duties to her and several family trusts several times from 2007 to 2019 as part of “a fraudulent and dishonest” scheme set up by Mr Twigg and allegedly “assisted” by the firm, in which Mr Twigg spent tens of millions of the family’s dollars on an “extravagant lifestyle”. Mr Twigg sold the family waste business, Twigg Group, to Cleanaway for $155.8 million in 2007 and put the proceeds –bar $5 million for his mother and each of his sisters – into a family trust account, which he then spent on luxury cars, houses and various properties, including the iconic Byron Bay Beach hotel, without their knowledge. Ms Twigg and her two daughters successfully sued him over these unauthorised transactions in 2020, with the NSW Supreme Court – in a decision upheld by the NSW Court of Appeal last week – slamming his conduct as “dishonest” and ordering him to repay his family. But while the three women have received $30 million compensation from Mr Twigg’s assets, Ms Twigg is now seeking the balance of their alleged losses from Pitcher Partners as advisers to her, her son and several family trusts on tax, accounting, corporate governance and structuring, succession planning and trust distributions. In a statement of claim filed in the NSW Supreme Court last week, she claimed that Pitcher Partners breached its fiduciary duties to her and three separate trusts of which she is a trustee by assisting Mr Twigg in his fraud.
And that’s it for this week. And next week, I’ll be talking to the founder of non-alcoholic beer brewer Heaps Normal Peter Brennan. And I’ll be talking to economist Nicholas Gruen about the election of the Albanese government.
In the meantime you can catch me on Facebook, Twitter Instagram and 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.