Arrivederci La Voca. Noni B is closing the La Voca chain of women’s fashion stores it started in August 2006 at a cost of several million dollars and amalgamating some of them with existing stores. But the share price has more than halved since last August as earnings were downgraded in February and in May. Now with the closure of La Voca and costs of up to $2.5 million, which will drive earnings even lower, Noni B says it will run a share buyback over the next year to cover 10% of the issued shares. That will allow shareholders to sell shares back to the company in a fairly tax effective manner, but nowhere as juicy if it had been run a year ago. That move will effectively increase the Kindl family’s, Noni B’s founders, already strong control over the company. The Kindl family owns around 40% of Noni B at the moment and it will not participate in the buyback. As a result its stake should rise to around 44%. — Glenn Dyer
Fuel consumption confidence. As the Daily Reckoning reminds us, the cure for high prices is funnily enough, high prices. This is being borne out in oil import figures, which the Financial Review noted today fell 22% in April (and were down by 28% on the corresponding period last year). CommSec economist, Craig James, stated that “people are thinking twice about taking the car for a short trip to the shops, and businesses are making sure that loads are full.” Sadly, reduced consumption by Western nations like Australia and the US probably won’t be enough to curb rampaging oil demand globally — as India and China continue to develop, their oil use could increase exponentially. Currently, there are around 24 cars for every thousand people in China, compared with 700 cars for every one thousand Americans. — Adam Schwab
Octavier’s woes. Octaviar chairman, Paul Manka, and former director, Michael Hiscock, suffered yet another blow yesterday, with the NSW Supreme Court refusing to set aside their respective $5.7 million and $4.9 million debts to margin lender, Citi Smith Barney. Manka and Hiscock are both financial planners at Avenue Capital Management and have been long-time directors of the crippled MFS/Octaviar group. Octaviar chief executive, Craig Chapman, a close ally of Chris Scott, told the Financial Review that “the matter involved the personal affairs of Mr Manka and Mr Hiscock and would have no impact on the company.” We respectfully disagree with Chapman’s views. If Manka’s margin loan (which was taken by a family trust and holding company) has recourse to Manka himself, Octaviar could very find itself with a bankrupt chairman. Given Octaviar’s current precarious position (the company hasn’t traded since January, with its auditors unwilling to sign-off on the business as a going-concern) that fact could be highly relevant to Octaviar. — Adam Schwab
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Flight Centre flying. Graham “Skroo” Turner must find it difficult to keep a straight face. With the economy on the verge of a breakdown, industrial and financial stocks going to hell in a handbasket and – well, don’t even mention the airline industry – Turner’s Flight Centre bobbed up yesterday with yet another profit upgrade. It seems like only 18 months ago that Turner and his co-founders in the travel group launched a takeover bid for their own company, with the help of the private equity fund Pacific Equity Partners. When the deal was announced, via a strategic leak to a compliant news outlet, the line being spun was that Flight Centre as a business no longer had legs, let alone wings, and the best thing Skroo and his partners could do was to save all those poor shareholders from ruination. According to this tale of impending doom, the internet had all but killed the business model and, with the share price heading south, the only way the business could survive was as a privately owned enterprise. That of course raised the obvious question: who in their right mind would want to buy a business going down the gurgler? — Ian Verrender, SMH
Watchdog takes ABC Learning to court. The competition watchdog has launched legal proceedings against ABC Learning Centres over the acquisition of the Peppercorn child care group. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges ABC failed to comply with the court-enforceable undertakings it gave to the ACCC in December 2004 following the Peppercorn acquisition, by not divesting two child care centres as required. “The ACCC alleges that between December 2004 and the present, ABC did not divest the two Geraldton centres even though the ACCC agreed to extend the deadline several times, and this has resulted in a breach of the undertakings,” the ACCC said. The ACCC commenced proceedings in the Federal Court in Melbourne today accusing ABC of not fulfilling the undertakings by interfering in the role of an agent and by failing to reasonably assist that person to divest the two centres. — news.com.au