We love online. Remember when Premier Investments chair Solomon Lew was complaining about online competition, especially from overseas (along with fellow billionaire Gerry Harvey)? While the Aussie dollar was strong, Lew and Harvey wanted the federal government to do something to curtail the “flood” of online offshore purchases that were allegedly crippling (his) business. He wanted the federal government to impose the GST on these imports and wanted taxpayers to pay the considerable cost of identifying the offending parcels and then obtaining the tax. So you could have knocked me down with a feather yesterday when Premier’s interim profit announcement and PR blurb failed to mention the issue. Lew was silent in his prepared comments yesterday, as was his CEO, Mark McInnnes, the former David Jones CEO. In fact, Lew was quite effusive about things online — his things, online, not that nasty US operation called Amazon. Try this comment:

“Premier Retail’s online sales growth continues to significantly outperform the industry with total sales up 23.0% for the half and up 29.5% for the past 12 months. Market growth for the 12 months ended January 2015 was 6.6%. Our online business remains a very profitable growth channel for Premier, with EBIT margins for our online businesses significantly higher than group average EBIT margin.”

— Glenn Dyer

Paper trail. So Solomon Lew has discovered the internet and things online can be good for a company, especially a retailer. And so much for the internet and email ending paper and stationery — one of the best-performing chains in the Premier group was  the Smiggle stationery chain. Smiggle sales grew 18.9%, and it is opening (cue hushed tones here) an online store! The value of Lew’s holding of 33% of Premier rose 11% yesterday to more than $586 million, while including a special dividend of 9 cents a a share and a one cent lift in the interim to 21 cents (making 30 cents for the half, or a rise of 50% on a year earlier, Lew will receive around $15.6 million). And by the way, the price of shares in Garry Harvey’s Harvey Norman are up more than 35% since last October (i.e. since the dollar started its latest big slide). What internet threat? — Glenn Dyer

Great outdoors, out of luck. And while Solomon Lew is basking in the reflected glory of his newfound conversion to the internet, it was a different story for the premier outdoor goods retailer in Australasia, Kathmandu Holdings. Despite a sharp improvement in its internet business, with online sales up 33% in the half-year and now accounting for 5.8% (or NZ$10.4 million) of the company’s NZ$179 million of sales (up 7%), the bottom life was very red — a net loss of NZ$1.8 million was reported this morning, down from a profit of more than NZ$ 11 million a year ago. Profit margins took a hammering from the cost of quitting unsold stocks and a very weak Christmas-New Year period, especially in Australia. In fact Kathmandu, after being one of NZ’s businesses’ successful exports, has now lost that Kiwi golden touch for the time being. Kathmandu’s motto is “Live the dream” — and after that miserable half year, you can almost hear the board thinking “We dream of profits, again”. — Glenn Dyer

Seven Network TV news calls an end to oil price slide. In a report last night about how petrol prices in Sydney were high (well, Crikey reported it first yesterday), journalist Sean Berry reported “the global oversupply [of oil] has ended”. Ah, no, it hasn’t. It’s still there, with the United States continuing to churn out over 12 million barrels of oil a day and stocks over 455 million barrels (The US is now the world’s biggest producer). And don’t believe me, read what Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister said on Sunday. Ali al-Naimi said his country would only consider cuts in output in co-operation with non-OPEC producers (read the US, Norway, Canada, even Australia, etc). So no production cuts from the Saudis. Analysts at UK bank Barclays wrote overnight that “If OPEC production were to remain around current production levels and close to its target of 30 mb/d, the implied surplus in the oil market would expand from 0.9 mb/d to 1.3 mb/d”.  Global oil prices rose last night as the value of the greenback continued to fall. In fact, the Aussie dollar was within sight of 79 US cents. — Glenn Dyer

Fortescue’s woes redux. The widely read Crikey subscriber might have noted the start of a new chapter in the iron ore opera known as “Will Fortescue survive this time?” There was a spattering of stories in the morning blats and websites about how the company’s CEO, Nev Power, yesterday suggested in interviews in Hong Kong that the company might be interested in selling off stakes in some of its mines in the Pilbara to raise cash. It’s not the first time the company has trialled this option across the world investment stage — it was floated in 2012 when it was last under pressure from a sinking iron ore price. But before Power gets round to taking interested buyers to the Fortescue “open house”, he and the company will have to endure yet another record low for spot iron ore prices — this time the first fall under US$55 a tonne to US$54.20 overnight, meaning a fall under US$54 could well follow very quickly. That means the squeeze on Fortescue’s bottom line has just intensified, helped by the rising value of the Aussie dollar, which is around 78 US cents in Asian trading this morning — up three cents in a week, while iron ore prices have fallen by a little more. Fortescue last week abandoned attempts to raise US$2.5 billion to refinance some of its US$7.47 billion in debt. The drama continues. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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