US coal dying. President Barack Obama’s latest toughening of pollution rules governing America’s power industry grabbed the headlines overnight. Only hours before, Alpha Natural Resources went bust with US$7.11 billion in liabilities (and has lost money for the past 14 quarters in a row). Alpha is America’s second-biggest coal miner, with 50 mines across the US Midwest and Appalachian regions. It is second only to Peabody Energy, which last week cut 550 jobs and revealed $1 billion dollar-plus loss and write-down because of weak demand for coal and falling prices in the US and export markets (not “new” news in Australia).
Alpha blamed its bankruptcy on tougher regulatory standards and policies that favour renewable energy, as well the weakening prices for its coal. The big driver of the slide in US coal prices has been the rising use of cheaper gas (natural and shale based) in power stations and other consumers. — Glenn Dyer
All that tweets is not gold. Twitter shares hit an all-time low overnight of US$29.27, down 58% from their all-time high in January of last year. And shares in Apple closed at US$118.19, this morning in New York, their lowest point since January, and 10% under their pre-earnings high of US$133 two weeks ago, before the June quarter profit report. And Reuters said Apple lost ground because a research firm issued a report saying the iPhone-maker had lost market share in China (its fastest growing market) in the June quarter, which was confirmed by its finance boss last week. Twitter fell because investors think the management is clueless about future growth when user numbers have stalled (although ad revenues are still rising nicely).
Despite its dip, Apple remains the most valuable company in the world, but at the moment, life seems to be getting tougher for the techs and nets. Other high tech performers such as Netflix and Amazon have also lost ground in the past week — the former is down 4%, the latter has had an 8.2% slide in the price of its shares. — Glenn Dyer
Suncorp’s dividend spin. Brisbane-based bank and insurance group Suncorp boasted this morning that it will payout 100% of its 2014-15 profit of $1.1 billion to shareholders. That sounds grand. And the company said it was paying a total of 88 cents a share, including a final dividend of 38 cents a share (which took the total for the year to 76 cents a share, up from 75 cents, while the interim was 40 cents a share). There’s also a special dividend of 12 cents a share. But what wasn’t said or made apparent (you had to go digging in the release and back to 2013-14 reports to check) was that this is a cut. The total for 2013-14 was $1.05. Compare with the total for 2014-15 (at 88 cents a share) and you get a fall of more than 16%.
The 100% of profit-payout line tells us just how desperate Suncorp’s board is to keep shareholders happy (and farewell CEO Patrick Snowball, who is about to leave) — other banks have been paying up 70% to 80% of profits to shareholders. In reality the profit after tax “from business lines” (as Suncorp puts it) for the year to June was $1.1 billion. The figure for 2013-14 was $1.3 billion. So, on the face of it, the result was flat. But Suncorp’s defence was that it had made large payouts for some big natural disasters (storms, floods and fires) in its insurance business (AAMI, GIO, Suncorp, Apia, Shannons). — Glenn Dyer
Trans Tasman housing crunch ahead? On Monday data from CoreLogic RP Data showed Australian house prices surging 11.1% in the 12 months to July, thanks to Sydney (up 18.4% in the year and 5.4% in the quarter) and Melbourne (up 11.5% in the quarter, 6.1% in the quarter and accelerating faster than Sydney). But across the Tasman today, a report revealed growth close to that in Auckland — up 10.1% in the three months to July 31, from the 9.3% growth rate in the three months to the end of June. Kiwi house prices (thanks to the Auckland bubblette) are now rising faster than at any time since November 2007, when the GFC was gathering pace. And unlike Australia, where growth in Melbourne is accelerating and helping drive prices higher nationally, NZ’s growth is concentrated in Auckland — the next fastest growth rate was 7.4% in Hamilton, and in Wellington it was just 2%, according to the government-owned property research company, Quotable Value. — Glenn Dyer