Myer’s last chance bet. Another review, this time at Myer, and guess what: it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as jobs and livelihoods, all because of dud management and a dozy board. Myer’s announcement this morning was long awaited and badly missed by our so-called market oracles at The Australian Financial Review and their market-whispering mates at The Australian. Myer’s earlier-than-expected release of its profit results and strategy announcement took everyone by surprise — they were not due out for a week or more, according to the timing of last year’s profit release, so there was no softening up of investors by leaks to this morning’s papers. Rather, investors and employees were left in the dark as they read the national papers this morning, or searched online over their avocado smashes, chai lattes and cold-pressed coffees (surely no one reads either paper over a McBreakfast or a Macca’s latte, do they?).
Profit is down more than 20% for the full year, a $221 million capital raising at 94 cents a share (a whopping 22% discount to Monday’s closing price of $1.21), possible cuts of 20% in the amount of selling space — meaning store closures and downsizings, and staff cuts, job losses and hours cut as the company looks to go casual (employment, not business dress). Some of that new capital will pay down debt, Myer says it will spend $450 million on its revamp, and has estimated costs (retrenchments and other restructuring costs at $150 million) over the next four years. All in all, it is the last desperate throw from a retailer that has spent more than two decades losing its way, especially under private equity ownership and then with the same management team in charge when it floated in one of worst ever floats at $4.10 a share almost six years ago. That raised $2.4 billion, most of which stuck to private-equity owner TPG and its partners, and then vanished — much like Myer’s ability to run a department store chain. Another example of the business poison that private equity can sometimes leave behind. — Glenn Dyer
Oil is the new green. Amid the sea of red ink across global markets (multi-year lows in August for sharemarkets in the United States, China, Europe and Australia) two isolated patches of green stood out. One was gold, which wasn’t that surprising given the volatility of markets thanks to China’s slide. The other was oil — and it was a big, big shock. Prices have increased around US$10 a barrel (or more than 27%) in the past three or four trading sessions. Thanks to hints overnight Monday that OPEC countries might be interested in talking about production cuts, and new data showing US oil production is falling faster than previously thought (by around 100,000 barrels a day), especially in the highly productive Texas fields, prices rose to end August with a gain of 4.4% in US futures and 3.7% for the global indicator, Brent crude in London. A week ago, that was off the cards, and the gains in the past few days have been stunning — it was only on August 24 that WTI futures posted a six-and-a-half year low at US$38.24 a barrel in New York. Last night they ended at US$49.20. US and Brent crude jumped more than 8% overnight Monday alone. Start filling your cars — the latest slide in prices seems to have been strangled. — Glenn Dyer
Data questions, home loan joy? Yesterday’s June-quarter business indicators from the Australian Bureau of Statistics raised more than a few questions. First up the 1.9% slide in company profits in the quarter (and 3.9% over the year to June). Now it wasn’t unexpected that mining would play a major part with a 9.9% drop in the quarter (seasonally adjusted). The fall in commodity prices and write-downs have made headlines. What was a big surprise was the ABS saying that gross operating profits in the financial-and-insurance-services sector fell by 38.9%,(seasonally adjusted). Now I don’t know about that. We haven’t seen banks report weak or lower profits in their trading updates or in the Commonwealth Bank’s full-year figures. It could be the host of unlisted banks and financial groups have recorded a slide in profits in the quarter, but that would have made its way into the public arena. Perhaps it was the big insurance companies, all of which reported weak-to-lower profits because of the spate of bad weather (and huge insurance claims of well over $1 billion) from February onwards (the claims take months to get paid), and especially in late March and through April. And that massive slide was confirmed in the fine print of yesterday’s release. One other bit of data from the ABS’ business indicators that should be questioned is the 1.1% rise in wages and salaries in the June quarter, which accounted for most of the 1.6% annual growth. The quarterly rise is an annual growth rate of well over 4%, which is not supported by the ABS’ Wage Price Index or Average Weekly earnings series. — Glenn Dyer