Iron ore ouch. Iron ore prices jumped 3.7% overnight to US$42.66, a rare rise amid the commodity gloom. But for Rio Tinto (and its iron ore competitors) it merely underlined the pain it is going through. Rio said its iron ore sales from its huge Pilbara mines rose 10% to 260.3 million tonnes in the year to December (318.5 million in total, including the share of partners in joint venture mines). Total global iron ore exports met guidance of 340 million tonnes (that includes operations in Canada). And the slowdown in activity and the global market can be seen from the forecast small rise for 2016 in global shipments to 350 million tonnes, with most of that coming from the Pilbara mines. Hardly worth getting up for a few years ago at the height of the boom.

But buried in the report was a detail that shows the extent of the pain the price slide is causing to Rio’s finances. Rio said its average per-tonne price (on a wet basis) was US$48.40 a tonne, which is close to half the US$84.30 a tonne for 2014. The size of the price fall wasn’t offset by the rise in sales last year, and gross revenues for the Pilbara mines was US$12.6 billion, nearly US$7 billion down on the US$19.52 billion in revenue in 2014. That’s a big hole in the revenue, profits and cash flow for the group. BHP will feel the same impact. It reports its interim production data tomorrow. Financial results from both next month and BHP will report a loss after its US$7.2 billion write-off of its US shale oil and gas business, and no doubt other impairments. — Glenn Dyer

Whew, missed by that much! The Queensland government certainly got it right in not tipping a $35 million loan into Queensland Nickel, as demanded by owner and the prince of hot air Clive Palmer. In fact, the government made the right call in resisting a short but nasty lobbying campaign for a bailout from Palmer and the company, which would not reveal any financial details. Now we know why they wanted the government loan so desperately, and why the secrecy on the financial fine print: Queensland Nickel is going down the tube, unable to pay its debts, with an administrator (FTI Consulting) being appointed to the group. Not even the sacking of more than 200 staff last week could provide any relief. The slide in the world nickel price finally caught up with Palmer and his company. Suppliers from chemical oil and power companies, various contractors and rail giant Aurizon are owed million of dollars ($27 million in the latter’s case).

But this morning Fairfax Media reported some curious goings-on in the company’s accounts six months or so ago:

“A little over six months before its collapse on Monday, Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel wrote up the value of its assets by more than $1 billion, even as the price of nickel plunged … The accounts disclose a change in accounting policy which paved the way for the asset revaluation which helped to wipe out the accumulated losses on the balance sheet. Rather than the accounts reflecting the cost of its plant and equipment less depreciation, it now uses a ‘fair value’ approach, less depreciation.”

Reverse the changes and questions arise about Queensland Nickel’s solvency and viability, and whether the company continued to trade while insolvent. Reports of $290,000 in payments to the Palmer United Party in December can be reversed by the administrators because they occurred within six months of the date of the appointment of administrations. If the political party can’t repay those funds, then its future will be suspect. WA iron ore is, of course, another disaster area for Palmer. The bad news is mounting. — Glenn Dyer

Who are FTI? The administrators are from FTI, which is hardly known here. When you mention that it acquired KordaMentha’s Brisbane business in 2012, recognition rises, but not by much. It remains a small player in the Australian corporate hatches, matches and dispatches business. The FTI website shows it has spread interstate to Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. The unlikely named David Bowie is an IT managing director, according to the website (though Ashes to Ashes would be a great theme song for the Queensland Nickel administration). But he is not likely to be involved in the Queensland Nickel administration. Someone who will be is Brisbane-based Lachlan McIntosh, a Senior Managing Director in the Corporate Finance/Restructuring practice of FTI Consulting”, according to the website.

“Mr. McIntosh has 25 years of experience, with a focus on turnaround and profit enhancement. He has been involved in a number of Queensland’s largest insolvencies, including Fincorp Investments Ltd, Fridgerite Ltd, Coolum Resort Pty Ltd, the Co Develop Group and Dreamworld.”

In March, 2012 KordaMentha was appointed administrator of Coolum in a dispute between its owner, Clive Palmer, and then manager, Hyatt Group. So McIntosh has the required experience in dealing with Palmer in corporate collapses. Coolum closed its doors in March of last year — the massive investment ($2 billion apparently) promised by Clive Palmer having failed to appear, with only some tatty plastic dinosaurs and unkempt golf course to show for the experience. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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