Woolies leads the red-ink parade. Woolworths provided some support for its new pin-up role in its red-ink stained interim financial report this morning. More than $3.2 billion of pre- tax impairment losses on the Masters hardware adventure ($1.9 billion after tax) is the headline grabber, with interim dividend slashed 34% to 44 cents a share. Sales fell 1.6% — itself an indictment of the country’s biggest retailer — but even before the impact of the hardware losses, earnings for the half year plunged 33% to $925.8 million after tax, and 31.6% on an EBIT level to $1.46 billion. Things went from bad to worse as Woolies’ costs and prices rose, the hardware adventure was dreamed up, suppliers were screwed and prices in the company’s core supermarkets drifted upwards, until Coles, and then Aldi began stealing sales and earnings with cheaper prices, and smarter marketing. The only good news was that the retailer has found a new CEO. The new bloke is Brad Banducci, the present boss of Woolies’ food group and a former head of Woolies’ most successful business, the Dan Murphy grog group. Woolies’ report buried the impairments — the actual loss was the final line of the first page, and the size of the impairments (“Significant Items”) didn’t appear until five pages in. Spin lives on. — Glenn Dyer

Dick Smith goes. After yesterday’s not-unexpected news of the failure to sell the chain in Australia and NZ, 2500 to 3000 jobs will be going. And it is interesting that the receivers are now saying that there will be a shortfall on the $140 million owed to the NAB and HSBC (we don’t know of the size). There’s stock of $200 million and employee entitlements of $30 million (which get priority). Senator Nick Xenophon has a Senate committee looking at the collapse of “listed retailers” and upfront will be the role of Anchorage Capital, the private equity mob that bought Dick Smith from Woolies for a reported $94 million (but which was only $10 million, according to Sydney funds manager, Forager) and then listed it on the ASX in a float worth $520 million. There’s talk of an ASIC investigation (which will bury it and probably produce the same result as we saw in the probe into the collapse of ABC Learning: nothing). The board and management of the retailer and auditors should be questioned by the committee, but if ASIC mutters, “we will look at it”, no one will front the committee, and everything will be hidden from view. — Glenn Dyer

Big miners, big losses. The figures are in, the books ruled off, the numbers crunched and the auditors have departed, leaving some of the world’s biggest miners to confess to a sea of red ink: We had a lot of spinning of “underlying” income or profit, but ignore those book keeping and PR efforts. The tale of the tape is bottom lines — the losses after impairments and other costs. For the five biggest miners it was a US$30 billion-plus black hole for 2015, or the six months to December. The big Brazilian miner, Vale provided the final report overnight with news of a 2015 loss of US$12.13 billion, with a massive US$8.57 billion pool of red ink being reported for the fourth quarter alone. This follows the US$12.2 billion loss for last year for Freeport, US$5.7 billion half-year loss for BHP Billiton, full-year loss of US$5.5 billion for Anglo American, and the best, US$866 million loss for Rio Tinto. And also yesterday, South 32, the unwanted love child of BHP Billiton, revealed a loss of US$1.7 billion for the December half and cut 700 jobs here and around the world. Add that loss in and the total is around US$33 billion. The reasons for the various losses were impairments of the value of iron ore, copper, nickel, oil and gas operations around the world, foreign exchange losses, stock write-downs, restructuring and redundancy payments to the thousands of staff sacked. And the Brazilian dam disaster for BHP and Vale, with the full cost yet to arrive, but sure to be in the billions of dollars. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW