Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Miners dig in against Victoria's gold royalty hike

Australia's powerful mining industry is pressuring Victoria to reverse its introduction of a gold royalty, warning the impost will stunt the growth of the fast-growing sector in the state and deter future exploration and mine developments.

The Minerals Council of Australia's renewed push, contained in a submission ahead of the Andrews government's May budget, comes as the Victorian opposition plans to move a disallowance motion against the royalty hike in the Legislative Council on Wednesday that refers to the increase as a "tax grab".

A gold nugget discovered by a prospector on the outskirts of Ballarat last year that is worth about $130,000. Credit:AAP

Victoria last year announced it would introduce a 2.75 per cent royalty on the market value of gold produced, ending its run as the only jurisdiction without one. The government expects to reap $56 million over four years from the royalty.

But the move has prompted a bitter backlash from the mining sector, amid concerns it could imperil a boom in the state's goldfields, where gold production, exploration, expenditure and employment are all rising in what some have termed a modern-day gold rush.

"The development of Victoria's minerals industry should become a priority for Victoria’s economy," the Minerals Council submission said.

"But Victoria's geological prospectivity alone is not enough for the state to convert its minerals endowment into a pipeline of new investment and jobs. Policy settings are crucial to capture new opportunities for jobs, regional development and investment in mining."

A spokesman for the Andrews government said Victorian taxpayers deserved a fair share of the profits made from extracting gold from their land.

"This royalty brings us in line with every other state and all other minerals extracted in Victoria," the spokesman said.

"Profits from the gold royalty will be invested across the state – helping to deliver the infrastructure and services Victorians need."

The industry, however, is urging the royalty be delayed and replaced by a "progressive royalty structure that encourages investment".

Victoria’s mining sector produces gold, antinomy and brown coal, while the state is considered "highly prospective" in other minerals including rare earths which are used in wind turbines and batteries as well as in technologies such as smart phones and laptops, the Minerals Council said.

"Demand for Victoria’s minerals is set to grow as essential inputs to modern technology," the Minerals Council's Victorian director James Sorahan said.

"A strong and sustainable minerals industry creates jobs and supports economically diverse regional communities."

Employment in the state's mining sector rose 41 per cent in 2018-19 to an average of 16,000 jobs. Including the mining equipment, technology and services sector, about 121,000 Victorian jobs are supported by the industry.

The Victorian government said it would work with the resources industry and local communities to "make sure our gold industry continues to grow, but provides a fair return for Victorians".

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sweetener sees Caltex open books to Canadian suitor

Canadian convenience giant Alimentation Couche-Tard has gained full access to takeover target Caltex Australia’s books, in a signal its sweetened $8.8 billion offer for the fuel retailer may be high enough to get its bid over the line.

Caltex decided on Monday to provide the Quebec-based retailer with an ”opportunity to conduct additional due diligence on a non-exclusive basis," giving the Canadian's offer fresh impetus while effectively leaving the door open for other interested parties circling the business.

Caltex has squeezed a higher bid out of its Canadian suitor.Credit:AAP

"The Caltex board considers that it is in the interests of shareholders to engage further with Alimentation Couche-Tard,” Caltex said in a statement to the ASX.

The detente between the suitor and its target follows Couche-Tard, which is French for night owl, submitting a fresh indicative bid of $35.25 per share on Thursday – an increase of 0.75¢ per share on its previous offer.

Caltex, led by Steven Gregg, had previously rejected Couche-Tard's first friendly offer of $32 per share. The Canadians then followed up with a higher $34.50 bid but both lower offers were considered inadequate by Caltex's board and not "compelling" for shareholders.

Shares in Caltex rose more than 4 per cent on Monday, tapping $35.03, before closing up 3.9 per cent at $34.85.

Couche-Tard indicated last week its revised offer was its "best and final price" in the absence of a competing proposal.

Under Australia's takeover code, a final offer "means just that," RBC Capital Markets analyst Irene Nattel said last week, although the "best and final" language was also designed to flush out any other serious contenders.

Britain's EG Group is also circling Caltex and is reportedly in discussions with Macquarie Group for a joint bid that would see EG keep Caltex's main retail business and Macquarie take on the refinery and infrastructure assets.

Another potential suitor is thought to be US giant Chevron Corporation, which formerly owned 50 per cent of Caltex's Australian operations. Chevron jumped back into the Australian fuel retailing market last year with its $425 million acquisition of Puma Energy's local network.

Chevron has also put Caltex on notice that it intends to withdraw the existing licence to use the Caltex brand in Australia, prompting Caltex to revive its Ampol brand and change its name accordingly.

Couche-Tard's modest 2 per cent increase in its offer comes against a backdrop of a weak refining environment and intense competition in the retailing sector which has impacted margins.

The non-exclusive nature of Couche-Tard's due diligence leaves Caltex open to exploring offers from other interested players if they emerge.

The Canadian's offer was subject to various conditions and there was no certainty it would result in a transaction, Caltex said.

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Genius iPhone trick lets you find ANY photo in your camera album in seconds

IT'S often hard to find certain photos in your iPhone camera roll – but Apple has built a neat tool to help you out.

You can search for exact photos using keywords – just like a Google Image query – including "lake", "dog" or "cheese".

It's handy when you've taken a photo a while ago and can't find it manually.

Simply search for a key term in the app, and all the photos that match should appear.

That's because Apple has designed the Photos app to recognise senes and objects using machine learning.

You can even search for events, like a concert you went to: "Photos for iOS can use the time and location of your photos along with online event listings to find matching photos."

It's also possible to search by location, so you can enter a place name – like Birmingham – to track down photos of your trip to Brum.

How to search Photos on iPhone

First, open the Photos app on your iPhone.

Next, tap on the Search tab in the bottom right-hand corner – which has a magnifying glass as its icon.

Then simply type in the name of a place, a search term, or even a person's name (if they're assigned in your Photos app) to find matches.

And if you're worried this means Apple is snooping on your photos, don't.

All of the processing happens on your iPhone, rather than being sent up to Apple's servers in the cloud – so there's no risk that anyone at Apple can actually see your snaps.

"When you search your photos, all of the face recognition and scene and object detection are done completely on your device," Apple explains.

"Apple harnesses machine learning to enhance your experience — and your privacy. We’ve used it to enable image and scene recognition in Photos, and more, without requiring your data to leave your device."

iPhone tricks to try today

Here are some of the best…

  • Typing cursor – When typing, hold down the space bar to turn your keyboard into a trackpad, letting you move around words and sentences more easily
  • Close all Safari tabs – To do this in one go, simply hold the overlapped squares in the bottom right-hand corner, and press close all tabs
  • Delete lots of photos quickly – Hold down on a photo and then drag your finger diagonally in Photos to select lots of images at once, then hit delete
  • Convert currency quickly – Swipe down from the top of your Home screen (or swipe left to right on an iPhone X), then tap in the bar and type a currency (like $200) and it will automatically covert to your local currency
  • Check if you're due a battery upgrade – Batteries inside smartphones degrade over time. Just go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health, and check out the Maximum Capacity reading. Generally a battery is considered worn when you're down to 80% capacity. If you're below, you can buy a battery swap from Apple
  • Move apps around faster – Hold an app until it starts wiggling, then (while still holding) tap other apps, causing them to stack so you can move them around easier

In other news, this WhatsApp trick lets you see who you chat with the most.

One simple button press can improve bad iPhone signal instantly.

And read our guide on how to text on your iPhone faster.

Do you know any clever iPhone tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!

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Coronavirus: Budget will have measures to support workers, firms

Businesses here are concerned about cashflow issues amid the coronavirus outbreak, and next Tuesday’s Budget will include measures to help stabilise the current situation and support workers and businesses, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

At the same time, there will be measures to help firms position themselves strongly for the recovery.

Mr Chan said business leaders whom he spoke with are looking at how to use the current situation to boost the training of their workers and to review some of their business models or production processes so they will be ready when the economy strengthens.

“This speaks very well for our business community that while they manage the current situation, they are at the same time having an eye on the future, to make sure that we are one of the fastest to recover,” he said following the two-hour dialogue with about 25 business leaders at the Singapore Business Federation Centre.

Addressing the media, Mr Chan said the businessmen also agreed on the importance of diversifying both supply chains and labour sources, help for which smaller companies can turn to trade associations and chambers.

But asked if work-pass regulations may need to be reviewed to accommodate new sources of labour, he said there were limits.

“Not every country will have the kind of labour and the skill set that we need, so sometimes we are constrained, but it is always ongoing work not just at the government level, but at each of the companies.”

Mr Chan noted that though the Government can refer to past support measures rolled out during crises such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, H1N1 swine flu outbreak and the global financial crisis, each was different from the rest, and measures must be applied in context.

China’s contribution to the world economy and involvement in the global supply chain for high-end technological products have grown significantly since 2003, he said.

“The volume of trade between Singapore and China has certainly gone up, the linkages between the Chinese economy and the rest of the world economy have certainly tightened,” said the minister.

Mr Ernie Koh, executive director of furniture manufacturer Koda, said he has diversified his supply chains over the last few years such that Chinese suppliers now account for about 15 per cent, down from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

“But if one component is missing, we cannot ship,” he added.

ST’s Budget coverage

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Business leaders noted that some industries face greater challenges than others.

At Resorts World Sentosa, where tourist arrivals and attendances have dropped very significantly, staff have been asked to take their annual leave earlier in the year, said chief executive Tan Hee Teck.

On preparing for the eventual recovery, Singapore National Employers Federation vice-president Alexander Melchers noted that the economy rebounded significantly after the Sars outbreak and companies in most industries closed almost on budget.

“Make sure you are prepared; There will be an economic rebound, and we want to be ready for it,” said Mr Melchers, who is also Singapore general manager of luxury good distributor C. Melchers Gmbh & Co.

“Staff need to be there, they need to be skilled, they need to be ready, they also need to be motivated.”


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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Trump’s bid to end Public Service Loan Forgiveness could mean ‘major life changes’ for some student-loan borrowers

J.P. Gilbert, a 30-year-old assistant public defense lawyer based in central Florida, hasn’t missed a single loan repayment since he started paying off his student loan debt five years ago. He’s been diligent about making payments on time and keeping his government job so that in five years he can qualify for student loan forgiveness.

But President Donald Trump’s recently proposed budget cuts would put a stop to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that’s made it possible for people like Gilbert to work in the public and nonprofit sector. In 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program costs $12 billion annually.

Trump failed to nix the PSLF program when he proposed axing it in last year’s budget proposal.

The program, enacted by President George W. Bush in 2007, allows borrowers who work in certain public or nonprofit sector jobs to have their federal student loan debt erased after making on-time payments for 10 years.

The program has strict — and some say, confusing — rules that applicants must adhere to for an entire decade. Ultimately only 1% of borrowers who applied in 2018 for loan forgiveness had their applications accepted. That amounted to just 96 borrowers out of a pool of 29,000 who had about $5.52 million in debt discharged under the program.

Applicants typically understand that adhering to the program’s guidelines — which include having their employers submit annual certification reports to verify their roles — by no means ensures that their student debt will be wiped away. But that small glimmer of hope is why Gilbert has continued to work as a public defense lawyer.

“I love the work that I do but outside of the love of what I do the really biggest thing about me being in this job is the ability to qualify for the loan forgiveness program,” Gilbert said. He now has a six-month-old daughter, and if the PSLF program ended, he’s not sure that he would be able to keep his job, he told MarketWatch. He graduated from Stetson University’s College of Law which currently costs $44,468 a semester for full-time students.

Other borrowers said the program’s demise would force them to rethink some life goals.

“I feel strongly about the career I went into,” Mai El-Sadany, a 30-year-old legal and judicial director at the Tahrir Institute For Middle East Policy, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., said. “But I would have to make serious life changes and not be able to save up for a house.”

Like Gilbert, El-Sadany also took out student loans to attend law school, in her case, at Georgetown University. She owes around $62,000 after paying 53 of the 120 qualifying payments toward forgiveness, which she hopes to be granted in Sept. 2025.

The Democratic-controlled House Budget Committee criticized Trump’s budget proposal, which in addition to ending the PSLF program, would affect Medicare prescription-drug pricing, Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits.

The budget “doubles down on making college less affordable and unattainable for many American families with a $170 billion cut to student loan programs over 10 years,” the chairman of the committee, John Yarmuth, said Monday. “This includes increasing costs for new students by eliminating subsidized student loans and making it more difficult for students to repay their loans by eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.”

Because the House and the Senate already passed a two-year budget deal last fall, it is unlikely that the two chambers will take Trump’s proposal into consideration.

Republican Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Mike Enzi, said he will not hold a hearing on the budget cuts because it would only spark “animosity” between Democrats and Republicans, The Hill reported on Monday. Enzi, a Wyoming senator, is retiring later this year.

For these two reasons, it is unlikely that the government will cut spending on student loan forgiveness by $170 billion and end the PSLF program, as Trump’s plan proposes.

The PSLF program, El-Sadany said, “is really important irrespective of social background,” adding that it sends an important message to nonprofit and government workers that they are appreciated by the government.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Heartbreak for Jan Cameron and her Black Prince

It’s a fair bet that Jan isn’t happy. Fresh from pocketing about $300 million from selling her shares in Bellamy’s in December and sealing the success of its takeover, Cameron will front up to Hobart’s Magistrates Court in four weeks to face criminal charges for misleading the corporate regulator.

The financial penalty for breaching the two sections of the Corporations Act has the potential to set her back about $40,000 – loose change for one of Cameron’s financial means.

But the charges also carry the potential penalty of disqualification from company directorships. This would presumably become more of a problem for Cameron who has been a serial investor for decades.

Jan Cameron will face Hobart’s Magistrates Court in March.Credit:Erin Johanson

For the regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), a win against Cameron would represent a juicy high-profile scalp and serve as a warning to others.

For her part, it seems clear Cameron won’t be going down without a fight. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions moved to charge Cameron a few months back but was frustrated by her various legal manoeuvres.

ASIC alleges that she failed to disclose her true substantial shareholding in Bellamy’s and that she misled the regulator when she failed to properly disclose her relationship with another shareholder The Black Prince Foundation.

Cameron’s Black Prince association spilled into the public domain in 2017 when Cameron alongside Black Prince was attempting to stage a board coup at Bellamy’s.

An offshore registered entity, Black Prince Private Foundation, had held a 14.4 per cent shareholding in Bellamy’s since 2014. It was registered in Singapore and domiciled in a popular tax haven, the Caribbean.

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2017 Cameron denied having a personal interest in Black Prince Private Foundation, claiming to only have a 2 per cent direct shareholding in Bellamy's. It also reported that she denied knowing the identity of the owners of Black Prince.

Bellamy’s board, under siege from Cameron, wasn't satisfied. So it went digging.

It was subsequently revealed that Cameron and her long time lawyer Rodd Peters were directors of a charitable organisation, Elsie Cameron, to which Black Prince is answerable.

For a businesswoman who shuns publicity, Cameron has received plenty over the past 30 years.

Friday’s sensational action from ASIC may provide answers as to why Cameron did not disclose her alleged association with Black Prince.

Cameron told The Australian Financial Review in 2017, after a tracing notice had uncovered the relationship between the Elsie Cameron charitable trust and Black Prince, that she was "naively hoping" to keep the donation to the Elsie Cameron Foundation private rather than "splashed across the news".

"Just because it's in a tax haven, it's got nothing to do with tax issues," she was quoted saying at the time.

ASIC alleges Cameron’s first breach occurred in 2014 when Bellamy’s was initially listed and she failed to disclose a 14.74 per cent interest.

ASIC also alleges that in February 2017, Cameron lodged with Bellamy’s a substantial holder notice that was misleading.

For a businesswoman who shuns publicity, Cameron has received plenty over the past 30 years.

She founded and later sold out of sportswear retailer Kathmandu – cementing her title as Australia’s fourth richest woman.

She made headlines again a few years later for investing in numerous other retail brands – most of which failed and devoured the bulk of her fortune.

Since selling out of Kathmandu, her investment in Bellamy’s appears to have been the basis of her wealth revival.

For a period she served as a director of the organic dairy marketing company, which itself went through some hair-raising financial problems.

It was acquired by China Mengniu Dairy Company in December last year for 1.5 billion.

A classic entrepreneur, she is described as a tough businesswoman but not one who has been romanced by the trappings of the rich – boats, planes and mansions around the world.

She manages her array of international investments from Tasmania.

And while she is well known as an environmental activist and animal welfare warrior, she is also known as one who doesn’t shy away from a corporate or a political brawl.

She is now facing a legal brawl with the regulator which will attract unwanted publicity.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Keppel associate drops merger bid to create offshore housing giant

SINGAPORE – Keppel Corp said on Friday (Feb 14) that its associate company Floatel International and Oslo-listed Prosafe have dropped their bid to merge in a combination that would have created the world’s largest offshore accommodation provider.

The decision comes after Norway competition authorities blocked the proposed merger in October 2019. Keppel had said then said that Floatel and Prosafe were assessing whether to appeal the decision.

In a regulatory update on Thursday (Feb 13), Keppel said Floatel and Prosafe “were of the view that any near-term completion of a value-enhancing merger was unlikely”.

The merger would have combined Prosafe’s existing nine semi-submersible vessels, and options for two newbuild semi-submersible vessels with Floatel’s five semi-submersible vessels, Prosafe said in an announcement at the time.

Keppel said the discontinuation of the proposed deal is not expected to have a material impact on its net tangible assets or earnings per share for the current financial year.

Keppel Offshore & Marine, a unit of the Keppel Corp, owns a 49.92 per cent stake in Floatel via its wholly-owned subsidiary Fels Offshore.

Fels Offshore’s resultant shareholding in the post-merger Prosafe would have been about 22 per cent.

Keppel shares were trading up one cent or 0.15 per cent at $6.74 at 10:30am on Friday.

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