Coal & Allied $45,000 pollution fine 

COAL & Allied has been fined $45,000 for allowing 6 megalitres of polluted water from its Mt Thorley-Warkworth mine to run into a Hunter River tributary

The incident occurred on February 1 and 2 last year (2012) when sediment-laden water was discharged from the mine’s western boundary, adjacent to Charlton Road.

The water then entered a drainage channel, which ran into Salt Pan Creek, Newport Lagoon, Wollombi Brook and then the Hunter River.

The company pleaded guilty in the Land and Environment Court and was convicted of breaching section 120 (1) of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay legal costs of $51,000.

A Coal & Allied spokesman said sediment and erosion controls were in place at the time of the event but were unable to contain all the water deposited during the rainfall event.

‘‘Coal & Allied regrets that during a heavy rainfall event in early February 2012, non-mine affected water containing soil from civil works associated with the erection of a visual bund (as required under Mt Thorley’s Approvals), exited Mount Thorley Operations’ western boundary and flowed into land owned by Coal & Allied,’’ he said.

“Coal & Allied has undertaken further works to improve its erosion and sediment control measures at Mount Thorley with more than $500,000 invested in measures such as water channels, sediment controls barriers and enhanced monitoring.”

Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association spokesman John Krey said the fine was appropriate.

‘‘This was a major pollution incident and it’s good to see they have been held to account,’’ he said.

‘‘Mines have to pay more attention to their controls; they are too slack when it comes to dust and noise and now we have seen a serious water pollution incident as well.’’

The Land and Environment Court also ordered Coal and Allied to advertise the breach in newspapers today (Tues, Aug 26).

Coal & Allied’s Mt Thorley-Warkworth mine.

Keeping an eye on the pennies

Not even the children of the nation’s rich and powerful are safe from the powerful money Hoover operated by the cash-hungry Rudd government.

A pair of bank accounts held in the names of AFL boss Andrew Demetriou’s twin daughters have been emptied out into the Commonwealth consolidated revenue fund, a government gazette released on Friday shows.

The gazette names two unclaimed bank accounts, each of $2471.43, belonging to Alexandra Demetriou and her sister Zoe, care of Andrew Demetriou’s $6.8 million home in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Toorak.

Bank accounts from which there are no deposits or withdrawals are transferred to the government after three years – reduced from seven years in December in a move that has so far netted $450 million.

To get the money back, punters need to apply to their banks.

Demetriou is pretty busy right now – finals are fast approaching and on Monday he was sitting at an AFL Commission hearing of charges against the Essendon Football Club over the supplements scandal that has gripped the code.

But, while the AFL boss brought home $1.88 million last year, it appears he is determined to recover the relatively small amount of missing money.

”Yes, he is aware of it with both his daughters and is in the process of reclaiming their money,” AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said.Win for Twiggy

He may have lost on the mining tax, but his investment in biotech Allied Healthcare Group has proved healthy for Fortescue founder Andrew Forrest.

Twiggy quietly increased his stake in Allied to 17.05 per cent on July 30, paying almost $1 million to buy about 20.8 million shares.

That’s a price of about 4.8¢ a share. But the stock’s been on a run since, culminating in a speeding ticket issued by the ASX last week after its price surged from 5.8¢ on August 12 to a peak of 7.6¢ on August 19.

On Monday the company said its cardiovascular patch, CardioCel, had passed European safety rules. Allied closed at 7.9¢, meaning Twiggy has made a quick paper profit of $644,000 on his latest purchase. His entire stake – some 176 million-odd shares – is worth close to $14 million.Rough swells

Management wipeouts at troubled surfwear group Billabong have left the company without a big kahuna to unveil its annual results on Tuesday morning.

Former Target managing director Launa Inman got caught in the rip on August 5, standing down as chief executive when the company agreed to a rescue package with the Altamont consortium.

Former Oakley chief executive Scott Olivet was set to surf into the top job, subject to Takeovers Panel approval – a process the company said ”may take a week or more”.

It’s yet to happen, with the tide turning after the Takeovers Panel forced the Altamont crew to tone down some of its more obnoxious demands and the rival Oaktree-Centerbridge consortium dropping in with a fresh offer.

So who will be head grommet at Tuesday’s dial-in? Apparently the show is to be run by finance chief and acting chief executive Peter Myers, who came from APN in January.

Chairman Ian Pollard will also be on hand.Within Range

Being suspended from the exchange won’t stop Cape Range steaming ahead with its deal to become the listing vehicle for brown coal treatment outfit Exergen, chairman Wayne Johnson insists.

He told CBD Cape Range would pay its ASX fees by August 29 and would be lodging a prospectus this week to raise up to $5 million.

Asked when Cape Range would be back trading on the bourse, he said: ”The timetable we’re targeting is the end of October.”

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Shopper dockets put dent in Caltex result


Oil refiner and marketer Caltex suffered a loss of petrol sales during the June half as Coles ramped up price discounting with its ”shopper dockets”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been reviewing the petrol discount scheme operated by the big supermarket chains, Woolworths and Coles, amid industry-wide criticism it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

Caltex supplies Woolworths with its petroleum products, giving it a prime exposure to the supermarket wars.

Caltex made the disclosure when unveiling a profit for the June half of $195 million, up from $167 million a year earlier, as it benefited from inventory gains on the oil price movement. Revenue totalled $11.5 billion, down from $11.8 billion a year earlier.

Inventory gains flattered earnings by $24 million in the half, compared with losses of $30 million in the year earlier period.

A steady interim dividend of 17¢ a share was declared. Earnings per share in the half rose to 72.2¢ from 61.8¢ a year earlier.

Stripping out the impact of oil price movements and profits fell to $171 million on a so-called replacement cost basis from $197 million a year earlier, coming in at the upper end of its recent guidance of $160 million to $175 million.

Supply disruptions at the Lytton refinery in Brisbane and to premium product supplies in Sydney, along with the slide in the Australian dollar, wiped an estimated $20 million off earnings, it said.

The currency alone cost $39 million, which would have been $85 million but for a group policy of hedging 50 per cent of its foreign exchange exposure.

In the supermarket wars, Caltex said Woolworths had been slow in responding to the discounting by Coles, which had pressured deliveries for a time.

By the end of the June half, the discounting had stabilised, with volumes returning to usual levels.

Caltex has consistently refused to signal the extent of the supplies made to Woolworths, only pointing out that while it is an important outlet it acts as a wholesaler, so the margins are modest.

Sales volumes of unleaded fuel and ethanol mix fuels remained soft, Caltex said, although it was continuing to benefit from a shift to sales of premium product for both petroleum and diesel product lines.

Sales of premium petrol rose 4 per cent, and would have topped 5 per cent but for supply disruptions in the Sydney market.

Despite concerns over a slowdown in resource sector activity, Caltex said it was continuing to ship rising volumes to the sector, where it is benefiting from the need to tap deeper ore bodies in both the coal and iron ore sectors as shallower reserves are mined out.

As the ratio of overburden being shifted rises, this is flowing through to rising diesel volumes, it said.

This could lift volumes by as much as 30 per cent.

Analysts were wary of recommending Caltex shares due to ”execution risks” in closing Kurnell, earnings volatility from the Lytton refinery and potential for increased marketing competition from rivals.

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Billabong to unveil huge losses

Billabong’s core markets have reflected sales and earnings collapses. Photo: Glenn HuntStruggling surfwear group Billabong is expected to unveil huge write-downs leading to a $560 million full-year loss on Tuesday morning, with the company’s future still in doubt as rival private equity funds wrestle over competing refinancing deals.

Analyst consensus is for Billabong, which owns a global portfolio of surf, streetwear and fashion brands, to report a pre-abnormal profit of $10.2 million with investors eager to get more clarity about management’s strategic direction of the business in the wake of tough trading conditions.

In February Billabong revealed sales and earnings collapses across

its core markets of the Americas, Europe and Australasia had decimated its business, triggering more than half a billion dollars in impairment charges and write-downs. It reported a loss of $536.6 million for the December half.

But any discussion about the resuscitation of the business is expected to be crashed by private equity bidders and their advisers who have been jostling for nearly a year to seize control of Billabong.

The battle has intensified over the past 10 days after a successful bid from Altamont Capital and Blackstone was reworked following an adverse ruling from the Takeovers Panel, only to be trumped a few days later by the rival Centerbridge Partners-Oaktree Capital consortium, which claims to have put up a better deal for Billabong and its shareholders.

Billabong has said it will be moving ahead with the $US325million refinancing proposal from Altamont and Blackstone with documents to be prepared for a shareholder vote by October.

However, Centerbridge and Oaktree have fired back, saying their fresh proposal, delivered to Billabong directors last week, is a vastly better offer in terms of takeover premium extended to shareholders, the level of debt to be left in the group and the interest rate it would charge on its loan component.

Centerbridge and Oaktree are working intensively to push Billabong directors to consider their deal, also claiming they could wrap up the details and finalise a recapitalisation within days.

The duo claim they would allow acting Billabong boss Scott Olivet – installed by Altamont – to remain at the helm if their offer succeeds. However, it is believed Mr Olivet has told Billabong directors he would not work with Centerbridge and Oaktree and would resign.

Meanwhile, shareholders seeking some hope of a resurrection of Billabong’s fortunes will be updated on trading conditions for the surf and streetwear market when the fiscal 2013 results are released.

A previous strategic plan delivered by former CEO Launa Inman aimed to simplify the business, leverage its brands, improve the retail performance and effect supply chain efficiencies.

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BHP to trim debt before special return

BHP Billiton could be several years away from treating shareholders to a special round of returns, according to guidance that chief executive Andrew Mackenzie gave recently.

Mr Mackenzie told UBS that he was unlikely to conduct a round of share buybacks or award a special dividend until the company’s debt was below $US25 billion.

At last count, BHP’s debt was just over $US29 billion, and UBS does not expect the company to be able to pay that down much during the 2014 financial year.

In a research note, UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock said BHP might wait until the 2016 financial year before conducting a special round of shareholder returns.

”At [$US25 billion] or lower, the CEO said he felt that the balance sheet would be at a level which would provide the company with flexibility and ensure the maintenance of a single-A credit rating,” Mr Lawcock wrote.

Mr Mackenzie told UBS that share buybacks were more likely than a special dividend given the company’s dual-listed structure.

BHP has been under pressure to increase shareholder returns in recent years, and has a progressive dividend policy that incrementally increases payouts to shareholders every year. Shareholders were last week awarded a full-year dividend of $US1.16, which was 4 per cent bigger than the payout the year before.

Mr Mackenzie’s comments on shareholder returns come after a five-year period during which BHP shareholders went backwards in terms of total shareholder returns, but fared better than investors in most other big miners.

Meanwhile, BHP has confirmed that one of its most senior executives over recent years, Marcus Randolph, will retire from the company within a week.

The gregarious Mr Randolph spent close to six years in charge of BHP’s iron ore and coal divisions, and was long touted as one of the favourites to replace former chief executive Marius Kloppers.

He recently returned after spending much of 2013 on sick leave, but will now depart on September 2.

Mr Randolph’s departure was not the only change announced by BHP on Monday, with a new face set to join the company’s powerful ”group management committee” (GMC).

BHP’s human relations boss, Mike Fraser, has been elevated to the GMC, and will carry the title ”president of human relations”.

The elevation was made possible by splitting in half the ”people and public affairs” role that GMC member Karen Wood has held over recent years.

Ms Wood will continue at the company as president of public affairs and remain on the GMC.

Mr Fraser has spent 13 years at BHP, serving in South Africa, Mozambique and at the company’s headquarters in Melbourne.

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