Plenty of hoops to jump through in jockeys’ game of thrones

Once in a Green Moon: Brett Prebble salutes in last year’s Melbourne Cup. Photo: Justin McManusThe strength at the top of Australia’s riding ranks is as strong as ever and, in the next couple of months, names like Rodd, Boss, Bowman, Cassidy and Rawiller will be linked with the best horseflesh around.

That is not to mention Dunn, Williams, Nolen, McEvoy and Berry – names punters would love to see to atop any charge they back.

History shows these are the names that will win the majority of the spring group 1s.

There is not that much between top jockeys, so finding and keeping a group 1 ride is important. One thing is clear about big races – they are usually won by big stables and top jockeys.

There are the exceptions like Miracles Of Life in the Blue Diamond. The filly, trained by Daniel Clarken and ridden by apprentice Lauren Stojakovic, is a great story because it is a rarity.

Jockeys work their way to the top of the game by earning their stripes over many years. Consistency counts when it comes to getting group 1 rides.

It makes the emergence of Tom Berry in the past season even more incredible.

Berry, whose twin brother Nathan is also a regular on the Sydney scene, made the most of his opportunities but achieved a unique treble.

He won group 1s for Darley’s Peter Snowden on Epaulette in the Golden Rose, Gai Waterhouse on Overreach in the Golden Slipper, and Chris Waller when he booted home Sacred Falls in the Doncaster. Jockeys have long careers without winning those races.

It is remarkable that he could ride group 1 winners for Sydney’s three biggest stables in one season, especially as he hadn’t won a group 1 at the start of the 2011-12 season.

Amazingly, he went to Hong Kong, the toughest of riding schools, and continued his run by winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Military Attack and rode successfully for the last couple of months of their season.

Where he sits on the jockey scale will be tested during the spring, but success breeds better opportunities and Berry will get his share of chances.

Top riders fall into two categories. Those with stables connections – Kerrin McEvoy and Darley, Nash Rawiller and Berry with Waterhouse. Michael Rodd with Mark Kavanagh, and Luke Nolen and Peter Moody.

Add to that mix last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Brett Prebble, who will ride for Lloyd Williams and put on hold a return to Hong Kong where he has battled for premierships in the past decade.

Interestingly the Waller stable, which won the most group 1s last season, shares its rides around. Hugh Bowman is near the top of the list, alongside names like Glyn Schofield, Jim Cassidy and, when he is available, Nash Rawiller.

The second lot of jockeys freelance their services. Names like Glen Boss and James McDonald have tied up rides on Puissance De Lune and, in the young Kiwi’s case, It’s a Dundeel and Cauthen. These are rides a carnival campaign can be built around.

Cassidy will continue to find group 1 rides and showed he was as good as his younger rivals, winning five times at the top level last season.

Who will emerge as the top jockey comes down to getting on the right horse at the right time, but planning and alliance play a big role in that.

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Brooding about All Blacks no solution for Wallabies

To half of Ewen McKenzie’s new dressing room, the complaints about New Zealand cynically killing the ball will have had a familiar ring to them. As Reds coach, he accused them of doing the same thing for the Brumbies when Queensland hosted them in Brisbane in April. Innocents are hard to find in the professional game, regardless of whether they wear black, gold, red or white.

Finding the appropriate moment to park those complaints and move forwards can also be elusive but we are at that stage (if not already beyond it). The Wallabies have 10 more Tests this year and just two of those are at home. Seven wins are needed from those 10 just to finish the year with a positive winning percentage. The year has ceased to be about the All Blacks.

Confirmation of the Wallabies’ spring tour came over the weekend and it is a schedule that will only please the bank manager. Over five consecutive weekends in November, the Wallabies will face England, Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In years gone by, you might have wagered on two of the home unions being in some form of self-inflicted disarray while expecting a limited challenge from the Italians, who were obsessed with simply keeping down the score until they parted with Nick Mallett.

But while it appears Scotland might not secure the services of Kiwi coach Vern Cotter in time for their Murrayfield clash, Ireland’s appointment of his compatriots Joe Schmidt and John Plumtree (recently of the Sharks) signals a very tough game in Dublin and the Italians have a different, and more dangerous, outlook under Jacques Brunel.

England, and particularly Alex Corbisiero, would play their game tomorrow if asked and the Welsh have apparently placed some decent coin into Bill Pulver’s paws to ensure they get a chance at the southern hemisphere scalp they need as hard evidence they belong at the top table. For the Wallabies to go through that month unbeaten would be a heroic achievement and dropping just one game would be no calamity. The lack of a banker game in that itinerary is a reminder, once again, that Super Rugby and Tests are planets apart.

A return to the winners’ circle against the Springboks in two weeks (the Wallabies have not lost four consecutive Tests since 2009) is within the reach of this current squad. Too much can be read into frailties on show against the All Blacks: the Wallabies will not play another side this year that feasts so routinely on errors.

But there is work to do at the selection table to find the answers to a few fundamental questions. Have the Wallabies picked the right players – at the right stages of their Test careers – and have they picked the right players but in the wrong positions? The names start falling into place when you work that out.

Jesse Mogg was nowhere near as bad in Wellington as some have suggested. Some of his first-half work was good (and his second-half determination to kick away possession was merely following the same script as others). But he might not have been ready in the first place.

At No.8, Ben Mowen would be the first to admit he didn’t have a good game in Wellington but it is no reason to drop him. Blindside would seem to be his best position.

There have been a few bruises collected over the past few weeks – the pugnacious coach included. It comes with the territory but the All Blacks are gone – for now. There is no point getting bogged down in it. There are others, from Buenos Aires to Cardiff, lining up to have a crack at the member of Sanzar’s big three they think is the most vulnerable.

Twitter @whiskeycully

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DVD REVIEW: Olympus has Fallen


Millennium Films, 119 minutes

WELL-ARMED: Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen.

DON’T tell anyone, but all you need to overrun the White House and take the president of the United States hostage is a converted C-130 transport plane, 40 commandos, garbage trucks and an inside man or two. If that sounds a little easy, then Olympus Has Fallen would also have you believe that a single belligerent Secret Service agent can save the day.

That dedicated, somewhat impervious, man of action is Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning, a flinty fellow who generally proves he is fluent in McClane, the language introduced by five Die Hard movies.

Banning is first seen as the head of the presidential security detail, which apparently makes him a well-armed friend of president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his wife, Margaret (Ashley Judd), as well as an avuncular presence to first son Connor (Finley Jacobsen).

That is, until a car accident at a wintry Camp David forces Banning to choose between saving the man he is sworn to protect or his wife. Banning does his job, and is banished by the grieving president. He winds up in the Treasury building, at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, another in a long line of gruff, emotionally withered Secret Service veterans.

Banning is the sole law-enforcement officer in all Washington, DC, to get inside the White House after a ground assault by fanatical North Korean agents begins, and director Antoine Fuqua stages the sequence with tumultuous bravado.

Rating: ★★

– Craig Mathieson


Goldcrest Pictures, 93 minutes

BASED on an obscure novella by the Bloomsbury Group acolyte Julia Strachey, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a very minor entry in the British heritage stakes, poorly directed by newcomer Donald Rice (son of the lyricist Tim Rice).

The story takes place over a day in 1932 at a country house in Devon where the spirited Dolly Thatchum (Felicity Jones) is preparing to marry the stuffed shirt Owen Bigham (James Norton).

Some comic turns are faintly amusing, but against such a backdrop it’s not surprising the central romance never comes to life.

Technically the film is a mess, filled with clumsily handled flashbacks, fussy close-ups and floating post-dubbed lines of dialogue.

Rating: ★

– Jake Wilson


ABC (Roadshow), 730 minutes

I APPLAUD the production of Australian drama, be it for the big screen or the small screen. There’s never enough of it and quality comes from experience: the more we make, the better we get.

This program is loaded with a talented cast, from the elegant Claudia Karvan to the hard-working Justine Clarke, from the enigmatic William McInnes to the everyman Shane Jacobson, to chameleon Stephen Curry and gentle beauty Michelle Vegara Moore.

Set in Melbourne, the scene covers family in motion during the prime nesting period of their lives. It is complicated: Clarke and Jacobson have a blended family, with two kids of their own and part-responsibility for Jacobson’s daughter; Karvan and McInnes have one toddler son, but soon break up; Curry and Moore have an attraction, but never make the connection.

Although there are good times, you quickly get conditioned to brace for conflict. The split of Karvan and McInnes is particularly rattling, with Karvan mad as hell that her husband has cheated on her. McInnes feels no pain from the separation for weeks before the penny drops that there are going to be long-term ramifications to his decision.

I’m hopeful if the show gets a second season and a chance to grow that the characters will be allowed to grow, too. Because frankly, this show is a downer.

Like I said, the cast is talented. But they’ve been handed basket-case personalities. There’s got to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Rating: ★★

– Jim Kellar

Police officer wakes up to find colleague sexually assaulting her, court hears

Accused: Timothy John Snow. Photo: Sahlan HayesA Sydney police officer says she woke up to find a senior colleague half naked and sexually assaulting her “with a grin on his face” after an office party, a court has heard.

Timothy John Snow is accused of getting into bed with the woman, who cannot be identified, and touching her genitals, after she earlier rejected his advances during the party to farewell a colleague in February 2011.

Mr Snow, who held the rank of sergeant at the time, has pleaded not guilty to having sexual intercourse with the woman without her consent and to the alternative charge of indecent assault.

On the opening day of Mr Snow’s trial, Crown prosecutor Frank Veltro said members of a Sydney police squad stayed in a rented apartment on the night of February 17, after a day of golf, drinks and a meal.

“During the course of the speeches a few of the officers moved outside and the complainant found herself sitting next to the accused,” Mr Veltro told the jury at Downing Centre District Court on Monday.

“It’s then the accused placed his hand on her thigh. The complainant picked it up and took it off, but he replaced it.

“The complainant became upset … and even angry and got up and walked away.”

Later that night several colleagues went back to their accommodation and, after lying on the couch with Mr Snow during a group conversation, the woman took a sleeping tablet and got into the bed she was sharing with a female colleague.

Mr Veltro said the colleague will give evidence she heard Mr Snow say “I love you” to the woman, who said, “You can’t, you just need to forget me.”

The trial will be told Mr Snow later returned to the room and got into the bed, before the female colleague left the pair alone, Mr Veltro said.

The alleged victim will give evidence she was asleep and woke up to find her pyjama pants were missing and Mr Snow, who was wearing boxer shorts, was touching her.

“She opened her eyes and saw it was the accused with a grin on his face,” Mr Veltro said.

Mr Veltro said Mr Snow knew the woman was not consenting because she was asleep and he knew she had taken a sleeping tablet and drunk alcohol that night.

Defence barrister Raymond Hood urged the jury to use their common sense when considering the evidence.

Mr Hood said the woman had laid her head in Mr Snow’s lap while they were on the couch before the alleged incident and allowed him to stroke her hair.

There would be evidence the woman also called Mr Snow the next morning, Mr Hood said.

He said the jury would have to consider whether the woman’s evidence, which will be heavily relied on by the Crown, was accurate.

“The lady well knew what was taking place that particular time and she was consenting to what was taking place at that particular time.”

The trial continues before Judge Brian Knox.

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Liberal left sizzling as journalist devours bacon

Not since Richard Torbay’s referral to the Independent Commission Against Corruption has political fundraising in Armidale caused such a fuss.

On Monday morning, the president of the Liberal party’s Northern Tablelands state electorate conference, James Ellis, hosted a breakfast at the Armidale Bowling Club.

The star attraction was NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher. Attendees were charged the modest ticket price of $40 per head, with breakfast thrown in.

The event was significant enough for the local paper, the Armidale Express, to send cadet reporter Samantha-Jo Harris to cover.

But things turned decidedly ugly when Harris made the fateful decision to devour a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage and tomato placed in front of her while listening to Mr Hartcher’s speech on regional energy and resource policy.

Harris says no-one took umbrage at the time but clearly Mr Ellis was not impressed, firing off a terse email to her boss, Express editor Lydia Roberts.

“I had guaranteed that you would not be invoiced for the cost of the ticket to the breakfast for your journalist attending, on the condition that she would be there to get the story,” Mr Ellis wrote.

“She was the only journalist in attendance. I don’t think you relayed this to Samantha as she was served breakfast and did not refuse it.”

The problem, Mr Ellis explained, was that the Liberals “had paid for strictly 40 seats at this event. Everyone paid – including senior cabinet ministers who were present (as this was a fundraiser). This meant that I forwent a meal so that somebody else wouldn’t”.

In an apparent attempt to extract some benefit for his foregone breakfast, Mr Ellis concluded: “I trust that this breakfast will get a good write up in Wednesday’s edition of the Express?”

Mr Ellis – who last year ran unsuccessfully for a spot on Armidale Dumaresq council and rejoices in the Twitter handle @jamesdoesitbeta – told Fairfax Media the email was “done in a tongue in cheek way” and wasn’t a serious complaint.

“I went and had some breakfast at home when I left,” he explained. “So that was good”.

For her part, Harris said the breakfast was simply too enormous to manage: “I think I left about half on the plate”.

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Building rapport with your bank manager

A great relationship with a bank manager is a very handy asset for a small business.Many SMEs have no choice but to communicate with their bank via call centers and websites. Others more fortunate qualify for a dedicated relationship manager. But too many see their relationship manager as someone they can’t live with but equally can’t live without. The reality is you need your relationship manager more than they need you so it’s in your interests to take the initiative to build a better relationship. Not only will this give you the best chance of the bank maintaining and increasing its support, it will also minimise the downside in the event your business doesn’t track so well.

So here are eight tips to help build a better relationship with your bank manager.

1. Perform. A good starting point is to perform in accordance with the terms and conditions you willingly agreed to when you signed the bank’s letter of offer. Reasonably enough, the bank expects you to honour those obligations. So you shouldn’t sign up for any deal with which you don’t believe you can readily comply. It’s a good idea to try to negotiate as much headroom as you can in bank limits, covenants and other terms and conditions.

2. Communicate. Sometimes things don’t go to plan and this is when open, timely and honest communication is most critical. Don’t ignore your banker – an uninformed banker is a major threat to your business. And don’t tell them what you think they want to hear – an ill-informed banker is an even bigger threat.

The best bet is to be straight up with the facts and communicate your plan to remedy the situation. If you don’t come up with a plan the bank believes, it is likely it will impose a solution on you.

Even when things are going well it’s still important to maintain regular communication. Email is a time-efficient way to communicate, but wherever possible meet or at the very least phone your banker to communicate key messages.

3. No surprises. If the communication channels are working, your banker shouldn’t get surprises. Bankers don’t like surprises. Your standing will suffer badly if you give your banker an unpleasant surprise. Bankers can even be taken aback by a good surprise with a reaction of “why didn’t I know about this before?”

4. Understand what your banker wants from the relationship and try to deliver it. Find out how their performance is measured and ask, “How can I help you achieve your goals?”  It may be that your banker would really value selling you more bank products (cross sales). Some bankers just don’t want grief caused by you by going over the overdraft limit without advance notice. If you understand what drives your banker, you are at least in a better position to deliver on this. Of course, the quid pro quo is that you want your banker to deliver on your needs too. So think about and communicate what you most value in the relationship.

5. Advocate. If you have a good relationship with your banker, show your appreciation. There is a number of ways to do this such as referring other people, giving them a LinkedIn recommendation and providing positive feedback to your banker’s boss and peers. Sometimes this can be done via a response to a customer satisfaction survey and if you give your banker a good wrap make sure he or she knows about it.

6. Negotiate hard but fair. Stand up to your bank managerwhen negotiating key terms and conditions including limits, security and price but don’t make the process so arduous and adversarial it gets them offside. You’ll find out if you push too hard on this.

7. Involve your accountant. Bankers gain comfort by knowing there is a trusted adviser in your corner although the adviser does need to have a sound grasp of your financial position. Bankers can tell very quickly how well an accountant really understands your business. If you think your accountant is not likely to be able to help with the bank this might indicate a need to look around for better accounting advice.

8. Don’t give up. One of the most common criticisms SMEs have of banks is that they change their relationship managers so frequently it’s nigh on impossible to build relationships. Some business owners believe banks move managers on quickly to ensure they don’t get too close to their customers but banks really do want and need their people to develop close relationships with customers in order to better understand and service their needs. When it comes to starting all over again and investing time and effort with a new manager, don’t give up and remember the rewards and risks are yours.

Neil Slonim is the founder of theBankDoctor苏州美甲学校.au an independent online advisory and resource service assisting SMEs develop better relationships with their banks.

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A Cronulla grand final victory? Heaven forbid

Bitter-sweet: Cronulla fans would have mixed emotions if the Sharks broke their 46-year premiership drought. Photo: Jane DysonFew will admit it, but even the most fanatical Cronulla supporters must be hoping this isn’t the season former prime minister Harold Holt finally emerges from the sea and knocks on their front door.

What would be a fairytale victory could quickly become a nightmare for the club and the game to rival that of North Sydney’s doomed move to Gosford in 2000 when the Bears went broke waiting for their new stadium to be built.

With the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority expected to hand down the findings of an eight-month investigation within days or weeks of the grand final, the last thing the NRL would want is to charge a group of players still celebrating their premiership triumph.

The Sharks aren’t alone in this situation, with current and former Manly players and coaching staff also being summonsed to interviews with ASADA, but Cronulla is the only NRL club accused of systematic doping.

Under WADA rules, any team can be banned if two or more players are found guilty of doping and ASADA has interviewed 10 members of the Sharks 2011 squad still at the club, along with former players now either playing elsewhere or no longer in the NRL.

Up to six Manly players and three ex-Sea Eagles have also been called to interviews with ASADA.

Former Cronulla directors feared the Sharks would be banned from the finals and wanted players to accept six-month bans at the start of the season rather than risk longer term damage to the club if the saga dragged on.

Yet no one now wants to consider what the final fall-out may be, with the Sharks officials preferring to focus on having secured a new sponsor and the NRL disputing comparisons between the Cronulla and Essendon cases.

While the AFL has headed off the possibility of Essendon winning the premiership by convincing the Bombers to accept a deal in which they are stood down from the play-offs, the NRL is gambling on the Sharks again failing to do so.

History would suggest the Sharks are unlikely victors as the club has not won a grand final since entering the competition in 1967, prompting coaching guru Jack Gibson to once famously declare that “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt” – the Australian prime minister who did not return from an early-morning swim in the same year the club was founded.

But the way the Sharks have performed under coach Shane Flanagan suggests the allegations have galvanised them.

Unlike the NRL, the AFL has conducted a joint investigation with ASADA and is therefore in possession of much more information about what allegedly occurred at Essendon.

As a result, the NRL is prepared to wait for the ASADA investigation to run its course and then determine the appropriate action.

By doing so it will be armed with the full facts, whereas the AFL stance ignores the possibility of the findings against Essendon being more serious than what was outlined in ASADA’s interim report and the penalties imposed therefore prove insufficient.

After all, ASADA has not yet ruled out charging numerous Bombers players with doping offences.

ASADA is also yet to interview Stephen Dank, the former Manly sports scientist at the centre of the allegations against both Cronulla and Essendon.

But unless the Sharks are cleared of any serious wrongdoing in 2011, the fall-out will be huge and having to strip a club of a premiership they had just won is merely the worst-case scenario for the NRL.

What if Cronulla don’t win but they make the grand final – denying another team such as South Sydney or Sydney Roosters the chance at premiership glory.

Or what of the teams the Sharks beat in the play-offs, and the club whose place they took after such a closely fought battle for places in the top eight that still has up to 13 teams in contention.

At Cronulla, there would also be frustration and angst for the players – particularly those who weren’t there in 2011 – and others at the club whose efforts this year were always destined to be in vain.

For long-suffering Sharks supporters, the heartache of finally celebrating a grand final win only to have it taken away from them may be worse than never winning one at all.

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Games record on hold for Fletcher

It appears Dustin Fletcher will have to play on into a remarkable 22nd season if he is to set a games record at Essendon.

A rare feel-good story for the Bombers has been put on hold after the club ruled out Fletcher for this Saturday night’s blockbuster against Richmond at the MCG.

The Bombers say Fletcher has sustained a hamstring injury at training while serving a two-game suspension for rough conduct.

With Essendon expected to be stripped of all premiership points in the fallout from the supplements scandal, and therefore eliminated from the finals race, Saturday night’s match was shaping as Fletcher’s last chance to set a club record of 379 games, a record he currently shares with Bombers legend Simon Madden on 378 matches.

But Essendon football operations manager Steve Alessio revealed on Monday that Fletcher had already been ruled out of contention for the Tigers game, so playing on in 2014 looms as the 38-year-old’s only option.

”Dustin last weekend hurt his hamstring during training, we tested it out during the week but he is going to miss this weekend’s game with a hamstring injury,” Alessio said.

”It is disappointing for Dustin and us that he won’t be out there for his 379th game.”

It’s understood Fletcher intends to play on and the Bombers are open, if not already committed, to offering him a contract for next year.

Fletcher’s manager Michael Quinlan, has also confirmed that he and the club will soon finalise a new one-year deal.

”I would love to be a part of the team next year but we will just have to see how the next few games go,” Fletcher said two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, St Kilda will give its own veteran, Justin Koschitzke, every chance to join fellow retirees Stephen Milne and Jason Blake in a farewell game against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Koschitzke’s troublesome calf needs to be given the green light from the medical staff before the key forward finds out whether he will be able to say goodbye to the club’s supporters in Melbourne, or whether he is resigned to the same fate possibly facing Fletcher.

Saints coach Scott Watters has made it clear Koschitzke, who has been marooned on 199 games, will be given a chance to reach the 200-game milestone as long as he can prove his fitness, and the Saints could yet name the 30-year-old on Thursday in a bid to give him right up until the last minute to show he can contribute.

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Publishing app set to make headlines

Liquid State team with revolutionary publishing app Photo: SuppliedA Brisbane-based print publisher has developed an app that has the potential to transform an industry already revolutionised by Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Liquid State is a design application that converts print-ready content to mobile and tablet layouts with just five clicks, avoiding lengthy production processes that can be costly to multi-platform publishers.

And the app, built by a start-up of the same name, has just won a major federal government grant and funding from a group of local angel investors worth nearly $800,000.

Co-creator and company CEO Philip Andrews said the backing would enable his team to develop the second stage of their radical idea – a cloud-based layout program.

But it would take some time for people to grasp the full potential of his company’s idea, Mr Andrews said.

Speaking as someone with a background in independent publishing – Mr Andrewsis attached to several print magazine and book titles – the entrepreneur says his app will allow small companies to compete with big-name publishing brands.

“We’ve been working with Conde Nast in Germany where they currently have three people employed full-time who work for a month to get the German version of Wired magazine from print to digital,” he says. “This is because they have to re-create the layout of print content for different digital platforms, and then create different layouts for vertical displays, horizontal displays, mobile, and so on.

“Our app enables that process in five clicks and we could do it in a day.”

This is because Liquid State digital publishing gives users an interface that allows the direct upload of files from desktop publishing programs like InDesign to a unique cloud-based program which formats the content for multiple devices.

“Our system is based on the COPE principle – create once, publish everywhere,” he says.

“One of the problems with early movers in digital publishing – like Wired for example – was that when they launched their initial tablet versions, they established publishing values that were very similar to television values; every page had to have rich graphics, and videos, and widgets that enabled a level of engagement not before possible in print magazines.

“Very quickly they found this level of production wasn’t sustainable, so the second tier or round of digital publishing is about sustainable publishing – it’s more lightweight and there’s a desire to publish digital content that fits in with existing workloads.

“This makes it easier for smaller publishers to compete with big names at the point of sale – which thanks to the likes of Apple and Microsoft is nowadays the same point – if they can properly and effectively convert their content.”

Through Liquid State, they can, Mr Andrews said. And judging by recent funding success his two-year-old company has enjoyed, it appears as though there are more than a few who would see the product walk through the big-deal door.

Mr  Andrews said initiatives like the Commercialisation Australia grant program – which provided the bulk of his company’s development funding – was also helping to put Australia on the map when it comes to the global start-up community.

He said his hometown’s Digital Brisbane strategy – launched by Brisbane City Council in March – had also helped secure the support of other financial backers.

“It’s fantastic to see Australia really going out of its way to support start-ups,” Mr Andrews said.

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ASX’s game of two halves

ASX’s results for the year to June were about as flat as you can get, with underlying net profit just 1 per cent ahead of last year and guidance, and in line with the consensus forecast.

But looks can be deceiving and under the bonnet there were some interesting shifts. The most obvious was between the first and second halves, with profits falling 5 per cent in the first and then rising 7 per cent in the second thanks to increased market activity, but there was also a wide spread of performances from ASX’s various operating divisions.

The derivatives segment increased revenues by 5 per cent to $197 million, to keep its title as the group’s largest revenue generator, with 32 per cent of the total. The total number of contracts traded on ASX 24 rose 12 per cent to $116 million – driven particularly by interest rate futures and options activity in the second half – but higher large volume rebates meant a fall in average fees from $1.56 to $1.46.

A clearing service for “over-the-counter” (OTC) $A interest rate swaps was launched on July 1, 2013, and the company expects customers to sign up over the next six to 12 months. The idea is that it will enable participants to offset OTC exposures with existing futures positions to reduce the overall level of collateral they have to provide. How this is travelling will be a major focus for the AGM in Sydney on September 25 and for interim results on February 13.

The next biggest contributor, with 23 per cent of the total, was listing and issuer services, which increased revenue by 5 per cent to $140 million, helped by the full-year impact of fee increases. This was more than enough to make up for the very slow capital markets activity, with the lowest number of new listings since 2009 and least amount of money raised ($46 billion) since 2005.

Cash market turnaround

Cash market revenues fell 8 per cent to $115 million over the year, but this comprised an 18 per cent fall in the first half and a 4 per cent rise in the second. ASX’s market share of on-market traded value was 95 per cent, but this is now down to about 92 per cent, with Chi-X picking up the remainder.

The total billable value of ASX trades fell for the third year running, by 12 per cent to just over a trillion dollars, but the average fee per dollar traded rose from 1.05 to 1.1 basis points.

Information services revenues fell 8 per cent to $62 million, reflecting the lower equity market activity. But technical services revenues grew 10 per cent to $50 million, with the number of cabinets operated by clients in ASX’s Australian Liquidity Centre increasing from 76 to 117 over the year. Austraclear enjoyed another year of steady growth, with revenues rising 7 per cent to $39 million.

Costs rose 4 per cent during the year, mainly due to a 6 per cent rise in staff costs, with headcount rising from 505 to 529 to support new business initiatives, mostly in post-trade services, such as the new OTC clearing operations and Austraclear’s new ASX Collateral service.

Dividend lower

Earnings per share were flat at 196 cents, with no dilution from the rights issue since it took place so late in the year. However, dividends are affected, because they’re now spread over more shares. As a result, the final dividend fell 3 per cent to 82.3 cents (fully franked, ex date September 2), giving a total for the year of 170.2 cents, down 4 per cent.

While ASX faces a further erosion of its cash market revenues, it has long-term opportunities elsewhere, most particularly in OTC derivatives, and the market pick-up should eventually give a boost to fees from capital raisings in particular.

Consensus expectations are for the company to make earnings per share of about 200 cents in the current year, putting the stock on a relatively high price-earnings ratio of about 18. But the company makes most of its earnings as cash, enabling a payout ratio of 90 per cent and a fully franked dividend yield of 5.1 per cent. That looks like good value for such a quality company.

This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 282288).

Nathan Bell is the research director at Intelligent Investor Share Advisor. You can get access to a free trial to Share Adviser here, which includes instant access to four special reports full of local and overseas stock picks from some of Australia’s best fund managers, including Kerr Neilson, Erik Metanomski, Geoff Wilson and Chris Prunty. You can also follow Share Advisor on Twitter at @value-investing or on its Doddsville blog.

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