Aussie Business News Headlines - 2 July 2024


Published: July 01, 2024

Power Prices Set to Soar as Clean Energy Rollout Lags

As Australia grapples with a sluggish transition to clean energy, households may face significant electricity bill hikes by decade's end. UBS analysts predict wholesale power prices will reach a staggering $104 per megawatt hour by 2029, a 20% increase from this year's forecast and nearly 50% higher than 2023 levels.

Delayed Renewable Projects Drive Price Surge

The slow development of transmission networks and renewable energy projects is the primary culprit behind the projected price increases. Delays in key initiatives like Snowy 2.0 and the Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone in NSW are contributing to the upward pressure on prices.

"Delay in the buildout of transmission networks and renewable generation drive the continued increase in prices, particularly during peak net-demand hours during the day," said UBS analyst Tom Allen.

Coal Plant Closures Add to Supply Concerns

With ten large coal-fired power stations closing since 2012 and 90% of remaining coal power capacity expected to retire by 2035, the energy market faces significant supply challenges. The NSW government's recent deal to extend the life of Origin Energy's Eraring coal-fired generator highlights the ongoing reliance on fossil fuels amidst the slow renewable transition.

Households to Bear the Brunt

As all components of energy bills are set to rise, households, especially those without solar and batteries, may face increasing financial pressure. The government's previous commitment to reduce annual power bills by $275 from 2022 levels appears increasingly unattainable.

While some investors remain optimistic about renewable energy projects, others warn of difficulties in achieving returns. The government's Capacity Investment Scheme aims to stimulate investment, but the race against time to replace coal-fired power plants remains a significant challenge for Australia's energy future.

Opal HealthCare Mulls Potential Sale Amid Aged Care Sector Revival

As of 2 July 2024, Opal HealthCare, one of Australia's leading aged care operators, is considering a potential sale. Investors, including Singapore's GK Goh Holdings and AMP Capital funds, have enlisted Morgan Stanley to explore the possibility of putting the company up for auction.

Key Points:

  • Early-stage discussions with potential buyers are underway
  • Projected earnings for the next financial year: $200 million
  • Expected sale multiple: over 10 times earnings
  • Current ownership: 50% GK Goh, 50% AMP funds and Resolution Life

Despite posting a $65 million loss in 2023, Opal HealthCare's revenue grew to $1.24 billion, up from $941 million the previous year. The company's financial structure relies heavily on government subsidies, resident fees, and refundable accommodation deposits.

"It's the type of asset that core-plus infrastructure investors may take a close look at," said sources close to the discussions.

The potential sale comes at a time of renewed interest in the aged care sector, following its recovery from COVID-19 challenges. Recent market activity includes Bolton Clarke's acquisition of Estia Health for $838 million in 2023.

Opal HealthCare's extensive portfolio, which includes 101 assets plus the recent addition of 31 BlueCross homes in Victoria, makes it an attractive proposition for investors seeking exposure to Australia's growing aged care market.

As the aged care industry continues to evolve, this potential sale could mark a significant shift in the sector's landscape, reflecting increased confidence in its long-term prospects.

Baby Bunting Share Price Surges Despite Challenging Outlook

On 2 July 2024, Baby Bunting, the ASX-listed maternity and baby goods retailer, experienced a surprising 19% jump in share price following its latest trading update. This surge comes despite the company facing several challenges, including lower profit guidance and negative like-for-like sales.

Key Points from the Trading Update

  • Reaffirmed lower full-year net profit guidance
  • Avoided breaching bank covenants through an agreement with NAB
  • Negative like-for-like sales, though improving
  • New store rollout strategy announced by CEO Mark Teperson
  • 1% increase in sales between 1 May and 24 June compared to last year
  • Targeting 40% gross margins by FY25

Market Reaction and Speculation

The positive market reaction has led to speculation about the reasons behind the share price surge. Some analysts suggest that investors believe the company may be turning a corner after a challenging period. However, there's also speculation about potential takeover interest, although Baby Bunting has confirmed no formal or informal approaches have been made.

"Baby Bunting's recent performance and strategic plans have caught the attention of investors, despite ongoing economic challenges," said a market analyst.

With major investors like HMC Capital, Yarra Capital, and AustralianSuper holding significant stakes, Baby Bunting remains an intriguing prospect in the Australian retail sector. The company's plans to expand its store network from 74 to 114 locations across Australia and New Zealand further adds to its potential for growth.

End of Financial Year Window Dressing Sparks Small Cap Volatility

As we enter the new financial year, the Australian small cap market has experienced a peculiar rollercoaster ride. In a striking turn of events, half of Friday's top performers found themselves among Monday's worst performers, despite no significant global economic changes.

The Calendar Effect

The shift from FY24 to FY25 appears to be the primary catalyst for this volatility. This phenomenon, known as 'window dressing', is a strategy often employed by investment managers to optimise performance fees calculated at key balance dates like 30 June.

"It smacks of window dressing – driving a stock price up heading into a key balance date, June 30, in a bid to pump up that performance or outperformance number and optimise those fees."

Notable Movers

Five stocks in particular caught attention with their dramatic swings:

  • Weebit Nano (AI sector)
  • Omni Bridgeway (litigation funding)
  • NexGen Energy (Canadian uranium)
  • Silex Systems (nuclear tech)
  • An unnamed West Australian oil and gas play

Regulatory Oversight

While the ASX monitors irregular share price movements, window dressing falls under ASIC's jurisdiction. The regulator recently issued a notice urging brokers and intermediaries to be vigilant in identifying potential misconduct.

This end-of-financial-year volatility serves as a reminder for investors to remain cautious and informed, particularly when dealing with small cap stocks known for their susceptibility to sudden price fluctuations.

Tasmanian Nickel Miner's Takeover Battle Heats Up

In a dramatic turn of events for Australia's struggling nickel industry, commodities trader Hartree Partners is facing opposition in its bid to acquire Mallee Resources, the operator of Tasmania's Avebury nickel mine. The takeover attempt comes after Mallee fell into receivership last September due to plummeting nickel prices.

Shareholder Challenges Hartree's Offer

Geoffrey Summers, a minority shareholder, has raised concerns with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). Summers claims that Hartree's offer significantly undervalues Mallee Resources, pointing out that two higher bids were rejected in favour of Hartree's proposal.

"The receivers have not provided any explanation as to the sudden reduction in the value of Mallee's assets," Summers' lawyers stated in a letter to FIRB.

Nickel Industry Woes

Mallee Resources is one of several Australian nickel miners facing tough times due to increased competition from cheaper Indonesian producers. The company struggled to ramp up production at Avebury as nickel prices slumped over the past two years, leading to its inability to repay debts owed to Hartree.

Controversial Takeover Process

According to Summers, an independent auditor valued Mallee at $210 million last September. However, Hartree's current offer is reportedly just $803,000 in cash, along with the expulsion of outstanding debt. This stark difference in valuation has fuelled the controversy surrounding the takeover attempt.

As the battle for Mallee Resources continues, the outcome could have significant implications for Australia's nickel industry and foreign investment in the country's mining sector.

Transurban Denies Fair Work Act Breach in Whistleblower Case

On 2 July 2024, toll road giant Transurban has refuted claims of breaching the Fair Work Act and requested the dismissal of a case brought by former employee Rohan Brothers. The ex-traffic control room officer alleges he lost his job after making whistleblower complaints about workplace issues.

Key Points:

  • Transurban denies Fair Work Act breach
  • Former employee claims unfair dismissal after whistleblowing
  • Company cites "serious misconduct" as reason for termination
  • Five other Fair Work claims lodged against Transurban this year

The case coincides with Transurban's restructure of its Australian operations, now led by Nicole Green. This shake-up comes as the company faces increasing challenges from Labor-led state governments seeking to regain control over privatised roads.

State Government Challenges

In NSW, the government is reviewing toll road contracts, with potential reforms on the horizon. Queensland has expressed interest in reclaiming toll roads as concession agreements expire.

"As would be the case with any legal contract between organisations, especially when involving multibillion-dollar assets and multiple contractors, there are agreed clauses that refer to potential compensation," said WestConnex general manager Denise Kelly.

These challenges have impacted Transurban's market performance, with its share price dropping 14% over the past year, compared to a 7% rise in the S&P/ASX 200 Index.

Queensland Coal Mine Fire Sparks Explosion Fears

A fire raging at the Grosvenor Coal Mine near Moranbah, Queensland has raised concerns of a potential explosion, reminiscent of a 2020 incident that injured five workers. The blaze, now in its third day, has prompted urgent efforts to seal the mine and protect the community.

Race to Contain the Inferno

Anglo American, the mine operator, is working around the clock with unions, rescue teams and authorities to seal at least six shafts, the main drift, and conveyor belt. A high-powered nitrogen pump, utilising a MiG fighter jet engine, is being used to starve the fire of oxygen.

"It's out of control and you've just got to seal the mine to stop the oxygen into it," said Steven Smyth from the Mining and Energy Union.

Community Impact and Safety Measures

The mine, which employs about 1,400 people, is a crucial part of Moranbah's 10,000-strong community. Residents have been advised to stay indoors due to smoke, with a brown haze settling over the town. An exclusion zone has been established based on expert advice to contain any potential blast.

Looking Ahead

Anglo American CEO Dan van der Westhuizen has assured that an investigation into the fire's cause will be conducted once the situation is under control. The incident has left the mining community shaken, particularly those who experienced the 2020 explosion.

As efforts continue to secure the mine, the focus remains on worker safety and preventing any further incidents at Queensland's largest underground coal operation.

Power Price Hike Looms as Coal Plants Close and Renewables Slow

Australian households are bracing for higher electricity bills as the nation's energy landscape undergoes significant changes. A recent UBS report forecasts a rise in wholesale power prices, casting doubt on the Labor government's promise to reduce electricity costs.

Key Factors Driving Price Increases

Several factors are contributing to the projected price hike:

  • Closure of major coal-fired power stations
  • Slower than expected rollout of renewable energy and storage capacity
  • Delays in advanced renewable energy projects
  • Challenges in building high-voltage transmission lines

UBS Predictions

UBS has revised its 2024 wholesale price forecast to $90 per megawatt hour, up from $80/MWh. The broker anticipates prices will peak in 2029 at $104/MWh.

"We forecast a material tightening in the market from coal capacity exiting, and insufficient replacement with renewables," UBS stated.

NSW Most Vulnerable

New South Wales is expected to be the most affected state once the Eraring power station closes. Despite a recent deal to extend its lifespan until August 2027, the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned of potential electricity shortfalls from 2025.

Renewable Energy Challenges

The renewable energy sector is facing its own hurdles. Nearly 20% of Australia's most advanced renewable projects have experienced delays in the past year. These setbacks are attributed to inflationary pressures, planning issues, and policy decisions.

As Australia navigates this complex energy transition, consumers and businesses alike should prepare for potential increases in their power bills in the coming years.

Hostplus Reaps Massive Windfall from Canva Investment

In a stunning display of investment acumen, Australian super fund Hostplus has turned a $94 million outlay into a $1.9 billion windfall from its stake in tech sensation Canva. As of 2 July 2024, this represents one of the most successful investments in Australia's business landscape.

Strategic Investing, Not Luck

Hostplus Chief Investment Officer Sam Sicilia emphasises that this success is not mere chance. "It's easy to say we got lucky with Canva," Sicilia told Business Australia News. "But it has come from 21 separate investments since 2015, valued at an average of just over $4 million each."

"When you think about it, they started off with the proposition of designing school yearbooks and then a few steps later they are saying they want to take on Microsoft Office," Sicilia says of Canva's founders.

Venture Capital Strategy Pays Off

Hostplus's venture capital strategy, which accounts for about 3% of its total assets, has proven fruitful. Besides Canva, the fund has invested in over 20 'unicorn' companies, including SafetyCulture, Culture Amp, and Airwallex.

Despite criticism over exposure to unlisted assets, Sicilia argues that Hostplus's younger membership allows for a longer-term investment horizon. This strategy has clearly paid dividends, with the fund's Canva stake now valued at $1.6 billion.

Looking Ahead

As speculation mounts about a potential Canva IPO, Sicilia remains focused on the bigger picture. "Almost 90% of the world's assets are privately held," he notes, emphasising that a stockmarket listing isn't necessary to validate Canva's value.

With this spectacular success, Hostplus has demonstrated the potential rewards of strategic, long-term investing in Australia's burgeoning tech sector.

ASIC Business Registration
Australian National Business Support
Register, renew and manage your ASIC registered business names fast and easy through our government integrated platforms