APA Group’s Mick McCormack says Australia doesn’t have a gas supply crisis but a bitter division between suppliers and customers over the cost of gas they need. ‘‘There is no doubt that Santos has caused the whole issue to come to a head by buying all that domestic gas in volumes enough to force net-back pricing through the system. There is gas. But you have to pay an export-competitive price to get it.’’ For some earthy, cutthrough clarity on the state of Australia’s gas markets, who better to turn to than Mick McCormack. McCormack runs APA Group, the nation’s biggest gas piper. And it is his firm view that, right now, we do not have a gas supply crisis. What we have is a bitter division between suppliers and customers over what it is costing to get the gas they need. McCormack describes APA’s pipeline network as ‘‘a big tank with 40 injection points all over and 100 points where the gas can leave the system’’. He insists his tank is always full and that, from day-to-day, from minute-to-minute, Australia’s 700petajoule domestic market remains as consistently and fully supplied right now as it has been since the east coast network was fully integrated.
Mirvac Group (MGR):
Almost 20 per cent of apartments in Mirvac’s new unit development in Sydney’s inner west have been snapped up by the listed company’s staff members. A Mirvac spokeswoman said 41 Mirvac staff had expressed interest in buying apartments or townhouses in the first release of the Marrick & Co apartment block of 166 units and townhouses last weekend. Thirty Mirvac staff have so far committed to purchase in the project, which has achieved sales of more than 70 per cent in stage one. Other developers have strict rules in place for staff purchases. Rival developer Lendlease had internal regulations to ensure that staff could not buy at the Barangaroo apartment releases in Sydney and only allowed purchasing in limited circumstances. “The fact that a number of Mirvac staff have purchased is a great endorsement of the project,” a Mirvac spokeswoman told The Australian.
National Australia Bank Limited (NAB):
The big four banks are likely to be gearing up for further out-of-cycle interest rate rises, as they prepare for a fresh round of lending limits imposed on them by policymakers desperate to curtail debt-fuelled property speculation. Ross Barker, the managing director of $7 billion Australian Foundation Investment Company, expects the other big banks to follow NAB and Westpac, which have announced small out-of-cycle rate rises for owner-occupiers and larger increases for investors. Interest rates were rising globally, and the Australian banks were being prudent in moving in small increments, he said. Analysts said the major lenders were jacking up investment lending rates in a ‘‘pre-emptive’’ move as regulators readied to impose another round of ‘‘macro-prudential’’ policies aimed at managing the risks posed to financial stability by a rampant property market. The Westpac and NAB rate increases came days after comments from Reserve Bank assistant governor Michelle Bullock that regulators were ‘‘prepared to do more if needed’’ as the effectiveness of prudential measures introduced by APRA in late 2014 targeting investor loans was beginning to wane.
Qantas Airways Limited (QAN):
Qantas will open its technology platforms, data and anonymised customer information to up to 10 start-up or scale-up businesses when it runs its first ‘‘accelerator’’ from May. The Avro Accelerator, named after Qantas’s first aircraft, is a 12-week program designed to help the airline innovate across its business, including its offshoots in insurance and banking. Qantas’s partner in running the accelerator is Slingshot, a specialist in bringing corporate sponsors together with relevant start-up and scale-up businesses. Slingshot’s venture capital fund, whose investors include industry super fund Hostplus, will back each business selected for Avro with $50,000 up front, with a further $100,000 for those still showing promise at the end of the program. The size of the stake bought by that cash will vary depending on the maturity of the investee, but in previous Slingshot programs it has been up to 10 per cent. Qantas flagged it would also offer direct investment to ideas it considered helpful, in the airline’s first major foray into start-up investing since it took a stake alongside NAB and Westpac in data-sharing platform Data Republic in May 2016.
Suncorp Group Limited (SUN):
It’s crunch time for the board of $17 billion bancassurer Suncorp, and the fate of the company’s life insurance unit. Street Talk understands the Suncorp board, led by Ziggy Switkowski, will decide as early as next month whether to push ahead with an auction of the spluttering life insurance operations. Suncorp chief executive Michael Cameron has already told investors the company is reviewing the life business, but a company spokeswoman declined to comment on the weekend on the timing of any moves to embark on a sale. This column foreshadowed that Suncorp had tapped Luminis Partners and Nomura to review the life division and set up meetings with industry players to test their appetite for acquiring it. Sources suggested while interest levels varied, several industry players were lukewarm on the Suncorp life division as it required a turnaround and had pulled back from distribution via the financial adviser channel. Suncorp is following Macquarie Group which last year offloaded its life insurance arm to Zurich and National Australia Bank which sold an 80 per cent stake of its business to Nippon Life.
Westpac Banking Corporation (WBC):
Westpac has embedded sustainability scoring of more than 200 managed funds and listed companies into its wealth platform, giving financial advisers and retail customers a better view of increasingly topical issues such as carbon emissions and scandals. Ahead of an update on Westpac’s wealth arm BT Financial by group chief executive Brian Hartzer on Thursday, The Australian can reveal the bank has partnered with research houses Morningstar and Sustainalytics to integrate and develop sustainability scoring into platform BT Panorama. With rival ANZ mulling the sale of its wealth arm, Mr Hartzer is expected to reaffirm Westpac’s commitment to the space and provide greater insights into offerings, including BT Panorama. Westpac’s accounts show BT’s profit fell 4 per cent to $876 million last year. BT head of sustainability Emma Pringle claimed providing sustainability scoring via its platform was an industry first and tapped into investors’ increasing focus on so-called “environmental, social and governance” issues for asset allocations, including by younger “millennials”,