Historic timber group makes ASX debut

One of Australia’s oldest timber and building products companies has made a solid ASX debut after 14 months in the hands of private equity owners.


Big River, which manufactures and distributes construction timber across Australia, was bought by Anacacia Capital from its founders, the NSW-based Pidcock family, in 2016 and entered listed life on Monday following a $17 million initial public offering.

Big River’s four-man board boasts former agribusiness Elders managing director Malcolm Jackman as an independent non-executive director.

The company ended its first day of trade more at $1.51, up 3.4 per cent from its $1.46 issue price.

Big River manufacturers and distributes building and construction products, including timber and steel products, timber flooring, plywood and related timber products across Australia.

The group owns two manufacturing facilities in Wagga Wagga and Grafton in New South Wales.

Big River’s customers include major property developer LendLease, construction firm John Holland and furniture and electrical goods retailer Harvey Norman as well as smaller contractors.

The company’s prospectus said funds raised will provide the company with growth opportunities, including “greater flexibility” for its acquisition strategy and improved access to capital and debt.

Big River is expected to book a proforma net profit of about $6 million for 2016-17, up 1.3 per cent from $5.9 million a year earlier, on revenue of $201 million, according to its prospectus.

Big River sold 11.6 million new shares via the IPO, which was fully underwritten by brokerage firm Taylor Collison.

Titans halfback happy to give it to Hayne

Ash Taylor says he’s happy to cop a spray from Jarryd Hayne – and dish one out to his more senior Gold Coast teammate – if it’s in the best interests of the NRL team.


Hayne and halfback Taylor have argued on-field at times prompting outside criticism of Hayne’s attitude and approach to teammates.

But Taylor on Monday dismissed it as natural tension between creative players trying to get a result for their team.

“He (Hayne) is just trying to do the best for our team and so am I, that’s just competitive nature,” said Taylor on Monday.

“There’s other players out there who speak a bit differently, but he’ll (Hayne) cop one back if he needs one.”

Mostly picked at fullback this season, Hayne has been bobbing up in the halves at times to get his hands on the ball in attack.

Interestingly coach Neil Henry posted him to centre in the last-round 38-8 drubbing of Newcastle, with Tyrone Roberts at fullback and Kane Elgey partnering the gifted Taylor in the halves.

Henry said it was the best fit with all of those key players available and Hayne responded by scoring two tries in another strong display.

Taylor insisted he was unconcerned at chopping and changing with his halves partner, whether it be Roberts, Elgey or Hayne.

“I try not to change how I play, that just makes it harder on me,” he said.

“I want to be consistent no matter who’s in the halves and play the best footy I can.”

There is set to be more changes for the Titans with injured centre Dale Copley (ribs) likely to return for the Gold Coast when they take on Melbourne next round.

His return will cause another welcome selection headache for Henry.

“All of the boys are playing out of their skin in their positions so it’s going to be hard to name the squad but it’s a good thing for us,” Taylor said.

“It shows we have a lot of depth at our club, it’s going to be pretty tough to get a spot in the side.”

Westpac stance on coal ‘disappointing’: PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says coal has a big role to play in Australia’s energy future, and he’s disappointed that Westpac has turned its back on the Adani mine and others in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.


“I am disappointed that Westpac has made that decision. I think these projects should be examined on their merits,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Townsville on Monday.

Westpac ruled out supporting the Adani mine and others in the Galilee Basin under its new climate change action plan announced on Friday, in a move savaged by Resources Minister Matt Canavan as anti-development.

Mr Turnbull echoed those sentiments on Monday, saying: “Coal has a big role to play for a very long time”.

“The idea that Australia, (as) the largest coal exporting nation in the world, would suddenly walk away from that enormous resource is extraordinary,” he said.

Modern, low-emissions coal fired-power stations would help ensure Australia had affordable energy, while renewable sources and storage options were ramped up, he said.

On Sunday, Senator Canavan suggested Westpac’s position on coal was anti-Queensland, and anti-growth.

“We are trying to develop the north, we are trying to develop our country and get behind new products like opening up the Galilee Basin with 16,000 jobs,” Senate Canavan told Sky news.

“Here we have a bank which should be a proud Australian … they are not going to finance stuff that is going to develop our country.”

He also branded Westpac hypocritical, being itself a big polluter with its data centres for its own products.

Home prices near flat in April: CoreLogic

Sydney home prices stagnated in April, leading to the lowest rise in capital city prices in almost a year and a half.


Australian capital city home prices rose a mere 0.1 per cent in April, according to the CoreLogic Hedonic Home Value Index.

CoreLogic director of research Tim Lawless said the biggest weight on overall prices was a Sydney prices flat at a median price of $860,000 for the month, while Melbourne prices were up just 0.5 per cent to $650,000.

“The two hottest housing markets in the nation have shown signs of slowing down in April, with the CoreLogic Hedonic Home Value Index recording a rise of just 0.1 per cent over April, the lowest month-on-month rise in capital city dwelling values since December 2015,” he said in a note.

Despite subdued rises on other cities – Hobart was the strongest with a rise of 1.0 per cent to $363,200 – Mr Lawless said the trends in the overall housing market remain positive.

He said Australian home prices were up 2.9 per cent in the three months to March 31, and 11.2 per cent in annually, to $625,800.

Mr Lawless noted the subdued April result came amid public holidays, mortgage rates edging higher and a tightening of lending standards, especially to investors, by the bank regulator APRA.

“We need to be cautious in calling a peak in the market after only one month of soft results,” he said.

“April, in particular, coincides with seasonal factors including Easter, school holidays and ANZAC Day long weekend.”

He added that the softer results should also be viewed against a backdrop of ever-evolving regulation aimed at slowing investment and interest-only mortgage lending.”

Adelaide home prices were up 0.8 per cent at $430,000, Brisbane prices were up 0.6 per cent at $481,000 and Darwin prices were up 0.5 per cent at $467,000.

Meanwhile, Canberra prices slumped 2.8 per cent to $605,000 and Perth prices were down one per cent to $472,000.

Major university cuts may be part of next week’s Budget

A strong Chinese economy and two Reserve Bank interest rate cuts last year have delivered a boost to Australia’s coffers.


But a leading economist warns the $100 billion surge in national income this year will not make much difference to the Budget.

Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson says that is partly because the money has already been counted.

“It won’t terribly translate into better news for the Budget, partly because the Treasurer’s previous update was more or less on the money there and because wage growth remains pretty weak and that’s weighing on the tax take.”

Mr Richardson warns the return to surplus could be slower than Treasury is hoping.

He says that is because the official modelling is counting on big improvements to the way tax is collected.

“Treasury’s still of the view, and it may be right, that the tax system will get a bunch healthier in the next few years. In the last seven years, total revenue went up by an average of $17 billion a year. In the next three years, Treasury says it’ll jump to $30 billion a year, not because of a decision to tax more but because of underlying repair in the tax system.”

The Government is reportedly considering major cuts to university funding which could include a rise in fees for students.

The education minister is meeting with university leaders to discuss it.

The move follows a Government-commissioned report, also by Deloitte, that shows federal funding has risen faster than the actual cost of educating students.

Treasurer Scott Morrison says universities are banking the difference in profit.

“What I do know is, in the figures that have been released by the education minister today, that funding growth has been at 15 per cent, the costs have been growing at 9.5 per cent, there is the effective profit equivalent of 6 per cent for these institutions, but, for businesses at large, it’s at 1 per cent. So I think those three figures tell you something about the capacity, I think, for the sector to deliver better value, even better value, for the students.”

The Opposition has attacked the Government for raiding the education sector for savings, though.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says it is a question of priorities.

“No nation can be an innovation nation when you’re cutting funding to education. Why should university students have to pay much more to go to university at the same time as the Government is giving corporate tax giveaways of $50 billion over the next 10 years?”


RBA to hold rates, watch housing market

The Reserve Bank of Australia is set to hold its benchmark interest rate steady for a ninth consecutive month to keep downward pressure on household debt and as inflation creeps back into its target band.


All 12 economists surveyed by AAP expect the RBA to leave the cash rate steady at a record low of 1.5 per cent at its May board meeting on Tuesday.

The last time the central bank shifted its benchmark rate was back in August last year as it tried to boost sluggish inflation.

Capital Economics chief economist Paul Dales said headline consumer price growth was 2.1 per cent in the year to March 31, returning to the RBA’s two to three per cent target band for the first time in more than two years.

He said underlying inflation, which cuts out volatile price movements had also bumped up to 1.8 per cent annually, compared to 1.5 per cent in the year to the December quarter.

“It’s not at the extremely low levels that we thought would force the RBA to put aside its remaining financial stability concerns and cut interest rates further,” he said.

Commonwealth Bank chief economist Michael Blythe said the RBA was now focusing on the housing market and would not risk further inflaming prices with another rate cut.

RBA governor Philip Lowe is due to speak at a business lunch on Thursday and the title of his speech – “Household Debt, Housing Prices and Resilience” shows where the central bank’s focus is at present, Mr Blythe said.

“A central bank Governor concerned about the high levels of household debt, overly rapid growth in house prices and the potential threat to the economy and financial system does not want to cut interest rates,” he said.

Mr Dales said the only factor that could possibly prompt the RBA to cut rates again would be a deterioration of the labour market where the unemployment rate rose above the peak of 6.3 per cent recorded in 2015.

Both economists agreed that the Reserve Bank would not consider raising rates until sometime in 2018.

The Reserve Bank will announce its interest rate decision at 1430 AEST on Tuesday.

Turnbull stumped by Qld premier’s attack

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he can’t understand why the Queensland premier launched such a savage, public attack against him.


“I am at a loss to understand why she chose to, you know, use such personal and bitter language about me. It was uncalled for, it was unnecessary, it had no basis in fact,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Townsville on Monday.

He said he won’t get into a slanging match with Annastacia Palaszczuk, who on Sunday called him arrogant, disrespectful, and a worse prime minister than Tony Abbott.

The premier said her frustration started to mount after Cyclone Debbie and reached a tipping point during a recent slanging match with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce over Category C disaster relief funding.

She also pointed to the lack of respect she says Mr Turnbull showed, when he flew to Queensland recently for a major gas announcement, without bothering to tell her.

Mr Turnbull told reporters her comments left him confused, especially after the joint effort to help people after the cyclone.

“The remarks she made are so incongruous or hard to understand or explain,” he said.

“They come barely a month after she thanked the federal government … for the unprecedented co-operation between the federal government and the state government agencies for tropical cyclone Debbie.”‘

Mr Turnbull also pointed out that his government was shouldering 75 per cent of the costs associated with the natural disaster.

“I am not going to let personal attacks like that get in the way of my or my government’s commitment to the people of Queensland,” the prime minister said.

The federal government was investing billions in infrastructure across the state, including $100 million towards a new sports stadium for the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville, he said.

Construction and mining company Watpac will build the new stadium, with the Queensland government contributing $140 million.

Shoe merchant RCG booted for downgrade

The Athlete’s Foot owner RCG has been savaged by investors after the shoe merchant cut its annual earnings forecast, blaming a widespread sell-down of retail stocks for the recent drop in its share price.


RCG shares plunged 27.1 per cent on Monday, hitting a two-and-a-half-year low following the disappointing trading update that cut the group’s full-year earnings guidance for a second time this year.

The shoe retailer says housing market concerns, subdued wage growth and the pending arrival of Amazon have made investors nervous about the retail sector.

“The board believes that RCG has been caught up in the widespread sell-down of retail stocks over the last few months due to a number of factors,” the company said in its trading update released to the ASX on Monday.

It said those factors included declining consumer confidence, weak wage growth, housing market concerns, rising interest rates and the “perceived impact that the market entry of Amazon may have on the Australian retail landscape”.

The company said it wanted people to note that its directors have a combined 30 per cent stake in RCG.

RCG’s share price began the year around $1.49 and was at 83 cents by the end of April – a 44 per cent slide in four months before Monday’s plunge.

The company also reassured the market that the former owners of its Accent business, which houses Platypus, Vans and Dr.Martens, will not sell their shares when their escrow expires on May 27.

“Those former owners who are directors of RCG have confirmed that they have no intention of selling shares into the market at these levels,” it said.

RCG expects earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to be in the range of $74 million to $80 million for 2016/17, down from its February guidance of $85 million to $88 million.

The company attributed the downgrade to softer shoe sales, including flat like-for-like sales during March and April for its Accent and Hype businesses, and flat like-for-like sales for the year to date at The Athlete’s Foot.

It also defended the integration of its bricks and mortar stores with its online outlets across its TAF, Platypus, Hype, Skechers, Vans, Merrell, Saucony and CAT brands.

It said eCommerce sales had risen more than 65 per cent and the growth continued to accelerate.

Shares in RCG ended at 60.5 cents, down 22.5 cents with more than 30 million units having been traded.

Fittler pushed hard to pick City side

Brad Fittler was on his phone until 11pm on Sunday night trying to find 17 players available to represent City Origin against Country one last time.


And even when his phone ran out of battery, his search wasn’t complete.

The representative availability crisis hit a new low on Monday morning, when Fittler was forced to delay naming his team due to the high amount of withdrawals.

Canberra and North Queensland had banned their players from selection, blaming player welfare, while Canterbury coach Des Hasler allowed only Adam Elliott to be named for Country.

“I always knew it was going to be like this from the moment Canterbury made their intentions clear,” Fittler said.

“I can’t control how they feel about the game or how they act allowing their players to be eligible.”

Eventually, when it was resolved, Jake Marketo was pulled from Illawarra’s NSW Cup side to be selected.

Marketo has been named in the Dragons’ 21-man squad just once this year – and that was in round one.

He was on his couch in Wollongong when he found out on Monday morning and initially thought the phone call from Fittler was a joke.

Penrith duo Nathan Cleary and James Tamou were in the Panthers’ gym together, before they found out they had to pack their bags and rush down the M4 to join the squad at about 10am.

“Getting James Tamou – that was someone I was on the phone about until late last night,” Fittler said.

“He was someone who people could feel could do with the week off but the situation of him putting his hand up to want to play and the club allowing him to play was a big coup.

“Once I had he and (Paul) Gallen up front I was happy to put anyone behind them.”

Those behind him include Parramatta’s David Gower – who has spent all but two games this year as the Eels’ 18th man or in reserve grade – and Hame Sele, who has played just four games off the bench for the Dragons.

The availability crisis also forced Fittler to name Panthers utility Bryce Cartwright at five-eighth, denying Matt Moylan a trial in the halves ahead of NSW State of Origin selection.

He is one of the few players pushing his Blues’ hopes as it’s understood potential hooking candidates for NSW, Nathan Peats and Peter Wallace, were also unavailable.

That allowed in-ford Dragons hooker Cameron McInness to be named in the No.9 jersey while Chad Townsend will start at halfback.

City: Matt Moylan, Clinton Gutherson, Nathan Ross, Tyrone Peachey, Josh Addo-Carr, Bryce Cartwright, Chad Townsend, James Tamou, Cameron McInnes, Paul Gallen, Curtis Sironen, David Gower, Hame Sele. Bench: Joseph Paulo, Nathan Cleary, Pauli Pauli, Jake Marketo.

‘Men gave teen gun to kill Curtis Cheng’, court hears

As he left a Parramatta mosque on his way to shoot police accountant Curtis Cheng, teenager Farhad Jabar turned to a security camera and raised his index finger in the distinctive Islamic State salute.


Prosecutors are using CCTV footage of Jabar’s chilling gesture and a bloodstained extremist note in which he’d threatened to turn “your days into hell” as evidence in the case against three men accused of aiding Mr Cheng’s 2015 murder.

Talal Alameddine, 24, Mustafa Dirani, 23, and Milad Atai, 21, faced the first day of a committal hearing in the Downing Centre Local Court on Monday.

All three are charged with doing an act in preparation for a terrorist act, while Alameddine and Dirani are charged with supplying the revolver used to shoot Mr Cheng outside Parramatta police headquarters.

A fourth man, 19-year-old Raban Alou, has also been charged over the plot but is not involved in the committal proceedings.

Crown prosecutor Paul McGuire SC told the court a bloodstained note found on 15-year-old Jabar’s body was clearly a reference to Mr Cheng’s shooting being “an act designed to cause terror and designed to achieve some religious motivation or end”.

“Know that you are all being watched 24/7, while you are asleep, awake, planning,” the note says in part.

“But soon by the will of God the Exalted, your nights will turn into nightmares, your days into hell.”

Mr McGuire said Islamic State had taken credit for Mr Cheng’s shooting, with its online magazine Dabiq referring to Jabar as “amongst the brave knights” of jihad who “struck the crusaders of Australia and killed one of their personnel”.

He said the accused men had referred to the Dabiq article in conversations on the WhatsApp messaging platform and had also discussed international terror attacks, and cursed Australian Defence Force personnel.

Aerial police surveillance footage was played to the court of Alameddine allegedly meeting Alou and Dirani at a western Sydney park to hand over a firearm just hours before Mr Cheng was shot.

Forty-five minutes before the shooting, Alou can be seen entering the Parramatta mosque, allegedly concealing the .38 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver used to shoot Mr Cheng.

It was at the mosque that Jabar allegedly took possession of the weapon, prosecutors say.

CCTV footage played in court on Monday shows the teenager prayed before he left the mosque on foot wearing dark robes and carrying a backpack, bound for the Parramatta police headquarters where Mr Cheng worked.

Jabar was shot dead by police in an exchange of gunfire shortly after he shot Mr Cheng.

There was a heavy police presence in court for Monday’s hearing and the three accused men sat in a dock behind a clear panel.

Dirani and Atai smiled at three young male supporters who sat in the public gallery. A woman wearing a niqab was also in the public gallery.

The committal hearing continues.