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Wall Street records propel ASX higher, RBA follow-up comments ‘settle nerves’



Record highs on US markets propelled the ASX firmly into the green, while fresh comments on interest rates have settled nerves.

The Australian sharemarket was propelled higher by a positive lead from Wall Street, but managed to outperform it, while follow up comments to yesterday’s rates decision appear to have “settled nerves”.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rallied 0.93 per cent to 7392.7, while the All Ordinaries Index strengthened 0.87 per cent to 7713.

CommSec analyst Steven Daghlian said the local bourse outperformed US markets, which hit fresh record highs overnight, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above 36,000 for the first time, up 0.4 per cent.

After the Reserve Bank of Australia held its monthly board meeting on Tuesday, keeping the cash rate at a historic-low 0.1 per cent, governor Philip Lowe said he strongly disagreed with current market pricing for hikes in 2022.

“He basically said hikes next year, while not impossible, are extremely unlikely,” Mr Daghlian said.

“But he did say it’s possible for rates to rise in 2023, so it seems to have settled nerves, to an extent.”

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver remains convinced both Australian and US central banks will “start raising rates later next year”.

OMG chief executive Ivan Tchourilov noted reactions to the RBA meeting had been mixed, with the central bank “refusing to match the hawkish outlook of other major financial institutions”, and credited the ASX rise to the upbeat US lead.

“There weren’t a lot of losers today – even iron ore miners were in the green, despite iron ore prices crashing overnight,” Mr Tchourilov said.

Mr Daghlian said the iron ore price had fallen for five straight days, back below $US100 per tonne, and had tumbled about 20 per cent in a little over a week.

“This is on some fresh restrictions on steel production in China in a bid to control pollution ahead of next year’s Beijing Olympics,” he said.

Rio Tinto lifted 1.17 per cent to $89.70, BHP added 1.07 per cent to $35.94 and Fortescue advanced 3.08 per cent to $14.38.

A particularly strong performer was lithium miner Orocobre Ltd, which surged 6.7 per cent to $9.70.

The banks gained ground after three straight trading days of losses.

Commonwealth Bank revealed it will become Australia’s first bank to offer customers the ability to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency assets, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, directly through its CommBank app.

The pilot will start in coming weeks and CBA intends to progressively rollout more features next year.

CBA put on 1.17 per cent to $107, National Australia Bank rose 1.35 per cent to $28.58, Westpac inched two cents higher to $23.15 and ANZ gained 2.26 per cent to $28.47.

Investors applauded AMP announcing it had completed its exit from life insurance after more than 170 years in the business, selling its 19.13 per cent interest in Resolution Life Australasia for $524m.

The group sold the majority of the business last year for $3bn and says the divestment of the remaining stake provides balance sheet flexibility ahead of the planned demerger of its private markets division, which holds real estate and infrastructure investments.

“It’s a welcome capital injection for the wealth manager, if their new fancy building in Sydney CBD is anything to go by,” Mr Tchourilov said.

“AMP’s streamlining plans hit a hitch when the company was rinsed at the 2019 Hayne Royal Commission – it seems they are now starting to find their feet again.

“They’re focusing on banking and wealth management and divesting from the rest, usually maintaining a stake in the divested entity.”

AMP shares leapt 9.3 per cent to $1.17.

Telstra renewed its contract with the Department of Defence, clinching a five-year deal worth more than $1bn, but its shares didn’t budge from $3.90.

Packing giant Amcor firmed 0.75 per cent to $16.11 after delivering a solid first quarter result and reaffirming its full-year outlook, despite sales in some parts of the business being hit by raw material shortages.

Insurance Australia Group continued to backtrack, losing 1.11 per cent to $4.45 a day after downgrading its full-year guidance due to higher estimates for hail and severe storm damage claims, which sent its shares tumbling more than 7 per cent on Tuesday.

“Four brokers have reduced their expectations for its shares over the next 12 months,” Mr Daghlian said.

Domino’s Pizza held its annual general meeting, announcing its commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, flagging its plan to operate more than 6650 stores by 2030 – up from 3169 currently – and also warning it expects to be faced with higher food and energy costs next year.

Domino’s shares eased 0.13 per cent to $142.30.

In economic news, building approvals fell by 4.3 per cent in September, but were up 12.8 per cent on a year ago.

Approvals to build detached houses dropped 16.1 per cent in September – which CommSec senior economist Ryan Felsman said was the biggest monthly decline in 21 years – but higher-density apartment approvals lifted 17.4 per cent.

“Building construction is expected to remain elevated over the next 12 months due to strong homebuyer demand,” Mr Felsman said.

“Builders and their contractors are under pressure to deliver projects on-time and on-budget as they work through a huge pipeline of residential, commercial and infrastructure-related construction work.

“Already construction companies are experiencing skilled trades labour shortages and rising building materials costs due to supply-chain disruptions.”

The Aussie dollar was buying 74.32 US cents, 54.53 British pence and 64.15 Euro cents in afternoon trade.

Originally published as Australian sharemarket surges into the green, notching up gains across the board




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Domino’s Pizza commits to net zero by 2050, details huge expansion plans



Domino’s Pizza has joined a growing number of major companies making the carbon emission pledge, while also outlining expansion plans.

Domino’s Pizza is pushing ahead with massive expansion plans and joined the growing number of companies committed to net zero emissions by 2050.

The company has also warned it expects to be faced with higher food and energy costs next year.

The fast food behemoth held its annual general meeting and provided a trading update on Wednesday.

Chief executive Don Meij said its network was already 15 per cent bigger than this time last year through new store openings and acquisitions.

There are 3169 stores in the network and the plan is to more than double that number by next decade.

“We have a busy new store pipeline and this year, we aim to open a record number of new stores,” Mr Meij said.

“Indeed, we are targeting FY22 to be the largest expansion of our store footprint in our company’s history.

“We also remain active in pursuing additional markets.”

Over the next three to five years, Domino’s is targeting 9-12 per cent new store growth, and chairman Jack Cowan gave more detail in his speech to investors.

“Where other businesses in our category or broader industry immediately went on the defensive when Covid-19 arrived, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises expanded our presence – opening more stores, marketing to more customers, donating more meals to the community,” Mr Cowan said.

“With the acquisition of Taiwan, our tenth market, and a review of our modelling, Domino’s now expects to operate more than 6650 stores by 2030.

“We foresee significant upside beyond 2033 in our existing businesses, particularly Europe and Asia.”

Mr Meij said the network in both regions were “planned to be bigger than the entire Domino’s Pizza Enterprises of today”.

Mr Meij said Domino’s would, in the next 12 months, set time-bound and science-based targets with an interim goal and a commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions before 2050.

“We are embracing this responsibility to take action now, and inspire our industry and supply chain partners.”

He said Domino’s would partner with Compassion in World Farming on the company’s Better Chicken Commitment, expanding its pledge for Europe to include Australia and New Zealand.

“We have also expanded our offerings to vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian customers, with plant-based cheeses and alternatives to our traditional proteins,” Mr Meij said.

On expected higher food prices in 2022, Domino’s said long term contracts would provide some buffer.

Shareholder activist Stephen Mayne asked Mr Cowan, aged 79, whether he planned to emulate the boss of the publisher of this title – News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch – in continuing his career into his 90s.

The executive said that “may be wishful thinking”.

“I may not be that lucky but that would be my desire,” Mr Cowan elaborated.

Originally published as Domino’s Pizza commits to net zero by 2050, pushing ahead with massive expansion plans

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Rollercoaster session for ASX, fails to hold onto post-Reserve Bank of Australia meeting rally



The ASX surged after the RBA flagged keeping the cash rate at its historic low for another two years, but couldn’t hold onto the gains.

The Australian sharemarket slumped lower despite positive overseas leads and after failing to hold onto its post Reserve Bank of Australia meeting rally.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed 0.63 per cent lower at 7324.3, while the All Ordinaries Index erased 0.59 per cent to 7646.6.

Ord Minnett said US stocks rose overnight in generally lacklustre trade, as investors looked ahead to the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting on Wednesday, while European stocks hit record highs as expectations of interest rate hikes supported bank stocks.

CommSec analyst Steven Daghlian said the local bourse started out in the green but faded as investors traded tentatively awaiting the outcome of our own central bank’s monthly board meeting.

OMG chief executive Ivan Tchourilov said it had been a rollercoaster, with the ASX gaining ground after the RBA determined to keep the cash rate on hold, as expected, while noting higher than expected inflation.

“The Reserve did well to remain ambiguous on expectations, although we’re still looking at a 2023 interest rate hike instead of the previous 2024 forecast,” Mr Tchourilov said.

“Commodity prices were mixed, as was our resources sector.”

After iron ore prices slumped, Rio Tinto lost 2.54 per cent to $88.66, BHP dropped 2.34 per cent to $35.56, Fortescue shed 2.65 per cent to $13.95 and Champion Iron sank 7.22 per cent to $4.24.

Nickel miner IGO plunged 8.42 per cent to $8.92, while Whitehaven Coal plummeted 9.54 per cent to $2.37.

Origin Energy slid 1.95 per cent to $5.02, while Beach Energy dropped 3.93 per cent to $1.34 after announcing its managing director and chief executive Matt Kay had handed in his resignation to pursue other opportunities.

But battery minerals company Magnis Energy Technologies was a stellar performer, rocketing 18.48 per cent to 54.5 cents.

“Magnis released their annual report after market close yesterday and the market is starting to see some value in Magnis’ proposition,” Mr Tchourilov said.

“Despite operating at a loss without a finished product, they have $665m in binding offtake sales lined up for 2022.

“The patented battery technology is gaining traction in the US market, where a new battery plant is being built in New York to meet demand.

“Magnis has already returned 280 per cent in share price this year, but will be one to watch especially closely into 2022 when battery production begins to ramp up.”

Insurance providers retreated after Insurance Australia Group downgraded its full-year guidance, upping its assumptions for hail and severe storm impacts in South Australia and Victoria last month to $1.045bn, from $765m previously.

“Cost allowances for natural perils have been lifted significantly after the first quarter came in more expensive than expected,” Mr Tchourilov said.

“Margin guidance for the period has slipped a full 3 per cent and they’re allowing room for extreme weather events to continue into next year.

“IAG is maintaining strong underlying performance as reported in its end of year results. However, if the first quarter is anything to go by, it will be an expensive year for insurance providers.”

IAG shares tumbled 7.03 per cent to $4.50, while Suncorp gave up 4.15 per cent to $11.31 and QBE softened 2.39 per cent to $11.83.

Financial technology platform provider Praemium Ltd leapt 14.46 per cent to $1.42 after knocking back Netwealth Group’s $785m takeover offer, saying the bid did not appropriately value its current performance and near-term trajectory.

Wealth manager Netwealth gave up 2.06 per cent to $17.15.

ANZ fell 1.1 per cent to $27.84, Commonwealth Bank backtracked 0.5 per cent to $105.76, National Australia Bank declined 0.88 per cent to $28.20 and Westpac slumped 2.73 per cent to $23.13 a day after releasing disappointing full-year results.

However, Morningstar equity analyst Nathan Zaia said Westpac could fix its productivity issues, noting it was the cheapest of the major banks.

Property stocks fared well, with Goodman Group surging 5.57 per cent to $23.49 after upgrading its full-year guidance, while Charter Hall Group rose 3.28 per cent to $18.59 after doing the same on Monday, while Lendlease added 2.39 per cent to $10.70.

Mr Daghlian said Goodman, the largest industrial property group on the ASX, which operates in 17 countries, was pocketing higher earnings partly because of demand for warehouses had surged during the pandemic-driven e-commerce boom.

Meal kit delivery service Marley Spoon continued to tumble after downgrading its full-year guidance last week, sinking 11.9 per cent to 92.5 cents.

The Aussie dollar was fetching 74.76 US cents, 54.76 British pence and 64.4 Euro cents in afternoon trade.

Originally published as Rollercoaster session for ASX, fails to hold onto post-Reserve Bank of Australia meeting rally




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Reserve Bank of Australia holds interest rates steady after board meeting on Melbourne Cup day



The RBA has held off lifting the cash rate from a historic low despite rising inflation and the white-hot housing market.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has decided to keep interest rates on hold as widely expected.

Following its monthly board meeting on Tuesday, the central bank announced the cash rate – the interest rate on unsecured overnight loans between banks – would stay for now at the historic low of 0.1 per cent.

The rate was reached after a series of cuts that began in March last year as the Covid-19 crisis kicked in.

The RBA has repeatedly said a hike was unlikely before 2024 as it wants to see inflation “sustainably” within the 2-3 per cent target range.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics inflation figures released last week showed the trimmed mean numbers – which the RBA watches most closely – had risen to 2.1 per cent growth over the year compared to an expected 1.8 per cent.

RBA governor Philip Lowe noted inflation had picked up but in underlying terms was “still low”.

“The board is prepared to be patient, with the central forecast being for underlying inflation to be no higher than 2½ per cent at the end of 2023 and for only a gradual increase in wages growth,” he said.

The RBA also scrapped its target for the April 2024 Australian government bond of 10 basis points, with Dr Lowe saying this reflected the improvement in the economy and earlier-than-expected progress towards the inflation target.

“Given that other market interest rates have moved in response to the increased likelihood of higher inflation and lower unemployment, the effectiveness of the yield target in holding down the general structure of interest rates in Australia has diminished,” he said.

Some economists believe a hike could come as soon as late 2022, with others tipping 2023.

On top of rising inflation, the trend of lenders increasing fixed interest rates for terms greater than 12 months also suggested a higher cash rate some time in 2023, Canstar group executive of financial services Steve Mickenbecker said.

CreditorWatch chief economist Harley Dale said market interest rates would rise in the interim “or so everybody expects”.

Mr Dale said the RBA’s December 7 board meeting decision – the final until February 1 – would be the year’s most important.

“As economic conditions move in a way that is sometimes evolving and sometimes revolutionising, the RBA is sticking to its record low interest rate policy, but not necessarily the timing of it,” he said.

“The December statement will be a key update given the bank will have had the opportunity to scrutinise an increasing amount of information regarding post lockdown economic outcomes.”

Almost 30 per cent of respondents to a Canstar survey said they favoured increasing interest rates as a measure to cool the property market, following the latest CoreLogic data showing national home values rocketed 21.6 per cent over the year to October.

“It may be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’,” Mr Mickenbecker said.

“If the cash rate hiked by 0.25 per cent and lenders passed this on in full, a residential borrower with a $1m mortgage on the average variable rate of 3.09 per cent would see their monthly loan repayments rise by $137 to reach $4402.

“But this will be just the start of the race for rate increases and a year down the track would surely see the cash rate increase by 1 per cent.

“If this happens, the borrower with a $1m mortgage would see their monthly repayments rise by $561 to $4826, which is quite a stretch.”

Originally published as Reserve Bank keeps unprecedented low interest rate on hold again




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Residential property prices keep climbing as investors push out would-be first home buyers



Australian housing prices keep creeping higher, pushing more would-be first home buyers off the property ladder and fuelling rate hike talk.

Australian residential property prices keep creeping higher, but experts believe the peak of the current cycle is not far off, with the Reserve Bank tipped to increase interest rates sooner than flagged.

CoreLogic data released on Monday showed national dwelling values inched up 1.5 per cent in October, down from a peak monthly growth rate of 2.8 per cent in March.

That’s a touch higher than predicted by CommSec (about 1.3 per cent) and AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver (1.4 per cent).

The rise brings the national price growth rate over the past 12 months to a whopping 21.6 per cent.

But CoreLogic reiterated what it had been saying for months – the red-hot property market is slowly losing momentum.

That may be cold comfort for already priced out, would-be first home buyers.

“Housing prices continue to outpace wages by a ratio of about 12:1,” CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless said.

“This is one of the reasons why first home buyers are becoming a progressively smaller component of housing demand.”

Other reasons are the end of stimulus measures such as HomeBuilder, more supply on the market – with new listings surging by 47 per cent since hitting a low in September – and, from Monday, the tightening of mortgage assessments in a bid to slow new lending at high debt-to-income ratios.

Inflation data last week was higher than expected, with the most significant price rise being for new homes bought by owner-occupiers.

Economists say pressure is accordingly building on the RBA to up the cash rate from its historic low of 0.1 per cent.

The central bank holds its monthly meeting on Tuesday and every word in the statement that follows will be combed for even the slightest shift in its thinking.

“We now expect the first rate hike in a year’s time,” Mr Oliver said in his latest market update.

“The RBA won’t rush into a rate hike because it wants to see that ‘inflation is sustainably within the target range’.”

The RBA has repeatedly said a hike was unlikely before 2024.

“However, with the economy recovering, we believe that the conditions for the start of rate hikes will now be in place by late 2022, so we expect the first hike to be in November 2022, taking the cash rate to 0.25 per cent, followed by a 0.25 per cent hike in December 2022, taking the cash rate to 0.5 per cent by the end of next year,” Mr Oliver said.

Many other economists are tipping an RBA move in early 2023.

Meanwhile, as housing continues to become less and less affordable, CoreLogic expects demand will skew towards higher density sectors of the market, especially in Sydney, where the gap between the median house and unit value is now close to $500,000.

“With investors becoming a larger component of new housing finance, we may see more demand flowing into medium to high density properties,” Mr Lawless said.

“Investor demand across the unit sector could be bolstered as overseas borders open, which is likely to have a positive impact on rental demand, especially across inner city unit precincts.”

Australia’s apartment markets have generally recorded a lower rate of growth compared to houses, CoreLogic says.

Also on Monday, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed the continuation of a trend seen over recent months – investor mortgage commitments rising as owner-occupier new loan commitments fell.

MEDIAN VALUES AROUND AUSTRALIA:

Sydney: $1.071m (up 25.3 per cent over 12 months)

Canberra: $864,909 (up 25.5 per cent)

Melbourne: $780,303 (up 16.37 per cent)

Hobart: $678,170 (up 28.06 per cent)

Brisbane: $642,097 (up 22.3 per cent)

Adelaide: $543,265 (up 20.07 per cent)

Perth: $526,625 (up 16.37 per cent)

Darwin: $490,236 (up 19.28 per cent)

Originally published as Residential property prices keep climbing as investors push out would-be first home buyers




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James Packer’s Crown admission at Perth royal commission



Reclusive billionaire James Packer has made a bombshell admission at a Perth royal commission into Crown Casino.

James Packer has conceded there were many “things that should have been done differently” at Crown Perth when he was at the helm – and he should have quit rather than missing board meetings for three years as criminal junkets infiltrated.

The probe is the third faced by Crown Resorts over now substantiated allegations of money laundering at the West Australian casino and also at its Melbourne venue.

The reclusive billionaire and major shareholder in the gambling giant fronted the WA probe via videolink on Friday, admitting he did not attend a single board meeting of Crown Perth’s Burswood Ltd between 2013 to 2016 after he moved overseas.

Counsel assisting Patricia Cahill suggested that if he had been “more active and engaged”, Burswood Ltd may have been more aware of the risk of money laundering through its Riverbank Investments account, which was closed by ANZ in 2014 over regulatory compliance issues.

Mr Packer said he “should have attended or resigned”, and an account closure “absolutely would have been a red flag” but claimed he was “not informed” of the risk of criminal infiltration through high roller junket tours until after 19 Crown staff were arrested in China in 2016 for marketing the business on the mainland, where gambling is illegal.

“You weren’t keeping an eye on things, Mr Packer,” Ms Cahill said, which he rejected.

“I should have resigned or attended, I accept that,” he added.

He agreed he left it to management to ensure risks such as money laundering were mitigated and assumed they were doing enough.

“I had full confidence in the CEO Barry Felstead,” Mr Packer said.

Mr Packer said “at some point the culture slipped”, responding “potentially” after Ms Cahill asked whether that was due to his absence.

The royal commission has been seeking to establish to what extent those who ran the Perth venue functioned independently or at the behest of the parent company in a bid to find out who was most responsible for allowing the money laundering scandal to unfold.

Mr Packer paused lengthily and carefully considered Ms Cahill’s questions about the 2004 to 2016 period, when he was chair of Burswood Ltd, before responding.

He often said he did not recall certain details and that he was “not a lawyer”, and asked Ms Cahill to repeat questions.

Earlier, Mr Packer’s barrister Noel Huntley objected twice when Ms Cahill pressed his client on how the corporate structure operated, describing her line of questioning as “argumentative”.

“I may well have known these things in 2006. I can’t remember now,” the businessman had responded.

He admitted he could not recall which specific subsidiary held the Crown Perth gaming licence.

Asked if that mattered to him, he replied: “What mattered to me was that the company was operating and behaving well, and that if that wasn’t happening that information should flow to the board ASAP.”

Mr Packer disagreed with testimony by former Crown Resorts director and his board nominee John Poynton that the overwhelming power rested with the parent company.

He said Burswood Ltd only did not have the authority to sign off on capital expenditure and redevelopment decisions, with Crown Resorts holding the purse strings.

If Crown Perth didn’t want someone appointed, it would not happen, Mr Packer said.

He said that in hindsight, Crown Perth should have had more independent directors and agreed with Ms Cahill’s proposition that it was “overseeing itself”, which was a poor governance structure.

Asked if there was anyone on the board with anti-money laundering expertise, he replied: “I don’t believe there was.”

“Looking back, there were many oversights, things that should have been done differently.

“I did not believe at that point in time that Crown Perth were engaged in money laundering.”

Mr Packer agreed with the general proposition that he would have known all casinos were at risk of being used for the criminal practice.

Asked how he saw his role as Burswood Ltd chair, Mr Packer said it was to ensure Crown Perth “put its best foot forward” and was seen “as a good corporate citizen”.

But he rejected as “completely wrong” Ms Cahill’s assertion he was “disengaged” from all aspects of Crown Perth other than its financial performance.

“I was financially and emotionally committed to Perth.”

It is the second time Mr Packer has testified since the scandal exploded, having fronted last year’s damning NSW inquiry via videolink from his private yacht.

He sat in a modestly furnished room on Friday from an undisclosed location, only revealing he was in a time zone 11 hours behind Perth.

It comes after the damning Victorian royal commission findings recommended slashing CPH’s stake in Crown from 37 per cent to less than 5 per cent.

The NSW inquiry had labelled Mr Packer’s influence “disastrous”, as he was the driving force to secure more junkets.

Victorian Commissioner Raymond Finkelstein agreed.

The NSW inquiry was told that after Mr Packer quit Crown, he received special treatment, with briefings on an almost daily basis under a “controlling shareholder protocol”, which was torn up after the evidence emerged.

Originally published as Crown Resorts’ biggest shareholder and former chair James Packer expresses regret to Perth royal commission




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Miner’s sex shame: Fortescue joins BHP, Rio Tinto in FIFO booze crackdown



Fortescue has joined BHP and Rio Tinto in restricting alcohol at mining camps as ‘disturbing’ allegations of sexual misconduct in the FIFO workforce surge.

Iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group is cracking down on boozy mine site culture as it responds to “disturbing” claims of sexual assault and harassment in its workforce.

Chief executive Elizabeth Gaines on Wednesday told a West Australian parliamentary inquiry, which was sparked by shocking headlines of sexual misconduct in the fly-in fly-out sector, that the company’s new drinking limit came after a broad review that included surveying almost 2000 employees.

It follows similar moves by BHP and Rio Tinto.

“We have also reviewed our alcohol service limits and will shortly introduce a limit of no more than four mid-strength alcoholic drinks in a 24 hour period,” Ms Gaines said.

She said the circumstances of the stories that led to the inquiry were “deeply distressing and disturbing”, and personally apologised to any team members who had experienced sexual harassment at the miner’s operations.

Ms Gaines said the company was committed to tackling the problem, including encouraging reporting and taking action against perpetrators.

Earlier, Rio Tinto’s iron ore chief Simon Trott said he was “sickened” by the allegations, saying it was an “uncomfortable truth” that such misconduct happened in the sector at construction sites, mines and accommodation villages.

“I’m appalled and sickened by the stories I’ve heard, the things that I have read about, people’s experience in our business and in the industry,” Mr Trott said.

“We’re determined to change and ensure our workforce is safe from sexual harassment, racism, bullying and psychosocial harm.

“To anyone who has experienced any form of sexual harassment or sexual assault within our business, I’m sorry, I’m deeply sorry, and I stand before the inquiry today to commit to doing better to eliminate these behaviours from all areas of our business.”

Rio Tinto informed the inquiry in August that since January 1 last year, it had substantiated one case of sexual assault and 29 cases of sexual harassment within its FIFO operations and was investigating one allegation of sexual assault and 14 reports of sexual harassment.

Echoing others in the sector, Mr Trott said the problem was under-reported, but Rio Tinto’s anonymous “myVoice” whistleblower program sought to draw out claims.

Rio Tinto general manager of human resources Laura Thomas said there had been a surge in allegations lodged with the miner between 2020 and 2021 of about 120 per cent, which was encouraging.

She said most coincided with the release and rebrand of the myVoice program, and bystanders were being prompted to speak up.

Mr Trott said about 90 per cent of substantiated cases resulted in dismissal or disciplinary action, including a written warning.

Ms Thomas elaborated, telling the inquiry that amounted to 30 people in the past year, half of whom had been terminated.

“Keeping in mind this year we’ve still got a substantial number of cases under investigation,” she added.

The executives were asked about the process of “getting your shirt” – graduating from a labour hire or contractor role to a direct job with a miner – which appeared to be a key time for sexual harassment.

Inquiry chair Libby Mettam was referring to a shocking written submission by married mother of two Astacia Stevens, a Rio Tinto worker, who told the inquiry she was undertaking a diploma in counselling with a view to leaving the mining industry because of the sexual harassment she had endured.

When she started out as a cleaner, a certain colleague would touch her “inappropriately at almost every occasion that I was in his presence”, she alleged.

“For example, he would frequently grab my bum, putting his fat gut into the small of my back … he would try to ‘ride me’, he would laugh when he did it, and he did it often in front of others,” Ms Stevens wrote.

“He would often grab my hips from behind and pretend to sexually penetrate … he would make crude and sexual comments in front of other guys when I would need to pick something up off the floor.”

Knowing she wanted a job as haul truck operator, he demanded “special favours” and said “I knew where his room was”, she alleged.

The man had the authority to advise the supervisor whether she was appropriate for the job but refused to sign her over “unless I had sex with him”.

“I refused to have sex with him, so I therefore continued to do the same job as a contractor,” Ms Stevens wrote.

Mr Trott said power imbalances in Rio Tinto’s workforce “certainly create the environment that can lead to the incidents”.

“We’re certainly looking at that and understanding that in a way that we can put in greater preventions at those power imbalance points,” he said.

Mr Trott also commented on the idea of creating a blacklist of perpetrators in the sector, given some who were marched from their job as a result simply popped up ‘down the road’.

He said Rio Tinto would support “some form of register” but there would be complexities.

Ms Mettam said the Equal Opportunities Commission had raised the right to a fair process and encouraged a stronger referral process.

Ms Gaines said she also had concerns around a potential list.

“Who would regulate that, how long does somebody stay on the list, what happens if there’s a mistake and they appear on the list through error? There’s a whole range of issues,” she said.

“Our preference is to adopt our approach, which is to make sure we’re recruiting in accordance with our recruitment practices.”

Originally published as Fortescue joins BHP, Rio Tinto in booze crackdown amid flood of sexual assault, harassment allegations in FIFO workforce




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Australian sharemarket claws back to flat after ‘immediate’ inflation data sell-off



New figures showing the strongest annual inflation growth rate in almost six years sent the ASX tumbling but it managed to claw back to finish flat.

The Australian sharemarket yet again finished barely changed, with the benchmark index scraping into the green by just a few points after new inflation data sparked a sell-off.

The S&P/ASX200 firmed just 5.3 points to 7448.7, while the All Ordinaries Index slipped 1.3 points to 7758.

CommSec analyst Steven Daghlian said the ASX had a positive but cautious start to the trading session ahead of the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics inflation figures, which showed the consumer price index representing a basket of goods rose 0.8 per cent in the September quarter.

It’s this week’s most significant Australian economic news, partly for what it means for interest rate hikes, Mr Daghlian said.

The local bourse faded after the figures were released, then staged a steady comeback, but wound up flat.

“The headline numbers were bang on expectations, but the trimmed mean numbers, which is what the RBA watches most closely, was actually above what the market was expecting: 0.7 per cent growth over the quarter, compared to 0.5 per cent.

“And 2.1 per cent growth over the year compared to (an expected) 1.8 per cent. So this is the strongest annual growth rate in inflation in almost six years and it means that inflation is back within the RBA’s 2-3 per cent target range.”

OMG chief executive Ivan Tchourilov said the above-forecast result immediately triggered a sell-off in both equities and bonds.

“The ASX 200 index fell 47 points in the 30 minutes following the announcement and bond yields rose across the board,” he said.

“The RBA is holding firm, but this will only increase the market’s expectation of an early rate hike.”

Both the ABS and Woolworths noted fruit prices fell markedly, due to favourable growing conditions and reduced demand from the food service industry.

Woolworths made the observation in its quarterly report and said it had felt the impact of global supply disruptions as it stocked up shelves for Christmas.

Group sales were up 7.8 per cent compared to the same quarter last year, including food sales in Australia growing by nearly 4 per cent and by almost 10 per cent in New Zealand as customers ate more at home.

But store closures and trading restrictions slashed Big W sales by 17.5 per cent.

This month, customers in NSW started to return to eating out as restrictions eased, but Big W sales trends improved as Greater Sydney stores reopened.

Shares in Woolworths, which also held its annual general meeting, fell 3.24 per cent to $39.16.

Investor day was not a good day for A2 Milk shareholders, with the company slumping almost 12 per cent to $6.03 as it continues to struggle with the collapse of the important Chinese diagou infant formula reseller market.

“The presentation confirmed we won’t be getting back to July 2020 heights any time soon and the lucrative Chinese market is not the river of gold it once was,” Mr Tchourilov said.

“The key takeaway from today was uncertainty, which management isn’t shying away from.

“On the other hand, shareholders can and will get away from as much uncertainty as possible, resulting in today’s sell-off.

“The now $6 mark is an enticing price for entry for anyone looking to buy, but beware of the question mark hanging over forecast revenue.”

Water control products maker Reliance Worldwide had a delayed bull run, gaining 4.6 per cent to $5.44 after releasing its quarterly on Tuesday, Mr Tchourilov said.

“The vote of confidence came from Ord Minnett, who gave the quarterly a tick of approval this morning, after which the stock has been heavily bought,” he said.

“This will typically happen to companies with less traded volume or industries in which most investors don’t have much expertise.

“Still, the numbers don’t lie. The plumbing parts supplier announced quarter-on-quarter growth across the board plus lower cost margins.

“They’ve also purchased a US distributor of plumbing supplies, EZ-FLO, to expand their presence in North America.”

Marley Spoon rocketed 8.33 per cent to $1.62 with advising US investment giant BlackRock Group now holding 6.55 per cent in the meal kit delivery company.

It announced on Monday it had entered the booming pet food market with a new “vertical” called bezzie, while customers of Marley Spoon and its budget arm, Dinnerly, started earning rewards points as part of the Woolworths loyalty program as of Tuesday.

Shares in Youfoodz left the boards after its takeover by HelloFresh.

ANZ inched two cents lower to $28.39, Commonwealth Bank put on 0.95 per cent to $106.10, National Australia Bank gained 1.38 per cent to $29.30 and Westpac improved 0.62 per cent to $25.95.

Rio Tinto appreciated 1.83 per cent to $94.14, BHP dropped 1.44 per cent to $37.66 and Fortescue shed 2.58 per cent to $14.

The Aussie dollar was fetching 75.18 US cents, 54.58 British pence and 64.8 Euro cents in afternoon trade.

Originally published as Australian sharemarket claws back to flat after ‘immediate’ inflation data sell-off




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