Australian shares make it six in a row after last-minute rally

Shares managed a last-gasp gain – making it six straight sessions of rises – after banks sunk an early rally, with miners buoyed by better-than-expected Chinese economic data.

Australian shares were set to close lower, breaking a five-day winning streak, after a promising rally driven by the Chinese data petered out in the afternoon.

But the market rallied in the last few minutes of trading. The S&P/ASX 200 index added 6 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5325, while the All Ordinaries closed 5 points up at 5312.5.

Opening at 5307, the ASX200 spiked to 5331 on the back of a small rise in US equities overnight.

However, the market eased ahead of the release of Chinese GDP at 1pm, said Morgan Stanley’s head of investment strategy Malcolm Wood.

The market’s morning rise “was what you’d expect following the strong US lead”, said Mr Wood. “And I guess people were saying, we have the Chinese data coming out at 1 o’clock … we don’t want to be taking big positions into that.”

Chinese GDP grew at an annualised rate of 7.3 per cent in the third quarter, which was down from the previous quarter’s 7.5 per cent rise, but still above market expectations of a 7.2 per cent rise. The strong point of the data was industrial production, which grew at an annualised rate of 8 per cent – far ahead of the expected 7.5 per cent figure.

The market lifted sharply after the Chinese data was released but then fell back, eventually heading into negative territory. “Obviously it hasn’t rallied on since the China data,” said Mr Wood. “The industrial production number was a little bit better than expected. That would settle some nerves about China, a little bit at least.”

BBY senior client adviser Henry Jennings said China and the imminent bank reporting season weighed down on the market.

“It has been flat – there’s been a little disappointment with the Chinese GDP number.

“We’re running into bank reporting season, we’re only nine or 10 days away from that. The big driver in the market has been the bounce in the banks and I think a few people are just looking at them, thinking they’ve had a good run, and taking some money off the table just in case.”

The big four banks were mixed. Westpac dived 16 cents, or 0.5 per cent, to $33.41, CBA fell 8 cents, or 0.1 per cent, to $77.18, while NAB rose 8 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to $33.52 and ANZ rose 2 cents to $32.47.

Newcrest Mining stocks fell 3 cents to $9.78 after the miner announced it would keep its guidance for the full year unchanged. Newcrest reported a 12 per cent fall in gold production for the September quarter due to lower grades of the precious metal and planned plant shutdowns.

Gold output fell to 561,731 ounces in the three months ending September 30 from 586,573 in September 2013.

Veda Group was one of the market’s worst performers, diving 15 cents to $2.17 on news that its private equity shareholder has abandoned a planned sale of its stake.

Among the miners, Rio rose 0.4 per cent to $59.97, BHP fell 9 cents, or 0.3 per cent, to $33.75 and Fortescue rose 9 cents to $3.55.

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Adele Ferguson receives two Walkley Award nominations for financial planning scandal reports

Fairfax Media’s Adele Ferguson has secured two separate nominations as a finalist in the business category of the prestigious Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism

Both Ms Ferguson’s nominations stem from her tenacious reporting on scandals in the financial planning sector.

Ms Ferguson was nominated together with Deb Masters and Mario Christodoulou, for her Four Corners ABC TV and Fairfax Media series titled: “Banking Bad”, “Rollo Sherriff and Meridien Wealth”, “Misconduct claims widen in CBA’s planning scandal”.Four Corners/Fairfax Media investigation forced the bank to apologise and announce a $250 million-plus compensation scheme. It also triggered an overhaul of the corporate regulator and wholesale changes to the financial planning industry. A royal commission was called citing their revelations.”Sydney Morning Herald and The Age titled: “Macquarie Group financial planning scandal”,  “Macquarie’s bombshell a call to arms”, “Cheating rife in financial planning”

“The Macquarie Group financial scandal revealed how tens of thousands of Australians were deliberately misclassified as “sophisticated” investors, leaving them exposed to high-risk, high-fee Macquarie products. Ferguson and Butler found sources and trawled through court records and documents to expose not only a rotten corporate culture but also the financial havoc inflicted on many customers,” the judges citation said.

Rounding out Fairfax Media’s domination of the award this year was the nomination of Nabila Ahmed, Sue Mitchell and James Chessell, of The Australian Financial Review, for their stories on ructions at the nation’s biggest department stores titled: “Myer, DJs merger proposed just before directors’ trade”, “DJs chairman must step down”, “Mason to purge DJs board”

The judging citation read: “Breaking the news that two of Australia’s most iconic companies had engaged in merger talks was a classic scoop. In their reporting, however, The AFR team also uncovered serious issues of corporate governance that led to the resignation of the chairman and two directors of David Jones.”

Group director news and business at Fairfax Media Sean Aylmer said the haul demonstrated Fairfax’s leadership in financial reporting.

“The crisis in confidence in financial planning has become one of the defining issues in our economy and Adele’s dogged thorough prosecution of this issue, working with some of the best news teams in the business, has put it at the heart of policy debate,” he said.

Mr Aylmer said The Australian Financial Review’s repeated scoops over share trading at David Jones underscored that masthead’s ability to get the truly inside workings of corporate Australia.

The Walkley judges were asked to select finalists from more than 40 entries, and said this year’s entries demonstrated the value of business journalism done well.

“Tenacious, forensic, entertaining, powerful, everything good reporting should involve,” the panel said. “It was also fascinating to see the innovation that is driving and improving our craft.”

The winners of the 59th Walkley Awards will be announced on Thursday, December 4.

Follow us on Twitter @BusinessDay

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MP vows to raise defence pay offer with assistant minister

THOUSANDS of sailors, soldiers and air force personnel have reacted with fury to being asked to give up some of their Christmas and recreational leave in order to get the pay rise of just 1.5 per cent a year over the next three years.

Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis said she, too, was concerned and vowed to raise the issue with the Assistant Minister for Defence.

“I was talking to some defence personnel a couple of days ago and we were discussing the impact of moving around every couple of years,” Mrs Sudmalis said.

“They know it’s all part of the job and they accept that, but it is the sort of thing that does impact on them and their families.

“It’s good to talk to the people, and hear their perspective. They love their job, and feel honoured to be in that position.”

Mrs Sudmalis said she wondered if the Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert had been made aware of those types of issues.

“I’ve written a letter to Mr Robert and I will deliver that letter to him personally on Monday,” she said.

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Australia ‘paradise’ for white-collar criminals, says ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft

Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton

Tougher stance: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton

Change: Chairman Greg Medcraft said ASIC’s enforcement actions will be more transparent. Photo: Ben Rushton

Australia is a “paradise” for white-collar criminals because of its soft punishment of corporate offences, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman, Greg Medcraft, says.

Mr Medcraft said the only realistic response was harsher jail terms and bigger penalties for white-collar crime.

He also repeated calls for a national competency exam for financial advisers in the lead up to a crackdown on the industry and more funding for ASIC to investigate the finance sector, including a user-pays funding model.

Finance industry players were not “Christian soldiers”, Mr Medcraft said on Tuesday, but were motivated by fear and greed.

“You have to lift the fear and suppress the greed,” he said.

“This is a bit of a paradise, Australia, for white collar.

“The thing that scares white-collar criminals is going to jail and that’s what scares them everywhere in the world.”

“The penalties, particularly civil penalties, in Australia for white-collar offences are basically not strong enough, not tough enough. All you’re doing is giving them a slap on the wrist [and] that is not deterring people.”

In the past few years ASIC has come under fire over its handling of scandals at the financial planning arms of the Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Group, and Storm Financial.

At recent Senate and parliamentary committee inquiries the corporate regulator was accused of being too slow to act against dodgy financial planners, of lacking transparency and being too trusting of big business.

Mr Medcraft admitted ASIC had made mistakes, but said its capacity to investigate and pursue corrupt financial advisers had been curtailed by a lack of resources.

He vowed to be more transparent about ASIC’s enforcement actions and said the regulator would “not be captive to the big end of town”.

“If we want to react faster, then having more resources to be able to do it is important,” he said.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission plans to devote more resources to scrutinising and investigating the financial advisory industry while also forcing the sector to lift its game through better education, monitoring and reporting of breaches.

“One way of lifting resources is to put pressure on them to better police themselves,” Mr Medcraft said.

“You have to try to put more pressure on the people who are supposed to be monitoring the advisers, so our strategy is going to be spending a lot more time putting pressure on their own misconduct and breach reporting.”

Mr Medcraft stepped up calls for a national exam for financial advisers to level the playing field and ensure minimum levels of financial competency.

“At least, pilots have to sit for a competency exam run by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) – I regard financial advice as just as important,” he said.

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Companies snap up space in Melbourne’s refurbished World Trade Centre

A $50 million refurbishment of Melbourne’s World Trade Centre has yielded another 4000 square metres of leasing deals.

All 12,000 square metres of space at the WTC’s Tower 4 have been leased in the past 12 months.

“This has been a stunning result in what has otherwise been a tough leasing market and tapping into what was previously a virtually unknown office market,” Savills Australia agent Phil Cullity✓ said.

“We identified our key market early but the refurbishment was really the key, along with the waterfront access.”

The WTC is on the Yarra River across the water from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The complex, owned by Asset 1, includes five office towers ranging from eight to 12 storeys, offering a combined 70,000 square metres.

The new five- to 10-year leases were struck on rates ranging from $290 a square metre for lower levels to $340 a square metre for high-rise space.

New tenants at Tower 4 on 18-38 Siddeley Street include Academy of Interactive Entertainment, which is taking 2545 square metres, the non-profit Rural Workforce Agency (550 square metres), Connect Furniture (250 square metres) and Compass Offices (733 square metres).

The deals were negotiated in conjunction with Colliers International.

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