Ampol weighing all options as Australia’s oil refinery crisis persists


Ampol’s review of its Lytton refinery, scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of next year, comes as British oil major BP prepares to cease operations at its Kwinana plant in Perth, leaving Australia with just three refineries remaining and a greater reliance on imported transport fuels.

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“An announcement like that reinforces the challenge,” Mr Halliday said. “It’s reinforced how challenging the environment is and is likely to remain.”

Australian oil refineries – which process crude oil into petrol, diesel and jet fuel – have been under pressure even before coronavirus as the local sector has struggled to compete against the cheaper, mega-refineries of south-east Asia. Three refineries have closed their doors in the past decade.

In the hope of retaining local refining “wherever commercially possible”, the federal government has been in talks with Ampol, Geelong refinery operator Viva Energy and Altona refinery operator ExxonMobil to develop a rescue package including a 1.15¢-a-litre payment for locally made fuel. The federal budget also contained measures to buffer Australia against potential supply shocks caused by global events such as wars or pandemics, including a $200 million-plus investment in a competitive grants program to develop new onshore diesel storage and increase stocks by 40 per cent.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said he anticipated the production payment would be rolled out early in the new year. “We know how challenging a time it is for the refineries,” he said. “We understand the urgency.”

Months of government-imposed travel restrictions to combat coronavirus have had a heavy impact on fuel sales and oil refineries’ profit margins. Mr Halliday said jet fuel demand had collapsed by 55 per cent in the year to date, while petrol had fallen 19 per cent and diesel 11 per cent. While some borders have begun reopening, the outlook for Ampol’s fuel sales remained uncertain, particularly for aviation travel.

Shares in the ASX-listed Ampol rose more than 6 per cent on Monday to $29.75, after the company announced a $300 million off-market share buyback. The buyback comes after Ampol completed the sale of a 49 per cent stake in its freehold retail convenience sites to Charter Hall and Singapore’s GIC for a higher-than-expected price of $635 million.

The buyback, which would begin on December 7 and close on January 22, equated to about $1.20 per share on issue, Ampol told investors.

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Blues weighing up move for “much-loved” Saint


St Kilda midfielder Luke Dunstan could be on the move this trade period.

Dunstan is contracted to the Saints for another year but found opportunities hard to come by in 2020, making just one senior appearance.

Matthew Lloyd understands that Carlton is weighing up a move for Dunstan to add more physicality to their midfield group.

“My St Kilda man has also spoken about how this deal (Brad Crouch) will force out a favourite son and a much-loved player at the Saints in Luke Dunstan, who is very, very close to a lot of key players at the club,” Lloyd told AFL Trade Radio’s The Early Trade.

“The Blues are looking at Luke Dunstan as an inside midfielder to assist Patrick Cripps.

“He might be a bargain pick up for Carlton to try and help Cripps with some of the physicality through the midfield.”

Kane Cornes is surprised Adelaide hasn’t shown more interest in Dunstan given they’ve lost the likes of Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood.

Dunstan hails form South Australia and plied his trade for SANFL club Woodville West Torrens before he was drafted to the Saints.

“I was a little bit surprised that Dunstan didn’t draw more interest from Adelaide,” Cornes said.

“With the bodies they’ve lost through the midfield in recent years with (Cam) Ellis-Yolmen, (Hugh) Greenwood and now (Brad) Crouch, I would have thought they needed some help for the youngster in there.”

Dunstan has played 104 games across seven seasons for the Saints.







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Why Docker Jesse Hogan is the big fish weighing on Fremantle


Barely two years has passed since the Dockers lured their own prized marlin back to Perth on a lucrative three-year deal, after intense negotiations. Now the club has fished the 25-year-old on the market, along with burly midfielder Connor Blakely, whose contract expires at the end of 2022.

The Dockers have not publicly declared the duo up for trade but rival AFL clubs confirmed on Tuesday that Fremantle had indicated the pair were available and interested in other opportunities.

The Hogan trade is dividing Freo fans: some are unwilling to part with the huge talent, believing he owes something in return for early draft picks the club gave up for him; other supporters prefer he be traded out for a second or third-round pick and both parties move on.

The former Demon was spoken of by his peers as a generational forward capable of kicking 100 goals a season after a dominant debut year at Melbourne in 2015 but is now out of favour at Fremantle.

In 2018, he averaged 18 disposals, six marks, two tackles and 2.4 goals in his final season and was considered among the competition’s best players before a navicular injury in round 21 cruelled a first finals appearance with the Demons.

After 152 goals in 71 games for Melbourne, the Dockers relinquished picks six and 23 in the 2018 national draft to bring Hogan home, where his football suffered and he made lapses in judgement.

His two years at Fremantle have reaped statistical career lows, while rival Dockers forward Matt Taberner conversely enjoyed a stellar 2020, booting 29.13 to make his first All-Australian squad.

While his currency has dipped sharply, also challenging Hogan is his body. Just 25, the 195cm Claremont product is regularly sidelined with injury, a curse that started in 2014, when he could not debut all year for the Dees due to a lower-back injury initially assessed as a four-to six week setback.

Adding spice in 2020 is the throng of key forwards up for trade, such as Geelong-bound Jeremy Cameron (GWS), Ben Brown (Kangaroos) Joe Daniher (Essendon) and Tom McDonald (Melbourne).

There’s also a suite of AFL clubs desperate for a full-forward, including Sydney, Essendon, Gold Coast, Collingwood, Melbourne and the Kangaroos.

It is perhaps this uncanny scenario that forced Fremantle’s hand to take due diligence and gauge Hogan’s true market value against his contemporaries before his current contract ends next year.

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The premiership window is not quite open at the Dockers and they stand to lose much more than they would gain by keeping Hogan on their list.

Coach Justin Longmuir has one shot at setting the right culture at Fremantle and if he doesn’t believe Hogan is on board, as it appeared at times this season, then club and player should find a suitable trade next month to save another year of headline speculation.

After growing up on the Scarborough coastline and dreaming of an AFL career, perhaps Hogan should try salvage his on the east coast at Sydney, whose strong culture and brilliant leadership would help him thrive and survive in the rugby-mad state.

The AFL trade period runs November 4-12 and free agency period runs October 30 to November 6.

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What Rugby Australia is weighing up in broadcast talks


Industry sources familiar with the discussions previously said Nine, owners of this masthead, is offering $30 million in cash and free advertising to broadcast one Super Rugby match a week on free-to-air television as well as Wallabies Tests and the Rugby Championship. All other Super Rugby games would be broadcast live behind a paywall on subscription streaming service Stan.

Foxtel also bid for Super Rugby, Wallabies Tests and the Rugby Championship. Industry sources familiar with the talks said Foxtel had offered between $35 million-$40 million but some Foxtel sources have since indicated they offered less than $35 million.

Former Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle, who was eager to get more free-to-air coverage for the sport to grow its audience, said in January that any deal was not just about price.

“The number is obviously crucial and that’s how all sports survive in the professional era,” Castle said at the time. “The second thing is access, so how can we expose Super Rugby more readily to more people more often. Thirdly … the commercial support across the whole sport that the broadcasters are prepared to engage in.”

RA has struggled to grow the game due to a lack of exposure and poor recent performances by the Wallabies. All Super Rugby games are broadcast on Foxtel and subscription streaming service Kayo, making it difficult for the governing body to reach new fans.

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith said rugby union risks eroding its audiences if it cannot get more people attending matches through a new broadcast deal.

‘The only problem with more of the same [is it’s] going to continue the downward trajectory.’

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith

“The only problem with more of the same [is it’s] going to continue the downward trajectory,” Smith said. “Back in 2004, the average audience for Super Rugby was probably six or seven times greater than it is today. You can’t just bank your dollars because if you bank your dollars and don’t make major changes, then it could continue to erode. Rugby has to recreate itself and build a long-term position.”

Bould said one concern for the RA Board to change partners could be the ramifications of walking away from Foxtel. Foxtel’s major shareholder, News Corp Australia, owns mastheads such as The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun. Bould said sports have historically been reluctant to walk from Foxtel because it risks walking away from coverage that appears in the mastheads.

“There’s a very powerful channel to market that News Corp offers,” he said. However, he argued reach would also help RA increase its revenue in the long term.

“Having the content in front of as many people as possible is going to become even more important,” he said. “They’re going to need to maximise sponsorship dollars and they’re going to need to maximise what the fans are paying whether that be for memberships or whether they buy shirts.”

But any deal won’t just have implications for rugby union. The potential introduction of Nine’s sports streaming service Stan to live sports broadcasting could have long-term implications for future rights negotiations. Traditionally, Foxtel was the only major pay-TV operator that could offer a subscription-focused model for sport. Optus has since entered the sports broadcasting space and the inclusion of Stan would increase competition.

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“It adds more competitive tension because, all of a sudden, it’s saying that subscription doesn’t doesn’t necessarily have to be driven by the telcos or by Foxtel,” Smith said. “It’s a really material change for Stan and frankly for Nine that, all of a sudden, changes the competitive dynamics of Australian sport and frankly international sport.”

Media analyst Brian Han said any content that can differentiate Stan, subject to the amount paid for it, would increase its value. “A niche sports content such as rugby would fit that bill, not to mention the cross-promotional benefits and AB-demo exposure Stan would get, if key matches are also broadcast on Nine free-to-air,” he said.

“As for what it means for future sports rights negotiations, it’s unlikely any free-to-air network would ever consider paying for any sports rights if the digital/streaming rights are not included.”

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Posthaste: While the S&P500 keeps hitting new highs, these Canadian blue chips are weighing down the TSX index


Good morning!

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq indices have been hitting a series of record highs recently, but the TSX index continues to languish more than 1,300 points lower than its all-time high reached earlier this year just before the pandemic sent the bulls stampeding out of the market.

The domestic market index stands at just over 16,617 points this year, still shy of the 17,944 all-time record seen in February.

The main TSX index is now nearly 3 per cent shy of erasing its losses for the year, after falling 34 per cent by the late March. In contrast, the S&P 500 is now up 11 per cent for the year, after falling 27.67 per cent for the year by late March, according to data gleaned from Yahoo Finance.

While the S&P/TSX Composite Index has grown 6.33 per cent in the current quarter, it has been an uneven recovery for the most part this year, with Shopify Inc. (up 157 per cent) and Barrick Gold Corp. (+57 per cent) doing the heavy lifting and adding about 800 points to the index, according to Bank of Montreal research.

The performance of the various sectors mirrors the real-life performance of these industries: The S&P Capped Information Technology Index has expanded more than 42 per cent year-to-date, with the S&P TSX Capped Energy index at other end of the spectrum, down almost exactly more than 42 per cent. The S&P/TSX Capped Materials Index surged around 22 per cent year-to-date, with S&P/TSX Global Gold Index up nearly 38 per cent.

But there are plenty of laggards: The S&P/TSX Capped REIT Index is down 21 per cent, S&P/TSX Capped Health Care Index has fallen 32 per cent, S&P/TSX Capped Real Estate Index is 19 per cent in the red, and the S&P/TSX Capped Financial Index is 13 per cent lower.

In reality, a number of TSX blue-chips are weighing down the index. These include Bombardier Inc. (-76 per cent), Cineplex Inc. (-73 per cent), Air Canada (-66 per cent), Suncor Energy Inc. (-48 per cent), RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (-39 per cent), Teck Resources Ltd. (-35 per cent), Gildan Activewear Inc. (-30 per cent), Blackberry Inc. (-24 per cent), Canopy Growth Corp. (-21 per cent), Manulife Financial Corp. (-21 per cent), The Bank of Nova Scotia (-20 per cent), Nutrien Ltd. (-17 per cent), Enbridge Inc. (-13 per cent), Rogers Corp. (-12 per cent), BMO research shows.

To be clear, the S&P 500’s new record also masks weaknesses in the stock performance of a number of major American household names.

“It’s well-known that the comeback has been narrowly based, led especially by just a few high-flying tech stocks. But, just as an illustration of the extent to which much of the rest of the market is lagging, consider these… household names below which are all still down by at least double-digits so far this year. Note the diversity of names,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO, wrote in a note this week.

Some of the biggest American brands deep in negative territory include American Airlines (down 58 per cent), Boeing (-49 per cent), General Electric (-44 per cent), Exxon Mobil Corp. (-41 per cent) and Bank of America (-29 per cent).



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George the giraffe, a bronze statue weighing 120kg stolen from outside Brisbane vet



The search for a much-loved mascot — George the giraffe — is underway after the bronze statue was stolen from outside a Brisbane veterinary clinic.

Before now, the 2.5-metre-tall bronze statue could be spotted standing proudly outside the Wilston Vet Clinic on Newmarket Road, beside his long-legged companion Henrietta.

Wilston Vet manager Donna Pearce said clinic staff felt they had lost “part of the family” when they discovered George was missing on Tuesday morning.

“All we want is him back,” Ms Pearce told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“He’s been with us for at least the past 10 years.”

Ms Pearce said with the statues chained to the the building, taking a hefty giraffe would have been no easy task.

“I think they would have actually had to plan it,” she said.

Police are investigating the theft of the statue, which was purchased from an art gallery in San Francisco.

But it is not the first time thieves have targeted the bronze statues with George’s companion, Henrietta the giraffe, swiped a few years back.

“We’ve been very unlucky,” Ms Pearce said.

“They happened to find her, which was really lucky, and we had her back again, but now it’s George’s turn.”

Henrietta went through quite the ordeal and was found cut up into pieces in a scrap yard at Murarrie.

“We put out the call for everyone to see if they could find her and luckily enough someone saw her head out of one of the rubbish bins,” Ms Pearce said.

“We found the rest of her body everywhere else at the scarp yard.”

A community volunteer donated his time to put Henrietta back together.

“She’s still here with us on Newmarket Road, but she’s missing George a lot.”



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CSL weighing production of multiple COVID-19 vaccines


“There are a number of technical issues to work through and discussions are ongoing.”

The Oxford candidate is considered a frontrunner in the global race for a vaccine, which includes more than 160 candidates. Australia has already been involved in the development of the Oxford vaccine, with CSIRO helping to complete pre-clinical testing in March.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday that production capacity would not be an issue for delivering a successful vaccine in Australia because of CSL’s manufacturing capabilities. “We’re very fortunate because we have that reserve national capacity in terms of the CSL production facilities within Victoria, particularly in Melbourne,” he said.

The $130 billion CSL is one of the largest flu vaccine producers in the world and has the only large-scale flu vaccine manufacturing facility in Australia at its Melbourne Parkville site. The company has supplied about 9 million flu vaccines this season. Mr Hunt has previously said the government believes CSL will have the capacity to produce enough vaccine locally for the entire population.

CSL has previously confirmed it was keeping the door open for discussions with a range of vaccine manufacturers on how it could be involved in production.

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AstraZeneca declined to comment on the timeline for any licensing deal and whether Australia would have to wait until other countries that have already inked agreements for the Oxford vaccine had their orders filled before local access is secured.

CSL says despite these licensing conversations, the major focus is on the production of the University of Queensland’s vaccine if it is successful.

The UQ vaccine would use a proprietary CSL adjuvant, an ingredient designed to increase the immune response of the product. Over the past few months CSL has been preparing to produce the initial runs of that vaccine if successful.

CSL will unveil its financial results for 2020 on Wednesday. News of the company’s involvement in vaccine production has rocketed it into global headlines in recent months, but analysts and investors are not focused on the vaccine when considering the company’s numbers.

“We have not included any COVID product-specific revenue in our future forecasts,” Morningstar analyst Nicolette Quinn said.

Those that watch the stock are more interested in the impact that COVID-19 shutdowns have had on collections of plasma, the liquid gold that powers CSL’s innovative treatments and key revenue.

“In the near-term, [we are looking at] how plasma collections levels in the US are trending as shortfalls will have implications for product availability and sales in fiscal 2021.”

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NMC’s UAE entity weighing Abu Dhabi option for restructuring: sources



FILE PHOTO: General view of NMC specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

July 12, 2020

By Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia

DUBAI (Reuters) – Troubled hospital operator NMC Health’s entity in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), NMC Healthcare LLC, is considering applying for restructuring and insolvency proceedings locally, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The move comes three months after NMC Health Plc <NMMCF.PK>, the London-listed holding company for the hospital group, went into administration in April after months of turmoil over its finances.

The two sources told Reuters that NMC Healthcare LLC was looking at options to file under the jurisdiction of Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM), which has its own laws relating to insolvency and corporate restructuring.

Such a move would help create a framework for the recognition of debt claims while the administrators of NMC Health Plc finalise the scheme of arrangement with creditors, one of the sources said.

A third source said the ADGM move is an option to obtain protection from the court from any enforcement proceedings from creditors, similar to Chapter 11 in the United States.

A scheme of arrangement is a binding agreement about payment of all, or part of, a firm’s debts over a period of time.

The administrators for NMC Health declined to comment.

The ADGM Registration Authority does not comment on its regulatory operations or disclose its engagements with external entities publicly, it said in an email.

NMC Health is the largest private healthcare provider in the UAE, operating more than 200 facilities including hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

NMC’s operating entities were unaffected by the appointment of administrators in April and services continued.

That is unlikely to change as UAE authorities are keen to ensure hospital services in the Gulf state are not affected during the coronavirus pandemic, the second source said.

NMC’s implosion this year amid allegations of fraud and the disclosure of more than $4 billion in hidden debts has left some UAE banks and overseas lenders nursing heavy losses and prompted legal battles to try and recover money owed.

The troubles began in December when short-seller Muddy Waters raised concerns over the company’s financial statements and were compounded by doubts over the size of stakes of major shareholders, including founder BR Shetty.

(Reporting by Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Louise Heavens)





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US Justice Department weighing up hate crime charges after shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery


The US Justice Department is weighing whether to file hate crime charges against the white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was gunned down while jogging in the small coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Monday.

“The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the US Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation, department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

“We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.”

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23 as he ran on a sunny day in a residential neighbourhood in the town of Brunswick, Georgia.

Two white men were arrested and charged for his shooting last week.

Mr Arbery’s death gained national notoriety last week with the release of a 28-second cell phone video that captured the shooting.

In the footage, Mr Arbery is seen running down a residential street and approaching a white pickup truck stopped in the right lane with a man standing in the back.

Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael, have been charged with murder (AAP)

Glynn County (Ga.) Detention Center

As Arbery tries to get around the vehicle, he is confronted by a second man holding a shotgun. An altercation between the two ensues and the firing of three shots can be heard.

The two white men were identified by police as Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Gregory McMichael, 64, who both live in Brunswick. They were arrested on Thursday and charged with murder and aggravated assault.

According to the February police report, Gregory McMichael told officers he thought Mr Arbery was a suspect in a series of area burglaries and that he had seen the young black man “hauling ass” down the street.

In this Friday, May 8, 2020, file photo, people pray during a rally to protest the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Gregory McMichael said he went inside his home and got his .357 Magnum while his son grabbed a shotgun. When they finally caught up with Mr Arbery and Travis McMichael got out of the truck with the shotgun, Mr Arbery began to “violently attack” him, the father said, according to the police report.

The father said he saw his son shoot Mr Arbery and the jogger fall to the ground.

Ahmaud Arbery, in white, runs on a street in Georgia in the moments before he is shot and killed.

Ahmaud Arbery, in white, runs on a street in Georgia in the moments before he is shot and killed.

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Long delay

Critics have questioned why it took local law enforcement more than two months to arrest the suspects, prompting Georgia’s state attorney general to vow to investigate the delay.

Ms Kupec said that the Justice Department is also looking into how the investigation was handled.

“We are considering the request of the Attorney General of Georgia and have asked that he forward to federal authorities any information that he has about the handling of the investigation,” Ms Kupec said.

“We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.”

 



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