Slater and Gordon shares plunge on UK woes

Slater and Gordon has suffered its worst share price slump as UK authorities probe the accounts of a company it recently bought a slice of for $1.


2 billion.

Shares in UK-listed insurance technology group Quindell have been suspended as the country’s Financial Conduct Authority launched an inquiry into public statements about its 2013 and 2014 financial accounts.

Slater and Gordon, the world’s first publicly listed law firm, recently bought Quindell’s professional services division, a purchase it said would make it the largest personal injury law firm in the UK.

News of the FCA inquiry saw Slater and Gordon shares take their sharpest dive since the company listed on the share market in 2007.

The stock dived 23 per cent to an intra-day low of $4.74 on Thursday before recovering slightly to close $1.07 lower, or 17.5 per cent, at $5.06.

The shares have fallen more than 36 per cent since hitting a high of $8.07 in April.

Slater and Gordon said it was confident it had no liability in relation to the Quindell investigations because it acquired a subsidiary rather than a parent company.

It stands by its due diligence of the acquisition, which involved 70 lawyers, plus its own accounting policies.

“Slater and Gordon has been aware of the concerns raised publicly in relation to the accounting policies of Quindell at all stages of its engagement with Quindell,” the company said.

“Slater and Gordon remains confident in both its due diligence enquiries … and its accounting policies which reflect historical evidentiary experience of case file resolution in Australia and the UK.”

Quindell said a review of its accounting practices by PwC in December 2014 found some of its policies were “at the aggressive end of acceptable practice”.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun attributed the sell off in Slater and Gordon shares to uncertainty about the implications of the Quindell probe.

“It is an uncertainty and markets price out uncertainty, they assume worst case scenario,” he said.

“That’s why the share price is being dogged in this session.”

Macmahon gets $65m to exit Mongolia

Macmahon shares have jumped after the $US65 million sale of its Mongolian coal contract, but the mining contractor and industry’s short-term prospects are still viewed as bleak.


Macmahon expects to net $US62 million from the sale to an unnamed private company.

That is well below the $A100 million in forecast revenue from the project in 2015 alone.

However Macmahon had also been in a dispute with state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi over what Macmahon alleged was at least $US30 million in unpaid work in Mongolia.

The cost was greater than that, leading to work stoppages last year that contributed to Macmahon downgrading this year’s revenue guidance from $A750 million to $A1 billion, to $A750-$A850 million.

Investors were happy to see Macmahon get out of Mongolia, with its shares adding 2.2 cents, or 47.8 per cent, to 6.8 cents.

However the stock remains well below the 72 cents it was trading at three years ago.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said Thursday’s sale was a good short-term balance sheet fix given Macmahon’s estimated $A160 million in gross debt and more than $A250 million in impairments so far this year.

However it was no substitute for real good news such as improvements in earnings or sales pipelines, he said.

It is a difficult trading environment for Australia’s large mining services industry, with peer Bradken reported on Thursday to be considering a $A400 million recapitalisation plan to get it out of trouble with lenders.

“Macmahon is in big trouble, selling the Mongolian operation to my mind reeks of desperation,” Mr Le Brun told AAP.

“Putting out the first fire of the debt load is positive.

“Selling crown jewels in the name of fixing your debt situation raises questions marks against the backdrop of the mining slowdown.”

Macmahon defended its balance sheet, saying it was now in a net cash position after the sale and had cut costs.

It also said it was tendering for more than a dozen projects worth $A2.2 billion.

Executive chairman Jim Walker said the Mongolia sale would help in its discussions with bank lenders, who began reviewing Macmahon when it lost a major contract at Fortescue Metals’ Christmas Creek mine.

Hardwick backs Tigers’ tall timber

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick is backing his three-pronged tall attack to get the job done against Sydney on the confines of the SCG.


Hardwick has shown a willingness to play tall forwards Jack Riewoldt, Ben Griffiths and Ty Vickery in the same attack this season and he sees no reason to leave out one of his big men given the smaller dimensions of the SCG.

“They’re all different in the way that they play,” Hardwick said on Thursday.

“We’re quite capable of playing Jack and Griff up the ground and Ty as well at various stages. “They cover the ground well for bigger players. “But the big thing about this is we’ve got to make sure that we kick some goals at ground level. “We were disappointed in that facet of our game last week (in the loss to West Coast). We couldn’t manufacture a goal.”

The last time these two sides played was back in round 23 last season when the barnstorming Tigers scored an upset win over the ladder-leading Swans – their ninth in a row – to confirm their spot in the finals.

Hardwick said that a lot had changed since then but admitted his players would take some confidence from the stunning three-point victory at ANZ Stadium.

Richmond will need to curb the influence of Swans’ tall targets Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin, which Hardwick said would require a defensive effort from the entire team. “Probably the mistake sides make is Sydney don’t overly take a lot of marks inside 50 but they’re incredible at ground level,” he said.

“You even look at guys like Tippett and Franklin – from a marking point-of-view they’re reasonably consistent – but they’re very dangerous at ground level also. “We’ve just got to make sure that we bring our ‘A-game’, we get numbers back there to help those players to get the ball back out.”

A duel between Alex Rance and Franklin is a tantalising prospect, but while Hardwick agreed Rance had done well on the Sydney superstar before, he stopped short of declaring it his preferred match-up.

Tigers fans can look forward to seeing Rance in action for another four years after the All-Australian defender signed a new deal with the club last week, ending months of speculation the devout Jehovah’s Witness could walk away from the game.

Hurricanes to channel Collins for semi-final inspiration

The 34-year-old Collins died in a car crash in France earlier this month, devastating rugby circles in Wellington, where the hulking loose forward had become a cult figure.


Collins prowled across the Wellington turf for eight years with the provincial team, Hurricanes and All Blacks, flexing his bulging biceps and preparing a bone-jarring welcome for anyone who dared run into the space he was covering.

And Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said the Brumbies can expect a similar kind of welcome in front of a sold-out crowd on Saturday when his side host their first home semi-final since 2006, when Collins was patrolling the park.

“We will carry Jerry, as we did last week and the week before,” Boyd told reporters on Thursday. “He’s a part of us and it’s a tragedy that he’s not with us anymore.

“He’ll certainly give us some momentum on our D (defence).”

The Hurricanes learned of Collins’ death just before they played the Otago Highlanders on June 5 and destroyed their under-strength compatriots 56-20 in an emotionally charged performance in Napier.

The victory sealed the top-seed for the playoffs and secured home advantage for the semi-finals and final next week, should they win on Saturday.

After years of underperforming, the Hurricanes have impressed with steel in their pack and on defence and led by an All Blacks-laden backline produced breath-taking counter-attacking tries from deep inside their own territory.

The home side will be at virtually full strength with Beauden Barrett returning from a minor calf injury and keen to further press his credentials as the starting flyhalf for the All Blacks at this year’s World Cup.

All Blacks winger Cory Jane will miss the match with a minor hamstring tear that, according to Boyd, was almost fully repaired but causing just enough discomfort to rule him out of contention.

The Brumbies have trained just once this week after they returned from South Africa, where they destroyed the Stormers in Cape Town, though have lost winger Henry Speight, who received a five-week ban for a dangerous tackle.

Brumbies prop Scott Sio is expected to earn his 50th Super Rugby cap in the match, though he could find himself targeted by the vastly improved Hurricanes pack.

The Brumbies scrum is a weak point with the side having the second lowest success rate in the competition at 82 percent, while they have also conceded the second most penalties (50).

(Editing by John O’Brien)

BHP to cut 140 jobs in SA

About 140 jobs at BHP Billiton in Adelaide are set to go amid warnings more will follow in the wake of crashing commodity prices.


South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis says the latest cuts bring to 900 the number of jobs lost in the resources sector in SA over the past 12 months and “things will get worse before they get better”.

“A lot of resource companies both nationally and internationally are doing it very, very hard,” he said.

“Quite frankly, I think BHP are going to have some considerable job losses over the coming months and years.”

The latest job losses will come from BHP’s support services for its Olympic Dam operations with those to be made redundant told of their fate on Thursday.

It is understood they will be offered packages in excess of Fair Work Act requirements and some may be redeployed to other roles.

BHP said it was continuing to review its operational areas and more job cuts were expected.

“When these are known we will communicate with our employees who are affected quickly and respectfully,” the company said in a statement.

Mr Koutsantonis said it was important to remember that BHP remained committed to the Olympic Dam project and continued to employ about 4000 people at Olympic Dam and in Adelaide.

“While these 140 jobs are regrettable, we have to look to the positive,” he said.

“It is the largest copper deposit found anywhere in the world in the last 25 years, it is the largest uranium deposit found anywhere in the world in the last 25 years and the largest mining company in the world owns this deposit and is committed to its expansion.”

Sizzler a fizzer for Collins Foods

Sizzler, the once popular all-you-can eat family restaurant chain, has lost its sizzle.


Its owner Collins Foods says it won’t be investing in the chain any more and will close a number of restaurants after deciding Sizzler was no longer a key part of the company’s future.

Collins, which also owns KFC stores, has written down the value of the Sizzler brand by $37.5 million amid falling revenue as it struggles to compete with an explosion of cheap family dining options.

Chief executive Graham Maxwell said the closures are expected to cost about $900,000, however he declined to say how many of its 26 Sizzler restaurants across Australia will go.

The Sizzler writedown dragged Collins into the red, with the company posting a $10.4 million loss for the year to March 3, compared to a $14 million profit a year ago.

However, Mr Maxwell said Sizzler was expected to generate positive underlying earnings in 2015/16.

“We believe we have taken the necessary course of action to allow the company to pursue attractive growth opportunities,” he said.

“There are a number of Sizzler stores that are very profitable so we will assess each one individually.”

He said the closure plans won’t affect Sizzler Asia, with Collins planning to open two new restaurants in Thailand and expand the restaurant chain further in China.

Shares in Collins Foods rose seven cents to $2.73 as investors focused on the group’s 37 per cent rise in underlying profit to $24.6 million, which excludes the Sizzler writedown.

Motley Fool Australia research analyst Scott Phillips said Sizzler – famous for its cheese bread and food buffets – was a huge hit when it burst onto the Australian dining scene about 30 years ago.

“Sizzler was at the vanguard of family dining when they came out but as other stores popped up they failed to remain relevant,” he said.

“It became too expensive. That’s not what families are looking for, and it has been something of a slow death for Sizzler.”

He said the key challenge for Collins was to create growth in its KFC chain.

“Its same store sales growth is good but they are going to have to demonstrate that there is sufficient opportunity for expansion and I think the market is waiting to see a little bit more success there,” he said.

KFC same store sales, which strips out store openings and closures, were up 4.8 per cent from a year ago, while Sizzler’s slumped by 8.5 per cent.

Collins operates 172 KFC stores and has 61 franchised Sizzler restaurants around Asia.

The company plans to open eight new restaurants and revamp another 18.


*Full year loss of $10.4m, vs $14m profit in 2014/15

*Revenue of $571.6 million, up 29.7pct from $440.6m

*Fully franked final dividend of 6.5 cents per share, up from six cents

Waratahs aiming to bring Highlanders down to earth

The Waratahs rode to their maiden title on the back of the most potent attack in the competition last year and will back their scoring prowess in Saturday’s semi-final, even if they have not hit quite the same heights this season.


The Highlanders could not hope to be heading to the Sydney Football Stadium in better shape after beating fellow New Zealand side the Waikato Chiefs last weekend to win their first playoff match since 1999.

That match highlighted the dual threat posed by the Highlanders with their uncompromising forward pack subduing the twice-champion Chiefs before the Aaron Smith-inspired backline finished them off.

All Blacks scrumhalf Smith is in the best form of his career and with winger Waisake Naholo, centre Malakai Fekitoa and full back Ben Smith among those lining up behind him, the Highlanders have a backline that could trouble any defence.

The Waratahs will aim to nullify Smith’s threat by cutting off his supply of ball and, failing that, by slowing down the rate at which the Highlanders recycle.

The physicality of the Waratahs pack and their ability to dominate, or at least compete, at the breakdown has been the touchstone of their season so far.

When the forwards show up, as they did when they defeated the then unbeaten Wellington Hurricanes in April, the Waratahs look a very good side indeed.

When they do not, as in their home defeat to South Africa’s Stormers a week earlier, they can be seriously lacklustre.

Losing centre Kurtley Beale, who alternates at first receiver with flyhalf Bernard Foley, to a quadricep injury was definitely a blow but Wallabies fullback Israel Folau appears to be hitting form just at the right time.

At centre, Adam Ashley-Cooper will not want to draw down the curtain on his long Waratahs career yet, while right wing Taqele Naiyaravoro is further proof that Fiji builds powerful and pacy wingers like few other countries.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is a great believer that all 23 players in the matchday squad can have a major influence on the result and it might be his Wallabies-laden bench that ultimately swings a tight contest in the home side’s favour.

The Highlanders finished the regular season with one more point than the Waratahs but the conference system gave Cheika’s side a home advantage they will not want to waste in front of a crowd of around 30,000.

The Hurricanes host ACT Brumbies in another trans-Tasman clash earlier on Saturday to decide the other finalist.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Labor, coalition at odds over ASIO visit

Tony Abbott has rejected Labor claims he is using threats to national security for political gain, as debate rages over his visit to ASIO headquarters.


The prime minister allowed television cameras and still photographers into a briefing with ASIO chief Duncan Lewis in Canberra on Wednesday.

Digital and paper maps relating to national security issues were clearly visible in the images, including a colour-coded map of extremist hotspots in Sydney and Melbourne.

ASIO Media initially told the Canberra press gallery in an email: “We are unable to provide the documents – they are for official use only. Appreciate if you do not publish.”

But Mr Abbott told parliament on Thursday the documents had been “carefully edited and unclassified”, and there was no problem in them being in the public domain.

“This government would never knowingly politicise national security,” he said.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus moved a censure motion in the lower house accusing the prime minister of putting politics before national security.

“The prime minister has been using national security for partisan political purposes,” he said.

Mr Dreyfus called on Mr Abbott to explain whether he or his office had facilitated the media event and what security considerations had been addressed beforehand.

The prime minister’s office said Mr Lewis had selected the documents and was satisfied no information concerning national security was visible.

The government used its numbers to defeat the motion in the lower house.

Mr Dreyfus was later suspended from parliament during a rowdy question time during which he again tried to pursue the issue.

But Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has called for a review into how the documents came to be in the public domain.

“Clearly it’s not something that’s positive and it’s something that obviously will have to be looked at in terms of what went wrong,” he told reporters.

Mr Lewis said the documents’ content did not compromise national security.

Mr Abbott accused Labor of impugning the professionalism of the spy agency, saying he had received a classified briefing after the cameras had left.

Stopping Folau vital in rugby semi: Smith

Ben Smith can’t speak highly enough of NSW Waratahs opposing fullback Israel Folau, who will be firmly in the Highlanders’ crosshairs throughout Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final in Sydney.


The clash of arguably the world’s premier attacking No.15s is a crucial element of the game which pits the defending champions at home to a Highlanders team riding a wave of momentum.

The visitors have won five of their past six games, all by double-figure margins, and are one win short of booking their first appearance in a final since a lone failed visit in 1999.

It’s similar for the Waratahs, whose four wins from their past five games have all been sizeable.

Smith says analysis has highlighted the influence of former rugby league weapon Folau, who can prise open a defensive line in numerous ways.

“He’s massive for their game; they get a lot of momentum through him,” Smith told NZ Newswire.

“He can offload because he’s a big man but he can glide through defences just as easily.

“They try and run a lot of their plays off the back of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s one of the most-dangerous players in world rugby at the moment and we’ll have to stop him.”

Folau’s 1606 metres run is the most in this year’s competition, well clear of second-placed Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo (1310m).

That pair, and Smith, are also high in other categories such as clean breaks and defenders beaten, suggesting an open affair awaits.

The Highlanders will look for a similar inspirational moment to that produced by centre Malakai Falakai when the Highlanders beat the Waratahs 26-19 in March in Dunedin.

Falakai stripped Folau of possession in a jolting tackle, before sending Naholo clear for a long-range try as the hosts compiled 26 unanswered points during the middle stages.

Smith said the Waratahs had improved considerably since then, matching the form that carried them to a maiden title last year.

He said his team were only training lightly this week to rest weary bodies and would cross the Tasman a day out from the game, 24 hours later than usual.

That is in an attempt to improve a poor record in Sydney, where they feel they have suffered through poor preparation.

The Highlanders’ only two wins from nine visits have been by one point, while the Waratahs have pulled off big victories in their past three Sydney showdowns.

German and US researchers read brainwaves

Scientists have found a way to read the mind, analysing brain waves and interpreting them as words and even complete sentences of continuous speech without having to listen.


The “reading” was done by way of electrodes fixed on the surface of the cerebral cortex, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) in Germany and the Wadsworth Center in the United States said.

Seven US epilepsy patients voluntarily participated in the study, reading aloud sample texts while an electrode array was attached to their cortices, the outer layer of the brain, which had been exposed for epilepsy surgery.

Observations of this kind are impossible with electrodes attached to the outside of the skull.

“For the first time we have been able to observe the brain,” says Tanja Schultz, professor of information technology at KIT and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The researchers were able to observe how the brain planned speech acts and then activated the muscles of the speech organs via the neurones in the cortex, a split second before the speech itself became audible.

Software was used to map the activity and show it on a screen the aid of colours.

“Red and yellow colours mean intense activity at this spot in the brain, and blue colours lower activity,” Schultz explained in a demonstration.

The patients were given set texts, such as a speech by former US president John F Kennedy or simple children’s rhymes, so that the researchers would know which sounds were being uttered and when.

They set up databases containing prototypes of around 50 different phonemes, or basic speech sounds.

Using algorithms from automatic speech recognition, it then became possible to understand what was being said purely from the brainwaves.

“We arrive at meaningful results that are still far removed from the accuracy of acoustic speech recognition, but are well above pure chance,” Schultz says.

The limited survey size of just seven patients with just five minutes of speech apiece in the four-year research program is a sticking point.

The Karlsruhe researchers are developing a technology they call Brain-to-Text, which could be a building block to develop a means of speech communication for patients with locked in syndrome.