Tamsyn Parker 's Opinion

Money Editor for NZ Herald

Stock Takes: Warehouse boss - 'I earn a ridiculous amount'

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The Warehouse chief executive Mark Powell says all CEOs should be troubled by how much they earn. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Warehouse chief executive Mark Powell says all CEOs should be troubled by how much they earn. Photo / Dean Purcell

Executive salaries are a contentious subject but The Warehouse Group boss Mark Powell wasn't afraid to speak candidly about his pay packet with business journalists in Auckland last week.

During a discussion about the company's "career retailer wage" programme, one reporter asked Powell — who received $1.7 million in base and performance pay in the firm's last financial year — if shop floor staff ever asked about his salary when he visited stores.

"I would have no problem if they asked me," Powell said. "It's embarrassing how much I earn but it is what it is."

Another journalist then asked if he was "complaining" about his pay, which was roughly 50 times the average salary in the group in the last financial year.

"I'm not comfortable with it," Powell said.

"How much should a CEO earn? I earn a ridiculous amount of money ... what is the right amount of money?"

He then added: "I think all CEOs should be troubled by how much they earn."

Most shareholders would be happy to have Powell on board, regardless of what he gets paid.

The turnaround strategy the straight-talking Welshman has spearheaded since taking the helm in 2011 is yet to deliver a big lift in profit, but New Zealand's biggest listed retailer seems to have its mojo back after many years of stagnation.

Warehouse shares closed up 1c at $3.24 yesterday.

I think all CEOs should be troubled by how much they earn.
Mark Powell, The Warehouse Group boss

Genesis watch

All eyes will be watching the first day of trading for Genesis Energy today.

The stock opens on both the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges after what has been described as strong demand from both retail and institutional investors.

The Government has already faced criticism from its political rivals about selling off the power company too cheaply after the majority of analysts formed the view that it was worth more than the $1.55 share price set for the initial public offer.

But exactly how much more the taxpayer could have made will become more obvious today if the shares trade well.

It's a no-win situation for National which had to offer numerous sweeteners to get investors on board while trying to meet forecasts for its asset sales programme which have fallen far short of initial predictions.

This is the last of the state-owned asset sales so capital market players and the stock exchange will be relying on enough momentum from private sellers to keep the float pipeline full.


Hairdressers a go

One float which has been confirmed is that of private training establishment Intueri Education Group.

Its Australian-listed parent Arowana International confirmed on Tuesday it would go ahead with a dual listing for the New Zealand business next month.

Arowana wants to raise as much as $234 million in the float selling shares at an indicative range of between $2.25 a share and $2.75, with the primary listing on the New Zealand stock exchange.

Arowana would retain between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of Intueri, and needs shareholder approval for the transaction.

Intueri is expected to be New Zealand's biggest private training establishment by domestic students, with 6000 local enrolments and a further 1000 international students each year, across 26 locations.

It also owns half of Online Courses Australia.

Its courses include the Elite International School of Beauty and Spa Therapies and the Cut Above Academy for hairdressers.

Massey University chancellor and former Landcorp chief executive Chris Kelly will chair the company.

The offer will be made up of an institutional offer via a bookbuild and a broker firm offer through New Zealand brokers. UBS New Zealand and Macquarie Securities (NZ) are joint lead managers.


Aussie potential

Fund managers Harbour are seeing more opportunities for investment in the Australian stock market than the local bourse.

Equity managers Andrew Bascand and Craig Stent wrote in a recent note that for the first time in six years they have more Australian stocks with a "buy" rating on their investment radar.

"Although the portfolio continues to tilt to cyclical and growth companies, higher exposures to the Australian economy are a major influence in the portfolio as expressed through our bottom-up stock research."

The pair have been reducing investment in New Zealand companies including Ryman Healthcare, Auckland International Airport and Synlait Milk.

"These companies are performing strongly, but in our opinion expectations of analysts are already very high and strong economic growth seems already partly or fully expected in profit forecasts.

"We have also reduced exposure to Fletcher Building, preferring more direct exposures to the Australian building recovery."

Instead they see a great chance of potential earnings upgrades in a range of Australian stocks including Westpac, Lend Lease, Stockland and Seek.


Telecom slim-down?

Australian research and investment firm Fat Prophets says it is encouraged by the turnaround taking place at Telecom and says investors appear to be waking up to its potential.

The stock has risen strongly since the company announced plans to change its name to Spark in February and this week hit its highest price since May last year.

Fat Prophets says the unveiling of the new name caused something of a "Marmite" reaction with sections of the pubic expressing dislike and others welcoming it.

"We do not see a name change as being a magic bullet [indeed if it was more companies would surely do this] but we do see it as a reaffirmation of the transformation which Telecom has already been going through."

Fat Prophets notes Telecom's plans to enter into internet television also have merit.

The research firm also commented on progress by Telecom management in selling off non-core investments and said meatier deals could also be on the cards.

Telecom recently sold its stake in Telecom Cook Islands and before that sold off AAPT.

Fat Prophets suggest a 10 per cent stake in Hutchison Telecommunication Australia and 50 per cent interest in cable link provider Southern Cross could also be on the block, bringing in a further $150 million and $300 million respectively.

Telecom shares closed down 1.5c at $2.65 yesterday.


New market tweaks

The NZX has said it is likely to review some of the requirements for its new growth-market after feedback on its discussion document.

It seems there is support to allow companies on the new market to report periodically rather than under the main board's continuous disclosure regime but concerns have been expressed with the costs linked to the number of independent directors required and the ongoing role of the sponsor advisory firm.

The NZX had proposed growth-market listed companies have a majority of independent directors while firms wanting to list need to have sponsor support for three years.

In its response, lawyers Chapman Tripp said the independent directors requirement was more onerous than the main board and was inconsistent with the view that the main board should be a "step up".

It also warned that the companies may struggle to get enough independent directors given there is a small pool available and there is high demand for their services.

- NZ Herald

Tamsyn Parker

Money Editor for NZ Herald

Tamsyn Parker is the NZ Herald's Money Editor. A business journalist for ten years, she has worked in the UK and NZ for the New Zealand Herald, the National Business Review and a specialist publication on investment products for financial advisors. She is passionate about helping readers learn more about to make their money work for them.

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