Christopher Niesche: Oz snaps losing streak after US election

Investors take a glass-half-full approach and focus on hopes spending will get US economy moving again.
Fund managers squawked at the Inghams price. Photo / NZME
Fund managers squawked at the Inghams price. Photo / NZME

Australian shareholders have had a few wins recently.

The most recent and most obvious was last week's bounce in the sharemarket to snap a five-week losing streak.

Bizarrely, the rise was prompted by Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election. Having fallen in the days leading up to the election on the back of fears Trump might win, the market rose when he actually did.

It seems investors chose a glass-half-full approach and focused on hopes that runaway spending by Trump will get the US economy moving again.

In Australia this view has taken precedence over fears that Trump will spark a trade war with China and crimp their economy, with obvious consequences for Australian (and New Zealand) exports.

On Thursday the ASX-200 jumped 3.3 per cent, its best day since 2011, and finished the week up 3.7 per cent.

Chicken float

Another piece of good news for shareholders was the Inghams chicken float.

When private equity firm TPG fronted up to fund managers with the chicken grower a few weeks ago it found there wasn't the demand it had hoped for.

Investors were concerned the growth prospects for Inghams - Australia and New Zealand's largest integrated poultry producer with the number one and number two position in the market respectively - were not as strong as laid out in the prospectus.

TPG had argued that chicken was forming an ever larger part of our protein intake, so Inghams' prospects were assured. Fund managers, however, were concerned that Inghams is selling a commoditised product to supermarkets, which gives the supermarkets all of the bargaining power and raises questions about where its growth was going to come from.

The private equity firm had been hawking the stock around with a price range of A$3.57 to A$4.14 a share, but when it came to market they had slashed this to just A$3.15 apiece due to weak demand.

But along with concerns about earnings, there was another factor crimping demand for the stock - a sour sentiment towards companies floated by private equity funds.

It is pleasing that private equity firms are starting to respond to investor demand for a better deal on floats and that investors are being more sceptical.

In recent years private equity funds have pocketed huge profits from flogging off a range of companies which have either underperformed, such as Spotless Group, or failed altogether, such as Dick Smith.

TPG was the owner of the poorly performing Myer, which it sold to investors at A$4.10 a share in 2009, making a A$1.5 billion profit. Investors, meanwhile, have been left with shares languishing at about A$1.10.

The fund had originally planned to retain as little as 24 per cent of Inghams, but in the end retained 47 per cent. Presumably this was to give investors more reassurance that TPG's interests were aligned with their own.

It is pleasing that private equity firms are starting to respond to investor demand for a better deal on floats and that investors are being more sceptical.

Pay backdown

The other win for shareholders came courtesy of the Commonwealth Bank.

We wrote last month how investors were upset that CBA chief Ian Narev would receive bonus payments for meeting non-financial targets, including 25 per cent for meeting a "diversity, inclusion, sustainability and culture target".

However, the bank canned the bonus scheme ahead of its annual general meeting, where investors were set to vote against the plan.

The CBA board said it "recognises shareholder concerns about the changes made to the group leadership reward plan, and will commit to further engagement over the next year to better understand and address these concerns".

The move, however, did not save CBA from being the first of Australia's big four banks to receive a "strike", which is when 25 per cent or more of shares vote against the company's remuneration. Should this happen again next year, the second strike will automatically trigger a board spill, where all board members will have to stand for re-election.

In all, more than 50 per cent of shareholders voted against the remuneration report, in a move that puts the board on notice that it will need to rethink the way senior executives are paid before next year's meeting.

- NZ Herald

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