Australia

Audit group KPMG said on Wednesday Australia’s McWilliams Wines Group had gone into voluntary administration and that it was seeking capital or a buyer for the winemaker, which has been struggling to pay creditors amid changing drinking trends, Reuters reported. The decision comes in the wake of deadly bush fires that have engulfed large swathes of Australia, especially the state of New South Wales where the company’s vineyards are located. McWilliams Wine was not immediately available for comment on whether the fires are a contributing factor.

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Whichever way you look at it, it’s been an annus horribilis for many big name retailers. In 2019, we witnessed the collapse of a slew of Aussie favourites, with some international players also folding in recent months, news.com.au reported. So where did it all go wrong for these iconic companies – and what does 2020 hold for our struggling retail sector? According to Queensland University of Technology retail expert Dr Gary Mortimer, there are two main factors that caused the downfall of many businesses in 2019 – changing consumer tastes and “overcrowded, hyper-competitive markets”.

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Administrators plan to close 40 per cent of Harris Scarfe’s national store network in a bold plan to make the ailing department store viable for sale,The Weekly Times reported. Deloitte Restructuring Services sent a flyer to prospective buyers outlining a dramatic restructure, according to The Australian Financial Review, which included shutting 27 of the 66 stores. The closures will mainly focus on the less-profitable sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

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The creditors of Catalist-listed lithium miner Alita Resources have approved a deed of company arrangement (DOCA) from a Chinese firm for the acquisition of Alita's assets, the Business Times reported. China Hydrogen Energy (CHE) and its Australian subsidiary Liatam Mining had proposed the DOCA this month. CHE is a special purpose vehicle for an unidentified Chinese party. In Australia, a DOCA is a rescue plan that allows a company to restructure its debt and avoid insolvency.

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Australia’s mid-year budget update showed economic reality is starting to bear down on the government’s finances, Bloomberg News reported. Treasury lowered its forecast surplus for the 12 months through June 2020 to A$5 billion ($3.4 billion) from April’s budget estimate of A$7.1 billion as it scaled back estimated tax revenues, according to the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released in Canberra on Monday. It also predicted narrower surpluses for the following three fiscal years.
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A camper trailer company in the marginal seat of Gilmore was awarded a $750,000 federal government grant at a time that it may have been trading while insolvent, Guardian Australia can reveal. The grant, awarded under the regional jobs and investment program that was subject to a scathing report from the auditor general, was given to Off Road Camping Accessories, based in the NSW south coast town of Moruya, to develop a new type of composite panel to be manufactured for camper trailers, The Guardian reported.

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A subdued domestic economy and increasing risks from an uncertain global outlook have prompted Australian companies to take a cautious view of the year ahead, Bloomberg News reported. With an economy that even Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded on Monday is “soft,” new tariffs from the U.S. taking effect on around $110 billion of Chinese imports earlier this week and Brexit looming at the end of next month, not a lot of companies are optimistic about their future.

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It’s turning out to be a torrid summer for the usually sedate lead market. The London Metal Exchange (LME) lead market was roiled in early June by news of an unplanned outage at the Port Pirie lead smelter in Australia, Reuters reported. It’s just been upended again by a second shutdown of the plant, which is operated by Nyrstar, the Belgian company that had to be rescued from potential insolvency by trade house Trafigura. The second outage has seen LME time-spreads tighten again and the outright three-month price hit a two-week high of $2,101.50 per tonne on Monday.

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The High Court has delivered a landmark decision in prioritising employee entitlements in insolvency, irrespective of whether the company was trading in its own right or as a trustee, MyBusiness reported. Last week, the High Court dismissed an appeal in Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts Australia Pty Ltd v The Commonwealth of Australia and Others [2019] HCA 20. Amerind Pty Ltd became insolvent in 2014, with $21 million in debts repaid to Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, leaving a receivership surplus of about $1.6 million.

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The High Court has declared it would be "perverse" not to give worker entitlements priority in any collapse, whether a company trades in its own right or as a trustee, the Australian Financial Review reported. The court's decision in the Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts case means the same rules apply for the payment of creditors and is an important win for workers. This has been welcomed by leading insolvency practitioners, who say the status of workers employed by trading trusts has been so uncertain that they faced being pushed to the back of the queue with other unsecured creditors.

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