Oceania

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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The Australian dollar dropped on Wednesday after weaker than expected inflation in the first quarter, raising expectations of a possible rate cut by the central bank. In quarter-on-quarter terms, consumer inflation was unchanged in March after a 0.5 per cent rise in the December quarter, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That compared to a 0.2 per cent rise forecast by economists polled by Reuters. Consumer prices rose 1.3 per cent year on year in March, against February’s reading of 1.8 per cent. The reading was also below a Reuters poll forecasting a rise of 1.5 per cent.

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Fonterra went into the black in its first half but the co-op faces an uphill battle to meet its earnings forecasts for the year while it reduces debt and streamlines its operations. The dairy giant reported net profit of $80 million in six months to January, up from a loss of $348m a year earlier, but said its net earnings before interest and tax dropped by 29 per cent to $323m, The New Zealand Herald reported. Newly-appointed chief executive Miles Hurrell said the result was "not be where it should be".

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Investors in collapsed Australian derivatives trader Halifax are set to have a long wait to get their money back after the administrator found "accounting irregularities" and said they will have to go to court to get a direction on how to disperse the money, The New Zealand Herald reported. Voluntary administrators Ferrier Hodgson, who were appointed in November, released an update on Halifax yesterday and said they had now undertaken a wide-scale investigation of Halifax's financial position.

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Beleaguered rich-lister Eric Watson will likely remain embroiled in courts for years — and faces the possibility of a tax bill of $200m when penalties are added — after a landmark court decision yesterday saw his businesses ruled to have engaged in $51.5m in tax avoidance, The New Zealand Herald reported. Justice Matthew Palmer said a complex 2002 transaction — involving Cayman Island companies while Watson himself was relocating from New Zealand to the UK for tax purposes — was an avoidance arrangement. The case is one of the largest tax judgments in New Zealand history.

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Moana Park Winery has gone into voluntary administration, The New Zealand Herald reported. The Puketapu-based, multi-award winning winery, which is officially registered as World's Best Little Wine Company Ltd, chose to take that step itself on Tuesday. Owned by Daniel and Kaylea Barker, the family business, has made a name for itself with a focus on producing natural, low allergen wines. It's also considered one of the stars of the Hawke's Bay events scene, and hosts the annual Another Day in Taradise.

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The Reserve Bank's proposals to double minimum bank equity levels will cost New Zealand's economy $1.5-to-$2 billion a year without making banks much safer, according to former long-serving central bank official Ian Harrison, The New Zealand Herald reported. Worse, he says the bank's decision to base its policy on ensuring that bank collapses occur only once in every 200 years happened at the last minute when it realised that its initial target of limiting bank collapses to once in every 100 years would have meant New Zealand banks already had sufficient capital to meet that test.

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Crown Resorts director and former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has been grilled in court over the $145 million collapse of education group Acquire Learning, ABC News reported. Mr Demetriou was never a director of the company but was executive chairman of an advisory board and paid $75,100 a month and $1.6 million in shares for three days a week of work in an office downstairs from the directors.

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