Monthly Archives: September 2018

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Bonnie June is on its way

THE Manning district’s premier social event of the year, the Bonnie Wingham Scottish Festival Grand Highland Ball, to be held on June 1, has been booked out since last week.

Festival organiser Warwick Murray said that both the festival and the ball have been growing over the years.

“The festival in general and the ball in particular have been growing steadily in popularity, and are now in their ninth year, bringing thousands of tourist dollars into the valley annually.”

Accommodation providers in Wingham report heavy enquiries, some having been totally booked out for months.

In the absence of mayor Paul Hogan and wife Pattie who are unable to attend the festival this year, deputy mayor Alan Tickle and partner Mary Anne will be in attendance, as will the festival chieftain Bruce Finlay, BA LLB AAII, a barrister and formal legal advisor to the State government.

Mr Finlay is also high commissioner for Clan Farquharson in Australia. He will be accompanied by his wife Pauline Finlay BA.

Old time, new vogue and Scottish dance music will be provided by the popular four piece Scottish band, Fiddle Tunes from Newcastle. Scottish dancers will be called by Peter Adams, also of Newcastle.

The evening will be jointly compered by Andrew and Cameron Murray, formerly of Oxley Island, both in Murray of Atholl kilts.

Festival committee chairman, Colonel (retired) Eric Richardson MA OAM will host the grand cocktail party held prior to the ball.

Warwick Murray reports that tickets are still available for the whisky night on Friday, May 31, conducted in the Wingham Services Club by the Wingham Pipes and Drums.

At this function patrons sample the five sublime single malt whiskys from the main production centres of Scotland.

As with the ball, the Haggis ceremony will be witnessed to the usual delight of those in attendance.

Those wishing to book for this excellent evening should contact 6553 2582. championship highland dancer, Meredith Long of Newcastle, a descendant of the Northams and the Murrays, will also perform at both functions.

The highland games on the Saturday will feature six bands, with the skirl of the pipes and the rattle of the drums being heard throughout the day, which together with continuous musical and dance items on the stage will provide non-stop entertainment.

More than 50 stalls will provide a huge array of information, refreshments and items for sale.

The aim of the festival is to enrich the cultural life of the district through the presentation of functions and productions which reflect on, and acknowledge the contribution made by the early Scottish pioneers to the development of the Manning Valley.

Entry is free.

Bagpipes will be heard in June.

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Warner Archive Instant- a huge leap backwards for online video?

Warner Instant Archive offers access to the Warner Bros back catalogue for US$9.99 per month.Who will pay to watch Superman reruns from the 1950s?

Online video is a fragmented mess in Australia but at least we’re slowly making progress. Freeview’s long-promised multi-channel Australian Catch Up TV service never materialised, but iTunes has a lot to offer and Quickflix is maturing. Meanwhile the network-centric Catch Up TV services such as the ABC’s iView and Seven’s Plus7 are going from strength to strength, although there’s still room for improvement.

While the online video situation is slowly improving in Australia, the US-centric Hulu and Netflix are still seen by many people as the gold standard. It’s not that hard to bypass geoblocking to access them from Australia, although you might be underwhelmed by what you find. What’s really disturbing is that content is slowly disappearing from Netflix as the content owners lock it away in their own services, a trend that’s likely to have a long-term impact on Australia’s online video offerings.

Last month Warner Bros launched Warner Instant Archive — an online video service letting you watch Warner Bros classic movies and TV shows stretching from the 1920s to the 1990s. It’s a US-only service although you can tap into it from Australia using many of the usual geo-dodging tricks (although the Hola plugin for Chrome doesn’t work). Warner Bros seriously expects you to pay $US9.99 per month for access to Warner Instant Archive, more than you’d pay for a Netflix or HuluPlus subscription. In return you only get access to about 200 titles at launch, although you’re unlikely to find much worth watching unless you grew up in the 1940s and 50s — not exactly a key demographic for online video service. Even these Baby Boomers would probably find more worth watching on Netflix.

It’s hard to see how Warner Archive Instant will find success when its most exciting offerings are black and white reruns of The Adventures of Superman and 77 Sunset Strip. You won’t even find Warner Bros cartoon classics such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Warner Instant Archive really seems like a desperate and even arrogant move by an old world giant looking to cash in on the internet age but failing to understand the market.

Warner Archive Instant may well flop, and few are likely to mourn its passing, but the real concern is that Warner Bros is trying to go direct and eliminate middlemen content aggregators such as Netflix. More than 2000 movies from Warner Bros, MGM and Universal are about to disappear from Netflix due to changes in rights agreements. UPDATE: Warner Bros has clarified that the content disappearing from Netflix is due to an expired deal with Epix, rather than a specific push to add more content to Warner Archive Instant. So the trend may not be as blatant as it first appeared, but it doesn’t change the fact that content continues to disappear from Netflix while movie houses such as Warner Bros seem to think people will happily pay more for Warner Archive Instant access than for access to the entire Netflix library.

The whole point of Netflix in the US, and Quickflix in Australia, is that they put a wealth of content in one spot — making it easier to pay for movies and TV shows rather than steal them. By giving people what they want at a reasonable price, these kinds of subscription services are proving to be a key weapon in the fight against piracy. If online video offerings continue to fragment, it’s hard to see many people wanting to hand over $US9.99 each month to a dozen different movie houses. At this point you may as well be paying for cable TV, or else cutting out the middlemen yourself and just downloading it all via BitTorrent.

There’s talk of Netflix coming to Australia in the next year or two, which will really shake up the local market. Meanwhile lets hope that US services like Warner Archive Instant are a spectacular failure and the movie houses go crawling back to Netflix, so when Netflix gets here there’s still something worth watching.

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Call for RBA-like meetings on productivity

The Productivity Commission needs to better share the burden of explaining the case for productivity reform to the public, the new commission chairman says.

And the public, for its part, ought to learn to expect continuous reform as a way to offset the problems of an ageing population and to sustain higher productivity levels.

In his first speech as chairman of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris also said Australia needed to put in place some kind of “structural arrangement,” similar to regular Reserve Bank policy meetings, that would create the public expectation for continuous productivity reform.

At the moment, he said, Australia seems to rely on the opportunities created by economic crises, and that was not good enough.

“My suggestion today is that we need a mechanism under which continuous reform is invited,” he said.

“Surely governments would be deeply advantaged in pressing the case for productivity reform… if there was a regular opportunity, similar in principle to the focus established by formal statements of fiscal and monetary policy, to put [in place] a comprehensive series of reforms and the narrative to accompany it.”

“The consequent focus of our productivity would be anticipated, debated and become an expected part of the national economic psyche,” he said.

He hoped his comments would not be interpreted as a “crude incursion” into the political world, particularly in an election year.

“It is not intended as such,” he said. “It is an idea about expectations, about improving the conditions in which policy reform might be pursued.”

Speaking in Sydney on Wednesday, Mr Harris also said he would like the Productivity Commission to work more closely with state governments than it has in the past.

The productivity agenda could not be achieved sustainably by the commonwealth government alone, and needed state government support, he said.

Mr Harris also said he would that, though the government sets the framework for the economy, most responsibility for economic reform falls on firms themselves.

“It is important to recognise that in making the case for change that government is not always part of the answer,” Mr Harris said.

“There are times when it is unreasonable, even at the sector level, to call on governments to intervene.”

“We rely on firms to address the productivity task across most markets,” he said.

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An ‘unbeatable’ investment?

Aided and abetted by a high Australian dollar, it seems we’re absolutely mad about travelling. In 2011 alone, more than seven million Aussies ventured overseas – about a third of the population. No wonder, then, that one of the world’s most successful travel agencies (as well as the nation’s largest corporate travel business), Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) is Sydney born and bred.

We’re all familiar with those distinctive red storefronts. Flight Centre travel agencies are located all over Australia, in shopping centres from the Gold Coast to Perth, as well as in 10 foreign countries. These bricks-and-mortar stores, some 2500 in total, account for the vast majority of Flight Centre sales.

And for many analysts and commentators, this is the problem. Since the early 2000s, fears that the internet will eat Flight Centre’s business have dominated discussion. Yet a look at the company’s financials over this same period shows a much different picture, with Flight Centre’s business growing rapidly even as many web-based travel companies have also grown (and despite the GFC!). For the first half of the 2013 financial year, for instance, the company booked record earnings per share.

Reports of Flight Centre’s death greatly exaggerated

The internet hasn’t killed the Flight Centre star yet. In fact, Flight Centre’s continued expansion poses an opportunity for risk-tolerant investors. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that China is a massive market, or that Flight Centre, with its quite small store presence there today, has a long runway (if you’ll excuse the pun) of growth before it. Most recently, in the first half of 2013, the company’s China sales rose 31 per cent to $73 million.

Also key is Flight Centre’s expansion into America, currently Flight Centre’s second largest market by revenue, with total transaction value of nearly $2 billion in 2012. Despite the recency of Flight Centre’s move into the States and its expensive pre-GFC acquisition there, its American operations – corporate, wholesale and Liberty Travel – are already profitable at an operating profit level. The flagship New York “hyperstore”, open since October 2012, is performing well, according to company presentations. Additional stores are in the works for Boston and Houston.

A push into mobile and a “blended” sales model across all Flight Centre operations the world over – combining the strength of the store network with the company’s e-commerce presence – further rounds out the picture for continued sales growth. (While often posed in binary terms, it’s important to remember that internet sales and the bricks-and-mortar stores don’t have to be an either/or proposition.)

Competition and competitiveness generally inform the company’s operations on the micro-level too. Co-founder and chief executive Graham “Skroo” Turner has explained his management model to The Australian Financial Review as one of “family, village, tribe,” which drives the leaders of small teams in a Darwinian system “with the top performers rising rapidly through the ranks to senior management”.

Closer to home, the continued strength of the Australian dollar and cheap international fares (some 20 per cent lower today than five years ago, according to company research) makes overseas travel even more alluring. In the near term, this should lead to increased bookings at Flight Centre. It’s a double-edged sword however, with the high Aussie dollar affecting the company’s domestic-travel offerings and also impacting the company as it repatriates money earned abroad.

Foolish takeaway

Given the growth prospects and risk profile, Flight Centre shares appear to be fairly valued today, trading at 18 times earnings or an EV to EBITDA ratio of about 9, and with a fully franked dividend in the 3 per cent range. If you don’t already own shares, you may want to put this high flier on your watch list.

Attention: If you’re looking for quality shares that have been selected based on quality and strong dividends, Foolish, dividend loving investors and BusinessDay readers alike can click here to request a Motley Fool free report entitled Secure Your Future with 3 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks.

Catherine Baab-Muguira is a Motley Fool writer/analyst. You can follow The Motley Fool on Twitter @TheMotleyFoolAu. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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Ex-bank executive selling Toorak mansion

Ian Crouch The pool at 59 St Georges Road, Toorak.

The front of 59 St Georges Road, Toorak.

59 St Georges Road, Toorak: the entrance and staircase.

The master bedroom at 59 St Georges Road, Toorak.

Former NAB executive Ian Crouch is the latest in a growing list of the city’s wealthy to try to flog their top-end homes this year, listing his Toorak estate with an asking price of at least $11 million.

The Neo-Georgian mansion, which is on the exclusive St Georges Road, promises an “unrivalled guarantee of a polished and refined lifestyle”, according to the estate agency’s marketing materials.

The features of the six-bedroom property include marble floors, marble staircase with wrought-iron banister, “executive” study, children’s retreat, wine cellar and a self-contained apartment for staff.

Outside is a tennis court, four-car garage and a pool and cabana with spa, sauna and kitchen.

Ian’s wife, Paula, bought the estate from wealthy property developer Sam Tarascio for $6.75 million in 2002.

Agents Kay & Burton declined to comment on the listing of 59 St Georges Road, but industry sources say the asking price is at least $11 million.

The one-time chief information officer for NAB was pushed from the bank in 2004 following the resignation of chief executive Frank Cicutto, who quit in the wake of a $360 million currency trading scandal.

Mr Crouch initiated a $15 million lawsuit over his dismissal, which was settled out of court in 2009 for an undisclosed amount. Ian and Paula went on to found and run the international consultancy firm Reveal Group.

Melbourne’s long moribund prestige housing market has been showing signs of renewal following several high-priced sales this year.

Recently, former champion skateboarder and entrepreneur Peter Hill sold his Hawthorn estate for a price believed to be at least $16 million, with some estimates rising as high as $20 million.

Another Toorak mansion on Clendon Road, which belongs to a member of the wealthy Rowsthorn transport family, sold last month for $11.5 million after only five days on the market.

[email protected]苏州美睫培训.au Twitter: @chrisvedelago

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