1. BHP Group (BHP)

Metals & Mining
Market Cap: $105b
FY18 profit: $5b (US$3.7b)
FY18 revenue: $62.3b (US$45.8b)
Listed: 1885
CEO: Andrew Mackenzie
CEO salary: $6.2m (US$4.55m)

Shares in Australia's largest mining company hit five-year highs in October, continuing a growth trajectory that began in early 2016 after the Samarco dam disaster in Brazil.

Since hitting that peak the company has changed its name to BHP Group, and was also the subject of an embarrassing incident in Western Australia involving an automated train that was forcibly derailed after its brakes didn't work.

The train's only driver had stepped out to check a carriage when the locomotive loaded up with iron ore started hurtling across the Pilbara, leading to a messy train wreck and a suspension of BHP's rail operations in the state.

The issue is costing the miner millions of dollars every day in lost exports but considering an overall drop in the ASX the derailment hasn't made a massive dent in the share price.

Sentiment would likely be much less optimistic if it weren't for a bullet dodged in August when BHP signed a vital union contract for the world's largest copper mine.

A 44-day strike at the Escondida mine in Chile had a debilitating effect on the company's copper output in FY17, and this year there were rumblings of a possible repeat until a deal was reached on 17 August.

Recovering from the 2017 strike, BHP's total copper output rose 32 per cent in FY18 to hit 1,753kt, of which more than two-thirds came from Escondida.

However, a second negotiating group has emerged that is against the deal Escondida reached with 'Workers' Syndicate 1', and it is yet to be seen what impact that will have on worker relations at the mine.

In the past few months the group has also been busy offloading its US oil and gas assets for a net total of US$10.4 billion, while it has also taken a 6.1 per cent stake in the highly prospective Cascabel copper-gold project in Ecuador which is partly owned by another Melbourne company Newcrest Mining. 

BHP has recorded growth across its other divisions including coal and iron ore, and for the latter in June the board approved $3.94 billion (US$2.9 billion) in capital expenditure for the South Flank project in Central Pilbara, Western Australia.

"We have delivered a strong finish to the 2018 financial year with an eight per cent increase in annual production and record output at Western Australia Iron Ore, Queensland Coal and at our Spence copper mine in Chile," said CEO Andrew Mackenzie.

Also in June, BHP opted to sell Chilean copper mine Cerro Colorado to EMR Capital for $312 million (US$230 million).

"We further simplified the portfolio with the announced divestment of Cerro Colorado in Chile and Gregory Crinum in Australia and our investment in South Flank supports our ability to supply low cost, high quality products into Asia," Mackenzie said.

On 23 July, BHP confirmed it had been served with a class action proceeding in the Federal Court of Australia in Victoria in relation to the Samarco catastrophe which released tailings and flooded three communities in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 2015Just over two weeks later the mining company then announced it had agreed to settle another class action complaint in the US, also in relation to Samarco.

BHP registered an exceptional loss of $883 million (US$650 million) in FY18 in connection to the Brazilian issue.

The company has emphasised its commitment to the Renova Foundation that was established to fund remediation and compensation for the communities impacted by the disaster.


2. CSL Limited (CSL)

Health Care
Market Cap: $79.6b
FY18 profit: $1.7b
FY18 revenue: $7.9b
Listed: 1994
CEO: Paul Perreault
CEO salary: $7.4m

When you go to the doctor to get a flu shot, chances are the brand behind the vaccine is the last thing that crosses your mind.

But for health care group CSL Limited these vaccines are big business and were particularly lucrative for its subsidiary Seqiris amidst a severe Northern Hemisphere flu season in 2017-18.

"Seqirus delivered on its commitment to achieve profitability just three years after the business was formed," said CEO Paul Perreault.

"The Holly Springs influenza vaccines facility in North Carolina, which utilises innovative cell-based technology, quadrupled the number of Flucelvax Quadrivalent doses produced this season for the US market compared to last year and we continue to implement process improvements to further boost this capacity."

The world's second largest influenza vaccine company, acquired in 2015, is just one part of the CSL nervous system which also includes global biotherapy leader CSL Behring and an R&D division that spawned an emerging transplant franchise and a cardiovascular disease product now in clinical trials.

CSL Behring specialises in treating bleeding disorders like haemophilia and von Willebrand disease, and its therapies are also used for immunodeficiencies, hereditary angioedema, neurological disorders and inherited respiratory disease.

These solutions are clearly in demand worldwide, with CSL's share price having shot up from $160 in February to $219 at the time of writing. In its FY18 results, the company reported profit growth of 29 per cent to reach $1.7 billion even higher than an already upgraded profit guidance announced in May.

"The strength of our results reflects the execution of our strategy and patient-focused workforce. We are proud of our achievements this year, and looking forward to continuing our work in the year ahead," said Perreault.

"Our successful launch during the year of Haegarda provides a transformational therapy for patients with Hereditary Angioedema (HAE).

"Our global commercial rollout of Idelvion provides Haemophilia B patients with a new standard of care."

The executive also pointed to milestones such as approval for the immunoglobulin product Privigen for the US, and Hizentra for the US and EU, both providing a conventional treatment for debilitating nerve disorder CIDP.

However, obtaining the inputs needed for these biotechnologies is a substantial challenge, and one that CSL has sought to tackle by setting up plasma collection centres.

"The tightness in supply of our key raw material, plasma, has been a feature across the industry this year," said Perreault.

"The CSL plasma team have opened 27 new collection centres in the US a growth rate unmatched in the industry. CSL now operates 206 plasma collection centres worldwide.

"We expect to again outpace the market in growing plasma collections but supply of this important raw material remains a limiting factor. In FY19 we plan to open between 30 and 35 new collection centres and forecast a modest increase in plasma costs, tempering overall margin growth."

The company expects net profit after tax growth of between 10 and 14 per cent in FY19, and Perrault also optimistic about the "promising gene therapy platform" Calimmune that CSL acquired in August last year for $124 million (US$91 million).


3. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ)

Financials
Market Cap: $72.56b
1H18 profit: $6.4b
1H18 revenue: $19.8b
Listed: 1969
CEO: Shayne Elliott
CEO salary: $5.25m

Like the other big four banks ANZ has been slammed by the Royal Commission this year, putting aside $421 million to compensate the customers it failed and taking increased regulations on the chin.

The investigation has led to a fundamental shift in the Australian banking sector, described by ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott as "strong headwinds" when combined with slowing growth in the housing market and lower borrowing capacity.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has pressed charges against ANZ, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank over alleged cartel conduct in 2015 involving a $2.5 billion institutional share placement.

The ACCC investigation also led to criminal charges against former ANZ treasurer Rick Moscati, who went on leave after the news broke and has been replaced by Adrian Went. Moscati is reportedly settling back into a senior role with the company.

"This is a critical moment for the industry, our bank and our people. We continue the urgent work required to fix the significant failures highlighted by the Royal Commission," said Elliott in the company's Annual Report released this month.

He said ANZ had "accepted responsibility" and was "determined to improve".

"We have taken action to fast-track fundamental changes involving leadership, strategy, systems, people and culture," Elliott said.

"We are also making the investments required to build a bank worthy of the trust and respect of customers, shareholders and the community.

"We will also compensate customers who we have failed quickly and fairly and take steps to ensure that it does not happen again."

Some aspects of the business have gone well, including an increase of six per cent in owner-occupied home loans and a 1.5 per cent cut in expenses if large notable items are excluded.

But these notable items have been substantial, leading to a five per cent drop in profit for FY18, and a bigger drop still of 16 per cent if you include discontinued operations.

It was a result that yielded a neutral description from Elliott "credible", in light of the times. And it is just that credibility that will determine ANZ's and the rest of the banking sector's future from now on.


4. National Australia Bank (NAB)

Financials
Market Cap: $66.25b
FY18 profit: $5.7b
FY18 revenue: $13.46b
Listed: 1974

CEO: Andrew Thorburn
CEO salary: $4.37m

In the fallout from the banking royal commission, NAB booked in a full year cash profit decline of 14.2 percent because of restructuring costs and repayments to customers in what its CEO Andrew Thorburn described as a "challenging period" for the bank.

NAB confirmed it would book $530 million in restructuring costs and $348 million for customer remediation which weighed heavily on the full year result.

The bank's net interest margin, a key measure which is the difference between the price the bank pays for loans and what it charges its customers, remained stable at 1.85 percent.

Thorburn himself has paid the price, literally, for the bank's indiscretions revealed at the commission and he's taken a $2 million pay cut as the bank admitted to "failures" in its treatment of customers which have "impacted NAB's reputation".

NAB's board took the unusual step of pointing the finger of blame directly at its CEO.

"The group CEO has accepted accountability for NAB's failure to fix mistakes quickly, remediate customers promptly and set things right," says NAB remuneration committee chairman Anne Loveridge.

"These failures have impacted NAB's reputation.

"The board considers that customer, risk and reputation matters, many of which have featured in the royal commission, should have been dealt with better and faster.

"The board considers that the executive leadership team needs to do more, individually and collectively, to ensure that NAB always 'does the right thing' by its customers."

Thorburn's pay cut was the largest among the big four bank chief executives.

National Australia Bank is also facing the possibility of legal action from the corporate regulator ASIC over its "Introducer" home loan fraud which involved misconduct by 60 bankers, including branch managers.

Thorburn has stated publicly that the "difficult operating conditions" will continue for at least another 12 months and that NAB will keep its standard variable mortgage rates on hold, although the bank will continue to monitor the rate.


5. Telstra Corporation Limited (TLS)

Telecommunication Services
Market Cap: $35.8b
FY18 profit: $3.5b
FY18 revenue: $28.6b
Listed: 1997
CEO: Andrew Penn
CEO salary: $5.2 million

Telecommunications giant Telstra's market cap has fallen by more than $16 billion since last year's Melbourne Top Companies list, although the share price has recovered from a deep trough seen in June.

Between NBN roll-out challenges, network outages and a $10 million Federal Court fine for misleading customers, Telstra has struggled to protect its brand and value proposition in an increasingly competitive telco space.

The company's response was what it calls the 'Telstra2022 (T22) strategy', involving the "simplification" of its operations and product set, improving the customer experience and reducing its cost base.

Part of this simplification involved slashing 8,000 jobs.

CEO Andrew Penn claims to have seen early progress on the new strategy, including the launch of new mobile plans with new excess data charges, as well as a change to Telstra's organisational structure, leadership team and operating model.

Telstra has also achieved the milestone of being the first company in Australia to roll out 5G technology, which it did in parts of the Gold Coast in August.

The company expects to have more than 200 5G-capable sites live around the country by the calendar year's end.

"We have seen strong subscriber growth, particularly in the second half of the year, adding 342,000 retail mobile customers, 88,000 retail fixed broadband customers and 135,000 retail bundles during FY18," Penn said.

"Despite this, the challenging trading conditions are expected to continue in FY19, including ongoing pressure on ARPU and further negative impact of the nbn network rollout on our underlying earnings.

"While it is less than two months since we presented our new strategy, we are well into the execution phase, building on the momentum provided by our up to $3 billion strategic investment in Networks for the Future and digitising the company."


6. Transurban Group (TCL)

Industrials
Market Cap: $30.56b
FY18 profit: $468m
FY18 revenue: $3.3b
Listed: 1996
CEO: Scott Charlton
CEO salary: $7m

Australia's largest toll road operator Transurban saw its profit more than double in FY18 with the completion of two projects in Melbourne and a Canadian acquisition to fuel growth in North America.

These developments coincided with the launch of a new retail tolling brand called Linkt in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, which it claims has reduced fees for motorists.

While fees may have been cut, toll revenue for the period climbed 8.7 per cent to reach $2.34 billion.

Transurban CEO Scott Charlton claims Melbourne's CityLink Tulla Widening and Monash Freeway Upgrade projects have given drivers additional capacity and led to quicker travel times.

In specific terms, the company claims the CityLink widening equates to a 14-minute saving on travel time from Melbourne Airport to the Bolte Bridge.

"The unique integrated public-private delivery model has leveraged capabilities of both Transurban and the state to deliver the Monash Freeway Upgrade, with early realisation of benefits for the community," Charlton said.

"In addition the West Gate Tunnel Project is progressing well and we welcome the certainty the planning scheme amendment provides," he said of another Melbourne project.

More recently the boom gates opened for involvement with Sydney project WestConnex after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) gave the green light for a Transurban-led bid in late August.

In late September, Transurban's consortium Sydney Transport Partners finally acquired a 51 per cent share in the $16.8 billion project, involving an extension of the M4 motorway from Parramatta to Sydney and a duplication of the M5 corridor.

While North America represents less than a tenth of total toll revenue at Transurban, EBITDA growth on the other side of the Pacific outpaced growth at home by 3.5 percentage points (12.4 per cent).

The Melbourne company will be hoping to build on that success through its successful acquisition of the A25 toll road in Montreal, Canada for CAD858 million ($912 million).

"This acquisition marks an important step for the business as we establish our second market in North America," said Charlton.

"The dynamics of the Montreal region fit with our strategic direction and the Quebec government has shown a desire to move forward new, multi-modal transportation solutions to address Greater Montreal's infrastructure needs."


7. Rio Tinto Limited (RIO)

Metals & Mining
Market Cap: $28.5b 
1H18 profit: US$4.38b
1H18 revenue: US$5.23b
Listed: 1962
CEO: Jean-Sébastien Jacques
CEO salary: US$4.45m

Rio Tinto is making strategic choices in a fast-changing mining landscape, whether it be divesting almost US$7.5 billion worth of assets in Queensland and Indonesia or spending almost US$1 billion on an automated rail project for iron ore in the Pilbara.

In July the dual-listed group achieved its first delivery of iron ore with the "world's largest robot", an autonomous train that travelled 280km from mine to port in Western Australia.

The breakthrough was part of the 'AutoHaul' programme which is due for completion by the end of the year and is expected to reduce supply bottlenecks.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director for rail, port & core services, Ivan Vella, said the company was engaged closely with drivers during the transition while preparing employees for new ways of working with automation.

"This programme symbolises both the pioneering spirit and innovative talents of many people across Rio Tinto and shows our absolute commitment to improving safety and productivity, as well as enabling greater flexibility across our operations," Vella said.

On the other side of the country, the multinational also has a US$1.9 billion spend planned for the Amrun bauxite project in Queensland, which was due for its first shipments this half.

In August, the dual-listed company sold off its remaining coal assets in the state for close to US$4 billion, while in October it signed a binding agreement to sell its 40 per cent stake in Indonesia's Grasberg mine for US$3.5 billion.

Grasberg, the world's second-largest copper mine, will be sold to Indonesian state company Indalum with the transaction due for completion in 2019.

The group has capitalised on the increased cash available from these deals in a recent US$2.9 billion off-market buy-back. A further US$1 billion worth of funds will be returned to shareholders of Rio Tinto Plc in the UK.

"In 2018 we have announced cash returns to shareholders of US$6.4 billion. Our strategic focus, with disciplined allocation of capital, is ensuring that we continue to deliver superior returns to shareholders in the short, medium and long term," said CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques.

The company has suffered from setbacks in Mongolia with the Oyu Tolgoi mine, one of the world's richest copper and gold deposits.

Problems stem from the government's cancellation of a power agreement, forcing Rio Tinto and its partners to seek alternative solutions. The cost of developing a new power station is expected to cost US$250 million a year in 2019 and 2020.

Rio Tinto has also formalised a 50-50 joint venture with Minmetals to explore world-class mineral deposits in China, and recently opened a new diamond mine in Canada's Northwest Territories.

Prior to the Diavik mine's opening, Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques had acknowledged that while diamonds were important for the group, it only had two mines in the space and they were "on their last legs".

In FY18 the company registered underlying EBITDA of US$9.2 billion and operating cash flow of US$5.2 billion.


8. Coles Group (COL)

Retail
Market cap: $17b
FY18 profit: $1.5b
FY18 revenue: $39.4b
Listed: 2018
CEO: Steven Cain
CEO salary: $4.5m plus incentives in FY19

Steve Cain was an advisor to Wesfarmers (ASX: WES) on its takeover of Coles Group in 2007, and now he is at the helm of the supermarket chain as it goes solo once more as of 21 November.

Having cut his teeth with Asda in the highly competitive and private label-focused UK retail grocery market, Cain is already taking lessons from the UK playbook with plans to cut out underperforming brands and replace them with Coles labels.

The executive has also hit the ground running in the role by opening the first of the chain's smaller format 'Coles Local' stores in Surrey Hills, Melbourne.

"Coles Local gives the Surrey Hills community the convenience of a supermarket with the character of a specialty store," says Cain.

As part of a planned $120 million investment from Coles in Victoria over the next 10 months, the new format will be sourcing locally as the name suggests and include a 'Foodie Hub' with a resident chef.

With Coles Group owning 809 supermarkets, 711 convenience outlets, 899 liquor stores and 88 hotels, Coles Local is hardly going to make a big mark on the company's finances for now.

However, it marks an important foray into experiential retail, an area pitted as a strategy to stay in the game with the threat of online players like Amazon and discounters such as Aldi.

Cain is keen to cut prices in this environment, and he also takes the helm of a company that saw its online sales and transactions grow by close to 30 per cent last financial year.

Coles shares opened on the ASX on a tough trading day, leading the price to close below the lower end of analyst forecasts. But both Cain and chairman James Graham were optimistic after the demerger.

"Our 115,000 team members can take enormous pride that their company is now listed alongside some of the largest and most recognised businesses in Australia," said Cain.

"We're all very excited for the next chapter in the Coles story as we deliver on our strategy to make life easier for our customers."

"Listing Coles on the ASX as a standalone business marks the next phase in the evolution of a company that began as a single store in Collingwood 104 years ago," added Graham.


9. Newcrest Mining (NCM)

Metals & Mining
Market Cap: $15.81b
FY18 profit: US$202m
FY18 revenue: US$3.56b
Listed: 1987
CEO: Sandeep Biswas
CEO salary: US$4.66b

Australia's largest gold miner was plagued by problems yet again at its largest operation in 2018 with the rupture of a tailings dam wall dampening several milestones.

The effects of an earthquake last year at Newcrest's Cadia mine in New South Wales continued to be felt in FY18 when an embankment slump led to a "limited breakthrough" of tailings material.

Operations were temporarily put on hold while repairs were undertaken, and the company managed to avoid what could have been an environmental disaster.

Shares dropped 12 per cent after the news, and while they recovered for a few months they are now 19 per cent below their 12-month high of $24.27 seen in November.

It is unfortunate news given other positive developments at Newcrest, particularly a pre-feasibility study for a project expansion at Cadia which has delivered a US$250 million capex saving and a boost in throughput capacity.

After the study was released, CEO Sandeep Biswas said an 'owner's mindset' had meant the project could potentially deliver a 21 per cent return on capital and ensure Cadia remains a "tier 1 producer for a long time to come".

Elsewhere, Newcrest's Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea achieved its third consecutive year with record production, and the operation is set to produce more gold than Cadia in FY19. The latter will however continue to be the company's biggest source of copper.

The group also advanced with another mine in Papua New Guinea, the "world class" gold-copper development project of Wafi Golpu.

For a similar sum to Newcrest's saving on its Cadia expansion project, earlier this year the group announced it had acquired a 27.1 per cent stake in Canada-listed Lundin Gold, giving it exposure to another tier 1 gold asset the Fruta Del Norte orebody in Ecuador.

The project was abandoned by one of the world's largest gold miners, Kinross Gold, back in 2013 when the introduction of a 70 per cent windfall tax made Fruta del Norte an untenable prospect at the time.

But since the departure of then president Rafael Correa and a stance from Lenin Moreno's government that has been somewhat more welcoming to foreign investment.

The Newcrest-Lundin deal was announced within days of the announcement of a bill from Ecuador's Mining Ministry proposing to wind back the windfall tax.

"This equity investment aligns with our aspiration of being exposed to five tier 1 orebodies by 2020," said Biswas at the time.

"We are pleased to partner with Lundin Gold to explore in this prospective part of Ecuador and we see potential for new discoveries to be made through the combined experience of both companies in exploring for epithermal gold and deep gold/copper porphyry deposits."


10. Amcor Limited (AMC)

Materials
Market Cap: $15.58b
FY18 profit: US$597m ($818m)
FY18 revenue: US$9.1b ($12.5b)
Listed: 1969
CEO: Ron Delia
CEO salary: US$6m ($8.2m)

Packaging giant Amcor will not be on next year's Melbourne Top Companies list if all goes to plan with a $9.3 billion US acquisition that would see it listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

In August the group reached an all-stock agreement to merge with flexible plastic packaging company Bemis Corporation, a move that would give Amcor shareholders a 71 per cent share in combined entity New Amcor.

If the proposed deal jumps through all the shareholder and regulatory hoops, New Amcor will be incorporated in Jersey and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.

Amcor is already a major global packaging player, but once joining forces with Bemis it would be an absolute monster with revenue of more than US$13 billion and EBITDA of US$2.2 billion.

US analysts have been critical of Bemis for decades of underperformance, and AMC shares dropped by more than 8 per cent after the merger announcement was made.

However, the share price had been steadily rising on speculation prior to the announcement with the subsequent drop only taking it back to trend.

Amcor CEO Ron Delia's upbeat comments in American English weren't enough to get Australian investors particularly bullish about the deal.

"We are convinced this is the right deal at the right time for both companies, and with the right structure for both sets of shareholders to participate in a unique value creation opportunity, Amcor identified flexible packaging in the Americas as a key growth priority and this transaction delivers a step change in that region," Delia said.

"There are an increasing number of opportunities arising for a leading packaging company to capitalize on shifting consumer needs, an evolving customer landscape and the need to provide responsible packaging solutions that protect the environment.

Amcor claims that in January it became the first global packaging company to pledge to make all its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025. To support this, Amcor established a Sustainability Centre of Excellence in Europe to advance research in the area.

Despite rising raw material costs, Amcor claims the industry started to stabilise in the lead-up to the FY18 with organic growth also improving in emerging markets in the second half of FY18.

"During the year, Amcor also made strong progress against the strategic priorities that will drive earnings growth going forward," Delia said.

"Long term supply agreements were completed with several multinational customers, reinforcing the value of our global footprint and value proposition, and commissioning of new plants commenced in India and Mexico."


11. Computershare Limited (CPU)

Information Technology
Market Cap: $10.31b
FY18 profit: US$300.1m
FY18 revenue: US$2.25b
Listed: 1994
CEO: Stuart Irving
CEO salary: US$3.34m

Doing the legwork and heavy lifting required to keep shares in order the world over, Computershare has seen its own share price climb by more than a third since this time last year.

Record profit and the fastest earnings growth since FY09 may have something to do with it, or the upcoming acquisition of leading European employee share plan administration company Equatex Group.

Announced in May for a consideration of 354.5 million (AUD$573 million), the transaction in the Zurich-based company which has a 10 per cent European market share - is due for completion by the end of this calendar year.

"It enhances our scale, capabilities and earnings in Employee Share Plans, our other strategic growth engine," said CEO Stuart Irving.

But employee share plans are just one part of a multi-faceted global business that includes share transfer and registration, proxy solicitation, stakeholder communications, mortgage servicing, corporate trust, bankruptcy and class action administration.

The company notched a strong EBITDA result of US$609.7 million (AUD$838 million) in FY18, but Irving claimed there was more room for growth.

"While our FY2018 results are the largest reported earnings at Computershare, they are not peak results. Put simply, there is more to come," he said.

Almost half the group's revenue comes from the USA, while Australia-New Zealand makes up just 11 per cent of the total.

"Business services is now our largest business stream by some distance and accounts for almost 40% of total revenues," said Irving.

"Within this, mortgage services revenues increased by 9.9% to $546.2 million. US mortgage services revenues broke through $300 million, up 19%, and UK mortgage services were stable at $240.1 million.

"Our strategic plan to reinvigorate our registry business to organic growth is gathering pace. It is a business that continues to perform well and remains an 'unsung hero' in the Group."

CPU expects stronger contributions from mortgage services, employee share plans and margin income in the current financial year, while the outlook for corporate actions and large events fee income appears slightly more "subdued" than in FY18.

 


12. Vicinity Centres (VCX)

Real Estate
Market Cap: $10.27b
FY18 profit: $1.22b
FY18 revenue: $1.33b
Listed: 2011
CEO: Grant Kelly
CEO salary: $1.7m

If you're in an Australian capital city there's a good chance Vicinity Centres owns a shopping mall near you, and with some fresh pocket money up its sleeve there could be more on the way.

Last month the mall landlord sold 10 assets to SCA Property Group for $573 million, crossing the halfway mark of a plan to sell $1 billion worth of sub-regional and neighbourhood centres.

The strategy is aimed at allowing Vicinity to invest in centres that fit the mould of "destinations" and "entertainment experiences".

Its current portfolio includes Chadstone in Melbourne, Queens Plaza in Brisbane and the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) in Sydney.

The latter was acquired in late 2017 as part of the biggest property deal of the year, in which Vicinity swapped $1.1 billion in assets with Singaporean wealth fund GIC.

Through the transaction, Vicinity exchanged a 49 per cent interest in Chatswood Chase Sydney for a 50 per cent interest in GIC's Sydney CBD centres, comprising the QVB, The Galeries and the Strand Arcade.

It was one of the last big moves made by outgoing CEO Angus McNaughton, who had led Novion Property Group in its merger with Federation Limited to form Vicinity in 2015.

After McNaughton retired at the end of the year, Grant Kelley assumed the mantle with gusto and has made big calls on how the company will advance with its investment and development strategy.

One of these decisions has been a 50:50 joint venture with Singapore's Keppel Capital to manage a new wholesale property fund, Vicinity Keppel Australia Retail Fund (VKF), seeded from $1 billion of assets from Vicinity's balance sheet.

The group has also identified 12 significant mixed-use development opportunities.

"Additional uses identified are primarily residential, to be undertaken using a capital-light approach, office and hotel," says Kelley.

"Although it will take time to realise these mixed-use opportunities across the portfolio, the value they can create for Vicinity is substantial and not reflected in current valuations."


13. Treasury Wine Estates (TWE)

Consumer Staples
Market Cap: $10.04b
FY18 profit: $360m
FY18 revenue: $2.43b
Listed: 2011
CEO: Michael Clarke
CEO salary: $11.1m

Treasury Wine Estates has been sipping on the rewards of premiumisation with its luxury wine inventory now worth $1.1 billion out of a total stock valued at close to $2 billion.

Wine lovers from Europe to Asia have been knocking on the cellar door with an insatiable appetite for Treasury's flavorsome vino.

While a change in the group's route-to-market strategy is taking a while to ferment in the US and delays for Australian wine imports into China were seen in the fourth quarter, TWE's NPAT was more than a third higher in FY18 at $360.3 million.

The company has poured itself some full-bodied results with growth in Australasia, Europe and Asia. Even in North America where times have been tough, there are positive signs in Canada and Latin America.

TWE chief executive officer Michael Clarke expects profits to flow higher by a quarter every year for half a decade, with FY19 set to be an "exciting year" following several highlights in FY18.

These include a $300 million share buyback, the launch of a French wine portfolio, the establishment of a warehouse in China and a move away from lower margin commercial wines.

"We have the wine, the brands, the business models and the organisational talent to propel our Company into its next phase of growth that will see TWE become the world's most celebrated wine company and deliver a 5yr EBITS CAGR of 25%," says Clarke.

"The momentum in our business, together with the strength of our organisational talent, brand portfolios, operating models and customer partnerships, enabled us to execute transformational changes to our operating model in the US and still deliver strong profit growth."


14. REA Group (REA)

Software & Services
Market Cap: $9.5b
FY18 profit: $279.9m
FY18 revenue: $807.7m
Listed: 1999
Outgoing CEO: Tracey Fellows
Outgoing CEO salary: $3.28m

With spacious profits and its coveted website location of realestate.com.au clocking up 74.6 million visits a month, REA Group is inspecting exciting opportunities to raise its family of companies.

The company is majority owned by Newscorp (ASX: NEWS), where current CEO Tracey Fellows will be taking up the role of president of global digital real estate starting in January 2019.

Fellows will however remain on the REA Group board on behalf of News Corp.

The real estate advertising leader was able to lift profits by a fifth in FY18 despite a slight drop in listings and prices, boosted by a series of acquisitions and overseas businesses.

The company's renovation continued in June through realestate.com.au's $130 million acquisition of Hometrack Australia, bringing new capabilities in property data services and insights for the financial sector.

"It's an exciting move for our business and a natural extension for realestate.com.au. The acquisition allows us to deliver more property data and insights to our customers and consumers," said Fellows when the purchase was announced.

A newly created financial services segment also delivered profits in its first year of operation with the launch of realestate.com.au Home Loans, an Australia-first end-to-end digital property search and financing experience complemented by the acquisition of mortgage broker Smartline.

The vast majority of REA Group's $807.7 million in revenue came from the Australian market but its Asian business comprising iProperty and Chinese listing site myfun.com contributed $44.3 million for the year, representing an 18 per cent revenue rise.

The company has strengthened its leadership position in Malaysia and Indonesia, while it now has the fastest growing property portal in Singapore having moved from fourth to second position in the market.

REA Group also has investments in India's PropTiger and North American company Move Inc, which operates realtor.com.

"We have had an excellent year, delivering double digit growth. We're giving consumers and customers even more reasons to come back to us by creating better and more personalised property experiences," said REA Group CEO Tracey Fellows.

"In Australia, realestate.com.au continues to be the # 1 place for property with 2.6 times the monthly visits of our nearest competitor. We have the largest, most engaged audience across every device, on every screen size," she said.

"It's been a year of unprecedented product launches focused on delivering value for our customers. This has been led by our new suite of Agent Edge products providing onsite branding and connecting customers with potential sellers."


15. Tabcorp (TAH)

Gaming
Market Cap: $8.99b
FY18 profit: $28.7m
FY18 revenue: $3.8b
Listed: 1994
CEO: David Attenborough
CEO salary: $4m

It has been a "company-defining" year for Tabcorp after its successful $11 billion merger with Tatts Group prior to Christmas, with financial results now back in the black and a consolidated business to drive future growth.

For the average punter the change can be seen through the name change to UBet, but for the company itself the merger has already created EBITDA synergies of $8 million.

CEO David Attenborough expects to see more improvements in the pipeline through the combined entity.

"FY18 was a company-defining year for Tabcorp. The combination with Tatts has created a world-class, diversified gambling entertainment group with an attractive portfolio of market-leading brands across wagering, media, lotteries, Keno and gaming services," he said.

"The integration of the two businesses is on track, with initial business improvements and cost initiatives implemented.

"We have taken decisions to underpin $50m of EBITDA synergies and business improvements in FY19 and are on target to deliver at least $130m in FY21."

In terms of the company's market segments, EBITDA was steady for the wagering & media and gaming services segments, but in lotteries and Keno profits rose 10 per cent.

It wasn't all smooth sailing though for Tabcorp, which in July made the decision to exit UK online wagering and gaming business Sun Bets.

The company had entered into a partnership for the business with Newscorp UK in 2016, but it didn't go as planned and Tabcorp had to pay its partner £39.5 million to part ways.

"The performance of Sun Bets has been below expectations and we do not expect a material improvement over the next 18 months. As such, we have reached an agreement with News UK to exit the agreement," Attenborough said.

"While we didn't get it right, we have taken valuable learnings from the Sun Bets start-up process and operations which will inform our approach across our portfolio.

The executive has also commented on reforms in Australia to make the industry more sustainable.

"The introduction of point of consumption taxes, the prohibition of synthetic lottery products, advertising restrictions and improved consumer protection measures are creating a fairer playing field. Tabcorp is very well placed to perform in this improved environment," he said.


16. Crown Resorts (CWN)

Gaming & Tourism
Market Cap: $7.89b
FY18 profit: $558.9m
FY18 revenue: $3.46b
Listed: 2007
Executive Chairman: John Alexander
Executive Chairman salary: $4.7m

Gambling and entertainment industry behemoth Crown Resorts wasn't dealt the best cards over the past year, but came out with a win all the same.

Despite  James Packer stepping down from the board due to mental health issues and fines for tampering with poker machines, the company's normalised EBITDA was up 7.2 per cent in FY18.

Statutory net profit was down a whopping 70 per cent at $558.9 million, but only because of an exceptional windfall in FY17 from the $1.745 billion sale of Melco Resorts & Entertainment in Macau.

"Crown's full year result reflects a solid performance from our Melbourne operation and continued subdued trading in Perth," said executive chairman John Alexander.

"Total normalised revenue across Crown's Australian resorts increased by 10.6% on the prior comparable period ("pcp"). Main floor gaming revenue increased by 1.5%, with modest growth in Melbourne offset by softness in Perth.

"VIP program play turnover in Australia of $51.5 billion (up 54.5%) was a pleasing outcome, particularly at Crown Melbourne (up 73.9%), given the difficult trading conditions in the pcp."

While still only representing a miniscule fraction of total profits, Crown Digital's EBITDA shot up 81.8 per cent to $26.9 million.

Building continues on the controversial Crown Sydney Hotel Resort at Bangaroo, with the edifice of what will become Sydney's first six-star hotel now built to level 12.

The company is taking the New South Wales Government to court in a bid to prevent the approval of developments that would obstruct the resort's views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The project remains on schedule for completion in the first half of calendar year 2021, and the Crown board expects it will become a tourism icon that will help Sydney attract "high net worth travellers from all parts of the world".

The company was also embroiled in a pokie tampering scandal this year, and while the fine of $300,000 may be small in the greater context of the Crown business, it was the largest penalty ever given to the casino from the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

Crown said its contravention of the Gambling Regulation Act 2003 was not deliberate, and that its "gaming machine trial" which hid certain buttons did not impact on the return to player ratio.

In FY18, the group also sold several significant assets including land in Las Vegas for US$300 million, an interest in CrownBet for $150 million, an interest in Ellerston for $62.5 million and its shares in Caesars Entertainment Corporation for US$53.3 million.


17. Australian Foundation Investment Company Limited (AFI)

Financials
Market Cap: $7.18b
FY18 profit: $279m
FY18 revenue: $308.5m
Listed: 1962
MD: Mark Freeman
MD salary: $1.07m

As a legacy investor with blue chip dividend-yielding shares as its bread and butter, Australian Foundation Investment Company is shifting more of its capital into mid-sized and small companies.

AFIC's $7.5 billion portfolio may still read like a list of the ASX's top companies (Commonwealth Bank, BHP, Westpac and CSL make up 25 per cent), but the group is making subtle movements into what its experts believe to be the blue chips of the future.

This approach has been taken because the group believes many large companies face subdued growth outlooks in positions where there is ""no further consolidation possible, increased competition and disruption, and greater regulatory intervention".

Major purchases in FY18 included adding holdings to Macquarie Group, CSL, Sonic Healthcare, James Hardie, Sydney Airport and Boral.

"Additions were also made to smaller companies, Reliance Worldwide and Reece, including participation in their respective capital raisings to fund offshore acquisitions, and Carsales.com," the company said in its annual report.

AFIC also described Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, NextDC and Qantas as the "more significant new additions to the portfolio".

"NEXTDC, which is a data centre operator, is an example of the type of company AFIC is looking to add to the portfolio. It has a unique position in an industry that is likely to grow in excess of nominal economic growth," the company said.

But it was still dividends from major investments that helped push up profits by close to 14 per cent in the last financial year, particularly from the resources sector.

The company said its best performing shares were CSL, Westfarmers, Macquarie Group, Oil Search and Woolworths.

"The most notable change is the position of banks in the portfolio, which has declined over recent years relative to the market weight," the company said.

"Whilst banks continue to supply a large part of the dividend income, the growth outlook for growth relative to recent years, in our view, has diminished as credit for housing slows and competitive and regulatory pressures become greater."

Major sales included the complete disposal of shares in Incitec Pivot, Coca Cola and Japara Healthcare, while AFIC reduced its positions in QBE Insurance, AMP, Telstra and Treasury Wine Estates and Vicinity Centres.

Former chief investment officer Mark Freeman took over as CEO at the start of the year, following the retirement of Ross Barker.


18. Medibank Private (MPL)

Financials & Insurance
Market Cap: $7.05b
FY18 profit: $445.1m
FY18 revenue: $6.9b
Listed: 2014
CEO: Craig Drummond
CEO salary: $3.7m

Despite a raft of incentives and a 'priority' program for longstanding members, health insurer Medibank Private has struggled to convince shareholders of its value proposition since announcing a 3.88 per cent rise in premiums in early 2018.

The insurer was also dealt a heavy blow this month when the Australian Department of Defence decided it was not chosen as the preferred tenderer for the renewal of a contract with Garrison Health Services, worth around $30 million annually.

CEO Craig Drummond believes progress has been made however in a challenging period where health costs have risen 5 per cent.

"We are now positioned for growth with a focus on leveraging our dual brands, building competitive advantage in health insurance and transforming into a broader health services company," he says.

"The highlight for the year has been a substantial turnaround in customer advocacy and retention, driven by consistently delivering a better customer experience, more value and recognising customer loyalty.

"These improvements have seen market share grow 5 basis points over the past 6 months. This is the first time in a decade we have experienced growth over a 6-month period."

The company has launched a $20 million one-off loyalty bonus and has also introduced a digitised membership card that allow customers to claim on-the-spot refunds at Health Industry Claims and Payments Service (HICAPS) terminals.

In late August Medicare made a significant strategic move in home care through the $70 million acquisition of South Australian business Home Support Services (HSS).

The purchase now makes Adelaide Medibank's headquarters for home healthcare operations.

"Medibank is trialling in home healthcare for chemotherapy, palliative care, and dialysis and these trials are already delivering positive results for customers," says Drummond.

"HSS will expedite the expansion of our in home care, giving us expertise and a national footprint."

Medibank's Free + Active program has also been in place for more than a year now, which it claims has helped 250,000 Australians get active through increased access to free, social activities across the country.

The group conducted a study released in August which showed the number of active Australians had reached a 10-year high, with almost half a million people taking up exercise in the last year alone.

"These findings reveal that as a nation, we're showing signs of prioritising our physical health," says Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan.

"However, despite these efforts, it is important to bear in mind that almost one in two Australians remain inactive, showing we still have a way to go if we're going to combat inactivity en masse."


19. Bluescope Steel (BSL)

Metals & Mining
Market Cap: $6.8b
FY18 profit: $1.57b
FY18 revenue: $11.5b
Listed: 2002
CEO: Mark Vassella
CEO salary: $3.85m

Buffered by US tariff exemptions for Australian steel and bolstered by Chinese industry reforms, BlueScope's shares are white-hot after rising more than 50 per cent in the past year.

According to an analyst note from Firetrail Investments in May, compelling opportunities exist for companies like BlueScope thanks to Chinese supply-side reforms that have reduced overcapacity and led to more sustainable steel margins.

"BlueScope's strategy and focus on shareholder returns is delivering results," says new CEO Mark Vassella, who rose from within BlueScope's ranks to take the reins at the start of this year following the retirement of Paul O'Malley.

"Since completing our transformational cost saving initiatives in Australasia and the acquisition of the 50 per cent of North Star we did not own, we have now delivered underlying EBIT of over $1.1 billion in each of the last two years.

But will BlueScope have the tensile strength to withstand increased industrial relations pressures and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into alleged cartel conduct?

The company's $1.57 billion profit result has not gone down well with workers at BlueScope's steel plants, many of whom took pay freezes when times were tough in 2016. The company is offering pay rises but unions believe rates should be higher.

In response the company has been hit by intermittent strikes in both Australia and New Zealand.

The ACCC investigation over alleged price-fixing from BlueScope employees was announced to the public in August 2017, and at the time of writing it is believed to be ongoing.

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the company is also looking at growth opportunities in India, South East Asia and the US.

For the group's North Star business in Delta, Ohio, a comprehensive study has begun contemplating the addition of 600,000 to 900,000 metric tonnes per annum of steelmaking capacity, which would add to current annually capacity of 2.1 million tonnes.

"The project under evaluation involves the addition of a third electric arc furnace and second slab caster, may cost in the range of US$500 million to US$700 million and if it proceeds, would take two to three years to develop," says Vassella.

"We believe the project may deliver BlueScope compelling through-cycle economics, and the study will seek to confirm that. We anticipate updating the market further at our February 2019 results briefing."

In early November, the company agreed to acquire a $42 million manufacturing facility in Malaysia from YKGI Holdings Berhad, with completion expected in the March 2019 quarter.


20. Alumina Limited (AWC)

Metals & Mining/Alumina & Bauxite
Market Cap: $6.71b
1H18 profit: US$286.4m
1H18 revenue: US$3.2b
Listed: 1961
CEO: Mike Ferraro
CEO salary: $1.28m plus incentives

With a 40 per cent share in a joint venture with the world's leading bauxite miner Alcoa, Alumina Limited's profits have been riding the waves of global supply challenges and strong demand in China.

Bauxite, the main ore used to produce aluminium, is short in global markets due to sanctions on Russian producer Rusal and a forced reduction in supply from the world's largest bauxite mine in Brazil.

Norsk Hydro's Alunorte operation in Brazil was ordered to halve its production earlier this year amid allegations it polluted waters that flooded communities in the Brazilian state of Pará in February.

Alunorte reportedly reached a deal with the Brazilian Government to start raising production back to normal in October. 

It is environmental concerns that have also led to reforms in China to cut production of the ore, and Alumina CEO Mike Ferraro expects the effects to be felt by 2021.

"China's demand for imported bauxite has continued to grow as its own quality and quantity of domestic bauxite diminishes and environmental restrictions are limiting production and new capacity," he said at his first AGM as CEO.

Ferraro, a former Alumina director, took the helm in mid-2017 after the retirement of Peter Wasow.

For the first half of this calendar year the executive was able to report a solid 110 per cent uptick in net profit after tax, driven in particular by the company's stake in Alcoa World Alumina and Chemicals (AWAC).

"This has been another outstanding result for the Company, with AWAC's alumina margins reaching levels not seen since before the GFC. The exceptional quality of AWAC's Tier 1 assets has delivered outstanding returns to shareholders in favourable operating conditions," he said after the result announcement.

"A tight Western world alumina market and structural and environmental reforms in China produced significant price tailwinds for AWAC, with the average realised alumina price up 35% on the previous corresponding period."

However, around the same time these results were released AWAC's Western Australian operations were in the thick of strikes with some 1,500 workers unhappy over the details of a proposed enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

Strikes went for 52 in August and September, before a decision was made late in the month by the Australia Workers' Union (AWU) to end industrial action with a revised EBA including enhanced job security provisions.

However, workers have voted against the EBA and it's been back to the negotiating table for Alcoa and the AWU.


21. Orica Limited (ORI)

Materials
Market Cap: $6.64b
FY18 loss: $48m
FY18 revenue: $5.3b
Listed: 1961
CEO: Alberto Calderon
CEO salary: $4.6m

The world's leading commercial explosives and blasting technology company has been beset by operational problems from Western Australia to Sweden over the past year, but it isn't about to cave under the pressure.

EBIT took a hit of 20 per cent in the first half and Orica's shares fell by almost as much. A turnaround in the second half was able to alleviate the bottom line somewhat, but annual profits were still down 3 per cent year-on-year.

"We have returned the business to revenue growth, reflecting improved market demand, new contract wins and an increase in higher value-add product sales," said CEO Alberto Calderon earlier this month.

"While earnings in the first half were clearly disappointing, we responded quickly to the issues within our control to lift earnings before interest and tax by 46% in the second half.

"The temporary issues with the Burrup ammonium nitrate plant have been resolved and permanent repairs are expected to make the plant fully available for use in the first half of our 2020 financial year."

The executive expects increased demand to deliver earnings growth in FY19 for all of Orica's regional businesses except Latin America.

Amidst a challenging market for the cyanide it supplies to gold mines and the underperformance of its mining services and manufacturing company Minova, this Melbourne group that has been around since the Victorian gold rush is pushing ahead with new initiatives in technology.

In December last year Orica acquired innovative Brisbane outfit Groundprobe, a world leader in monitoring and measurement technologies for the mining sector.

This new member of the Orica family was named 2018's most innovative company in Australia and New Zealand by the Australian Financial Review.

In April, Groundprobe launched its first laser-based monitoring solution to give early warnings for impending collapses of open pit mine walls, dams and other structures.

It's an acquisition that makes very little impact on the balance sheet at present in fact it ran at a $1 million loss in the first half but the Orica board are betting on the increasing relevance of high-tech safety systems.

Along similar lines, in October Orica harnessed the wave in data and mobile systems by launching its next generation 'BlastIQ' digital optimisation platform.

"The downstream impact of variable and poorly controlled blast outcomes today can impact as much as 80% of the Total Mine Processing Costs," said chief commercial officer Angus Melbourne at the time.

"The new BlastIQ Platform enhances blast performance and outcomes for customers by seamlessly connecting data under a single platform.

"Soon the platform will link geoscientific, blast modelling and design data with measured field operations data, optimised blast delivery and advanced learning for continuous improvement."

In other news, the group has also entered a joint venture in China with Guizhou Jiulian Industrial Explosive Material Development, and its CFO Vince Nicoletti recently stepped down for personal reasons. He has been replaced by Christopher Davis.


22. Incitec Pivot (IPL)

Materials/Fertilisers and explosives
Market Cap: $6.21b
1H18 profit: $7.6m
1H18 revenue: $1.68b
Listed: 2003
CEO: Jeanne Johns
CEO salary: $1.6m (Not including incentive payments. Started 15 November 2017)

A couple of key agreements have helped lift investor confidence in fertiliser and explosives company Incitec Pivot since June, following a slight dip in April after a $236 million impairment charge was announced for its Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific (DNAP) business.

The impairment related to contract issues in Western Australia, a supply-demand imbalance in the Australian ammonium nitrate market and reduced long-term gas production forecasts for the company's Moranbah plant in Queensland

If it weren't for that impairment, Incitec's bottom line would have been relatively steady rather than the massive 98 per cent decline in net profit after tax recorded in its half year results. 

Since June Incitec has secured an explosive products and services supply contract with two Fortescue Metals subsidiaries through to 2023, along with agreements for the interim gas supply to its Gibson Island facility after commercial operations start on the Northern Gas Pipeline.

New CEO Jeanne Johns is set to complete her first year on the job in mid-November.

In the results announcement she praised the excellent performance of operations in Waggaman and Moranbah, while highlighting a strong underlying US explosive result and robust demand for explosives in Australia. 

"Our Dyno Nobel Americas explosives business is well positioned in the US with all segments showing significant growth in the last half. Our compelling customer offering of advanced technology solutions and practical innovation has been rewarded with market share growth," Johns said.

"The Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific explosives business has performed well underpinned by strong customer demand and operations at Moranbah. However, Western Australia has been challenged with the market oversupply of Ammonium Nitrate."

As Incitec Pivot sources phosphate rocks from the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara, it is blacklisted from many ethical investment portfolios including the United Methodist Church, Danske Bank and Sweden's national pension fund.


23. Seek Limited (SEK)

Industrials
Market Cap: $6.21b
FY18 profit: $53.2m
FY18 revenue: $1.3b
Listed: 2005
CEO: Andrew Bassat
CEO salary: $5.1m

Online job site SEEK has seen its businesses blossom in Australasia and Asia, but hiccups in its Latin American operations have put pressure on the bottom line.

A "deterioration in economic and political conditions have impacted financial performance" in Brazil, according to CEO and co-founder Andrew Basset, leading to an impairment charge of $119 million for subsidiary Brasil Online.

Meanwhile in Mexico, political uncertainty, competitive intensity and operational issues led contributed to an impairment charge of $59 million.

However, Bassat remains optimistic regarding the future of the Latin American market despite poor performance over the past year.

"It is unfortunate that we have had to reduce the carrying value of Brasil Online and OCC," says Bassat.

"Performance has been disappointing but we remain committed to these markets. We are hopeful a greater strategic focus, resourcing under the Asia Pacific and Americas structure and an improving economy can over time assist in turning around performance."

If these impairment charges are ignored, the company's underlying net profit after tax grew marginally in FY18.

For SEEK ANZ, the company was able to notch record EBITDA with growth of 18 per cent despite continued investment. Looking over the past four years, that result has risen 70 per cent.

Bassat emphasises SEEK Asia is still in its early stages of business model evolution, with early initiatives in sales, product and tech delivering good results alongside better macroeconomic conditions.

Chinese business Zhaopin has seen strong revenue growth of 21 per cent, while seek is also investing in a multi-partner platform for its university e-learning service OES.

SEEK chairman Neil Chatfield will be retiring from the company at the end of the year and starting as chairman of Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX: ALL) in 2019.


24. AusNet Services (AST)

Utilities
Market Cap: $5.8b
FY18 profit: $291.4
FY18 revenue: $1.9b

Listed: 2005
MD: Nino Ficca
MD salary: $3.4m

Like the rest of its energy industry peers, the owner and operator of Victoria's electricity network has needed to balance operations and advocacy this year amidst a volatile policy environment.

Before the leadership spill in August, AusNet Services were one of many signatories of a letter calling on the government to approve the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Even though Scott Morrison declared NEG was dead after he become Prime Minister, AusNet's share price has been on an upward path ever since, albeit a shaky one. This volatility is likely due to concerns around a possible royal commission into the energy sector.

Before all that happened, in his address to shareholders at AusNet's AGM in July chairman Peter Mason described a period of "unprecedented change" for energy markets and providers.

"This includes the transition to renewable generation and decarbonisation, increasing customer choice and price sensitivity, regulatory and government intervention and accelerating advances in technology," Mason said.

"We are actively involved in the national energy debate and we are very keen to see additional policy clarity to facilitate a clear direction for our industry and our customers."

The company is investing in large-scale renewable projects, with an example being a long-term agreement signed in May to build, own and operate connection assets from the largest wind farm in Australia, Stockyard Hill.

In addition, in the first half of FY19 AusNet has been forking out more in its capital expenditure due to both higher customer connections and the state government's Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) program.

At the same time, revenue has decreased after the company exited numerous maintenance service contracts, while gas tariff pricing and reduced two-year lag incentive revenues have also played a part.

The company delisted from the Singapore Exchange (SGX) in July and transferred all public holdings to the Australian register. The group is 31.1 per cent owned by Singapore Power and 19.9 per cent owned by the State Grid of China.


25. Reece Limited (REH)

Industrials
Market Cap: $5.92b
FY18 profit: $224.6m
FY18 revenue: $2.7b

Listed: 1974
CEO: Peter Wilson
CEO salary: $5.14m

In existence since 1919, leading Australian bathroom and plumping supplies company Reece has been on an acquisition roll this year buying up companies in New Zealand and the US.

Shares shot up by 19 per cent after the group bath tub giant announced the $1.9 billion acquisition of Texas-headquartered MORSCO Inc.

MORSCO is a major supplier of plumbing, waterworks and HVAC-R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) products in the United States.

The purchase was described as the realisation of a "transformational opportunity" by CEO Peter Wilson, of Melbourne's Wilson family which owns a majority stake in the almost centenarian company.

"From the outset we intend to run MORSCO separately to our existing operations and leverage operational expertise and relationships," Wilson said.

"MORSCO will continue under its experienced management team, who have a proven track record in the world's largest plumbing market."

The Reece executive claims the United States' US$32 billion plumbing market is not only forecast to grow at twice the rate of Australia's market, but is also ripe with opportunity given its fragmented nature.

The acquisition was settled in July, and since then the Reece group has been working with the US management team to combine their business expertise.

"Additionally, we successfully integrated two new businesses Viadux and Heatcraft New Zealand and established a national presence in New Zealand with the acquisition of plumbing business Edward Gibbon, announced in June and settled in July 2018," Wilson said.

As a result of all these developments, Reece has entered FY19 with almost 800 branches worldwide and an approximate annual revenue of $5 billion, which will represent a massive lift on the FY18 result.


26. Healthscope Limited (HSO)

Health Care
Market Cap: $4.07b
FY18 profit: $75.8m
FY18 revenue: $2.3b

Listed: 2014
MD: Gordon Ballantyne
MD salary: $1.56m

Healthscope is under the due diligence lens of Canadian investor Brookfield Capital which is looking to acquire the health care provider for $4.5 billion, having won a bidding war over a consortium including BGH Capital and Australian Super.

The consortium also including the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Carob Investment Private and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board had already lifted its stake in Healthscope to just under a fifth in late October.

But in an announcement to the ASX this month, Healthscope chairman Paula Dwyer said the BGH consortium's offer of $4.1 billion was "significantly less attractive" than Brookfield's.

"We consider the Brookfield Proposal to be attractive for shareholders. It is superior to the BGH-AustralianSuper proposal and provides enhanced certainty," she said.

"It also offers more options for Healthscope shareholders, including an option to retain an equity exposure to an unlisted Healthscope. As such, we will grant Brookfield the opportunity to conduct exclusive due diligence to facilitate a binding offer from Healthscope.

"In evaluating the change of control proposals, the Board has taken into account the significant progress made by the Healthscope team over the past twelve months, and the improving outlook of the Company."

Developments include the opening of its flagship Northern Beaches Hospital in October, the sale of its Asian Pathology operations in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to TPG for $279 million in August, and the extension of key contracts for its New Zealand pathology business.

The company aims to have an agreement finalised by Christmas.


27. Orora Limited (ORA)

Materials/Packing
Market Cap: $3.75b
FY18 profit: $212.2m
FY18 revenue: $4.25b

Listed: 2013
CEO: Nigel Garrard
CEO salary: $3.8m

From corrugated packaging for food through to specialised messaging on the cans of major beer brands, Orora's diverse portfolio packs a punch across a range of industries.

Achieving double-digit profit growth in a relatively flat trading environment, the company is reaping rewards from its Orora Visual displays and signage business and has also set up two high-speed digital printers in Australia and North America.

In late August Orora acquired Texan packaging distributor Bronco Packaging Corporation for US$24 million.

"The acquisition of Bronco aligns with Orora's stated returns focussed approach to allocating capital and will expand OPS's [Orora Packaging Solutions] geographic footprint and product capability in the targeted, higher growth food sector," CEO Nigel Garrard said.

"Bronco also brings to Orora a strong customer base that complements OPS's existing corporate customer list."

The company is in the thick of two pressing issues of our times the fight against food waste and the push towards recyclable plastics to help clean up the ocean.

Orora is the exclusive distributor for the British real-time monitoring technology XSense, which helps save food and reduce costs for companies across the cold chain. Importantly, the technology helps manage the conditions perishable foods are exposed to on their journey from the farm to the shelf.

While plastics are just one are of Orora's packaging range, the company is one of many to have supported targets to achieve 100 per cent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.

In October the company announced former CSR chairman Jeremy Sutcliffe would become its chair after Chris Roberts steps down from the role next year.


28. Cleanaway Waste Management (CWY)

Hazardous Waste Management
Market Cap: $3.68b
FY18 profit: $101.3m
FY18 revenue: $1.7b

Listed: 2005
MD & CEO: Vik Bansal
CEO salary: $4.3m

With Credit Suisse forecasting an "impending plasticide" for the world's oceans which in Australia has been exacerbated by import restrictions from China, there will be plenty of work to do for companies like Cleanaway Waste Management.

In May, CWY completed the $671 million acquisition of Toxfree Solutions, helping to cement its place as Australia's largest waste management, environmental and industrial services company with more than 260 sites around the country.

Cleanaway's New South Wales container deposit scheme has been well received, providing a high-quality source of recycled plastic.

In late October, Cleanway gave its operations a further boost by acquiring a 50 per cent interest in ResourceCo's new Resource Recovery Facility at Wetherill Park in western Sydney.

"This facility will take up to 250,000 tonnes of waste material and convert it into a process engineered fuel to be used in the cement industry locally and offshore, diverting material that was previously destined for landfill," CEO Vik Bansal said after the purchase.

"The investment is a key component of our post collections footprint in New South Wales and our overall Footprint 2025 strategy of developing prized waste processing infrastructure assets across Australia."

Rather than just sending everything to landfill, Cleanaway also works with organic processors to supply Victorian farmers with compost.

In Western Australia, the company has worked with the US Navy to remove millions of litres of liquid and solid waste from two missile destroyers and a nuclear aircraft carrier.


29. Reliance Worldwide Corporation (RWC)

Industrials
Market Cap: $3.61b
FY18 profit: $66m
FY18 revenue: $769.4m

Listed: 2016
CEO: Heath Sharpe
CEO salary: $2.9m

Plumbing supplies company Reliance Worldwide Corporation has surged up the ranks in this year's list, mostly thanks to positive sentiment around a $1.22 billion acquisition in the UK.

As a company that has mostly focused on brass plumping fittings, the strategic move in May to acquire plastic push-to-connect (PTC) fitting specialist John Guest gave a boost to RWC's offering, which until then had been mostly specialised in brass fittings.

The acquisition has also helped improve Reliance's position in Europe, with cross-over benefits as well for its operations elsewhere and expected annual synergy benefits of $20 million that the company predicts will exceed $30 million by the end of FY2020.

At $558 million the Americas are by far Reliance's leading source of revenue, with its products available in some 23,000 outlets where the company has gained substantial market penetration for its SharkBite PTC fittings.

The company saw gains thanks to a deal with a major home improvement chain in the US, Lowe's, to roll out its products.

However, Reliance was dealt a blow by leading player Home Depot after a decision to destock its PEX (polyethylene) pipe and crimp fittings, while new import duties in the US have also led to concerns about profitability.

In his address to the company's AGM in late October, CEO Heath Sharpe was optimistic about Reliance's future.

"We are the only organisation manufacturing PTC products in the USA, Australia and Europe; and now also in the UK following the John Guest acquisition," he said.

"The opportunity for PTC products to continue to displace traditional, less efficient methods remains a tailwind for future growth.

"RWC is the dominant player in the USA PTC market with approximately 90% market share driven by its SharkBite brand, innovative product range, delivery performance and customer service," he said.

The executive added PTC still only represented around 12 per cent of the US fittings market, giving the company a "good sales growth runway".


30. Ansell Limited (ANN)

Health Care
Market Cap: $3.05b
FY18 profit: US$217.8m
FY18 revenue: US$1.6b

Listed: 1985
CEO: Magnus Nicolin
CEO salary: $4.4m

After riding a wave of positive market sentiment following the sale of its well-known condom brand to a Chinese consortium 18 months ago, protection solutions company Ansell has been given a cold reality check from volatile global markets.

Around 95 per cent of its sales take place globally, and while its single use products such as gloves for the industrial and life science sectors have seen organic growth, the group saw a decline in profits from continuing operations in FY18.

"Our Healthcare division achieved moderate growth and we experienced more difficult market conditions in our surgical business," CEO Magnus Nicolin said in August.

"Despite good customer acceptance of new products, the surgical business did not achieve the level of new business wins we targeted in an increasingly competitive end market."

The group has been using the proceeds of the sexual health business sale to fund a share buyback scheme which until October had already given back $258 million to Ansell shareholders.

In addition, the company plans to spend US$75-80 million on new and more efficient manufacturing facilities, research and development and new capabilities in FY19.

Chairman Glenn Barnes says the condom business sale has given Ansell a "sharper focus" on its core areas of strength as it moves to "enhance its leadership and engagement in workplace safety markets".

"From an outlook perspective, the company faces the impact of the well-publicised uncertainties that currently confront the world and its various economies," Barnes said at the AGM in October.

"During the past year we have seen significant movements up and down of currencies and increasing raw-material prices and in other factors such as labour and energy, presaging a return to higher inflation.

"Given our leading position in the world markets in which we compete, we are confident that the company can successfully navigate through these challenging times."


31. Carsales.com (CAR)

Software & Services/Online Car Classifieds
Market Cap: $2.74b
FY18 profit: $184.8m
FY18 revenue: $444m
Listed: 2009
CEO & MD: Cameron McIntyre
CEO salary: $2.58m

Propelled by some smart acquisitions, a considered push into international markets and a sharp focus on mobile, Carsales.com is revving up.

With new operations in South Korea and Mexico the company is taking an interesting approach to global domination; tackling markets somewhat out of the ordinary.

During the 2018 financial year, Carsales.com completed the acquisition of SK Encar and soloautos and boosted its international revenue by 54 per cent.

Carsales.com had owned 49.9 per cent of SK Encar since 2014, but a deal worth $237 million saw it take full control of the company.

With sales platform Webmotors, the company's Brazilian operations were the standout performer for the company with earnings growth of 81 per cent.

The business was marred by an underperforming car loans sector in 2017 but its domestic business has bounced back.

As "the clear market leader" according to CEO and MD Cameron McIntyre the company has been served well with its approach to traditional advertising.

Domestic revenues grew 12 per cent on FY17, with most of the growth driven by a successful private sales business.

Vehicle inspection company Redbook, owned by Carsales.com, also saw positive growth now that it is fully integrated into the parent company.

As for the future, McIntyre says the company is investing more into mobile applications which have "become the primary tool to access [Carsales.com's] services".


32. Duluxgroup Limited (DLX)

Materials/Paint Provider
Market Cap: $2.73b
FY18 profit: $150.7m
FY18 revenue: $1.84b
Listed: 2010
CEO & MD: Patrick Houlihan
CEO & MD salary: $3.38m

The rising costs of raw materials and costly investments in a new factory weren't enough to slow down Australia's market-leading paint brand, Dulux.

The company, founded in Port Adelaide in 1904 as Australia's first ever paint manufacturer, has been a leader in the industry ever since and made it difficult for international players to break in.

Though costs were up during the last financial year, the company had a strong performing financial result driven by its market leading position.

Its lesser known but still important ANZ segments Selleys, B&D Group, and Lincoln Sentry collectively grew the company's earnings by $3.1 million.

As for the future it is business as usual for Dulux with intentions to maintain its market leading position in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The company has a conservative approach to its overseas ventures, which it describes "in a risk-measured manner".


33. JB Hi-Fi (JBH)

Consumer Discretionary
Market cap: $2.59b
FY18 profit: $233.2m
FY18 revenue: $6,854m
Staff: 12,229
Listed: 2003
CEO: Richard Murray
CEO salary: $.36m

When Amazon landed in Australia in late 2017 many commentators thought it would be a death sentence for leading local electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi.

The leading electronics retailer has instead pulled ahead, imbued with renewed shareholder confidence.

Boosted by its takeover of rival The Good Guys, JB Hi-Fi posted a 12.3 per cent jump in full-year net profit to $233.2 million on underlying NPAT (up 35.3 per cent on statutory NPAT).

IBISWorld senior industry analyst Kim Do says the company leveraged its economies of scale to lower prices and increase profit margins.

"As new products, click and collect, and online order fulfilments have increased JB Hi-Fi's sales volumes, the company has concentrated on controlling its operating costs," says Do.

Despite JB's success this year, Do says the company will continue to face more pressure from Amazon over the next five years.

"Companies like Amazon typically focus on gaining market share at the expense of profit margins," says Do.

"Amazon is in the market for the long haul and they're likely willing to take losses for numerous years to make it work in Australia."


34. Afterpay Touch Group (APT)

Payment Services/Information Technology
Market Cap: $2.58b
FY18 loss: $9m
FY18 revenue: $113.9m
Listed: 2017
CEO: Nicholas Molnar
CEO salary: $765,171

2018 marks the first year that Australian fintech Afterpay Touch Group has entered our Top 50 list.

Since the company listed on the ASX in June 2017 retailers have been throwing themselves head over heels to sign up with the lay-by solution.

The platform is a national phenomenon that has polarised critics, enabling our guilty pleasure purchases and stepping in to fill the void of the credit card which has been mostly shunned by the Millennial generation.

With massive partners like ASOS, Target and Jetstar utilising the buy-now pay-later tech solution as an accepted payment form, it seems likely the company will be around for quite a while in the Australian retail landscape but competitor Zip-Pay is on its heels.

As one of the most prominent platforms in the Australian landscape, retailers may have found their saving grace.

Whilst customers might be able to get cheaper deals from overseas online retailers, Afterpay is almost exclusively an Australian phenomenon, pushing customers back through the doors and onto the websites of Australian retailers.

With its sights set on overseas expansion - following a recently completed push into New Zealand and early steps into the US and the UK - Afterpay might be the fintech unicorn Australian investors have been prophesising for the last few years.

The young company is still yet to post a profit. Time will tell if CEO and founder Nick Molnar has an Amazon-esque strategy in place to invest heavily now and reap the rewards down the line.


35. Premier Investments (PMV)

Consumer Discretionary/Retail
Market Cap: $2.55b
FY18 profit: $153.97m
FY18 revenue: $1.19b
Listed: 1987
CEO: Mark McInnes
CEO salary: $6.8m

Whilst its competitors flounder in a depressed and transforming retail environment, Premier Investments continues to surge ahead with chairman Solomon Lew at the helm of the ship.

Lew has sparked considerable media attention over the past year, causing controversy every time he opens his mouth to complain about the management of legacy department chain Myer.

Lew's Premier Investments is the largest shareholder in the struggling department store.

Taking stock of an increasingly competitive apparel retail sector in Australia and New Zealand, an impairment expense of $30 million for Just Group's casual wear unit made all the difference in what would have otherwise been a strong statutory result for Premier.

The group also incurred $1.5 million in expenses in relation to its spat with Myer, including preparation for legal action.

In an environment where retailers continue to discount deeper to remain competitive, Premier Retail's sales were up 8.2 per cent to hit a record level of $1.18 billion, while key brands Smiggle and Peter Alexander saw sales upticks of 22.7 per cent and 14.5 per cent respectively.


36. Oceanagold Corporation (OGC)

Materials/Metals And Mining
Market Cap: $2.53b
(calendar year first half to June 30) revenue: US$402.4 million ($553.8m AUD)
(calendar year first half to June 30) profit: US$89.1 million ($112.6m AUD)
Listed: 2007
CEO: Mick Wilkes

Reducing debt, making money and boosting profits is the theme of 2018 for Melbourne-based gold miner OceanaGold.

With its operations both corporate and mining spread across the globe, OceanaGold has established itself as one of Australia's major gold players.

The company listed on the ASX and the NZX in 2004, but really started its global push in 2007 when it listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. OCG de-listed from the NZX in 2016.

The company has offices in Melbourne and Denver, Colorado, as well as active mining projects in the Philippines, New Zealand and the USA.

The end of the company's 2017 financial year, which was reported in February 2018, saw the company report a record net profit and revenue.

The company's shares soared in early June 2018 on the back of an announcement that it hit gold literally.

The discovery of a "significant mineralisation" at its Waihi mine in New Zealand means the company expects to have a long-term mine in the area and deliver "significant value" to shareholders.

The company anticipates its strong growth in the first six months of 2018 will continue through the rest of the year and into the future.


37. Growthpoint Properties Australia (GOZ)

Real Estate
Market Cap: $2.49b
FY18 revenue: $466m
FY18 profit: $357.7m
Listed: 2007
MD: Timothy Collyer
MD salary: $2.4m

The company that houses businesses like Woolworths, Country Road, Samsung and ANZ around Australia is speeding into its 11th listed year higher than ever before.

Despite dropping down one property during FY18, the company increased its statutory earnings to 53.5 cents per security, the highest reported EPS of any year since the company's inception.

The company's board has a clear roadmap for the next few years and is particularly interested in its industrial portfolio.

Industrial property remains a highly sought-after segment of the market, especially for new e-commerce businesses entering the market both in Australia and international companies looking for an Australian footprint.

The group is well placed for the next few years, with only two tenancies to expire during the next financial year.

Growthpoint has been busy since the start of this financial year. Most recently the company announced it intends to raise approximately $135 million to fund the purchase of a $250 million tower in Newstead, Queensland.

With major ASX-listed tenants including the Bank of Queensland and Collection House, the company seems well placed to get this raise over the line.


38. IOOF Holdings Limited (IFL)

Financials/Investment Management & Advice
Market Cap: $2.38b
FY18 revenue: $919.1m
FY18 profit: $191.4m
Listed: 2003
MD: Chris Kelaher
MD Salary: $2.8m

IOOF Holdings has been splashing it's cash and it looks like it paid off.

The company, founded in 1846, managed to sail through the Royal Commission relatively unscathed unlike its feistier, younger competition.

For the uninitiated, IOOF is a financial advice firm which focuses on investments, superannuation, and retirement and trustee funds.

IOOF primarily invests in five major sectors: retail, industry funds, self-managed funds, corporate funds and public-sector funds.

As one of the lucky firms to emerge from the dust storm of the Royal Commission, IOOF appears to be picking up the pieces of its competitors.

In October 2017 the company splurged $975 million to purchase ANZ's OnePath Pensions arm and Investments business.

The deal was part of a 20-year strategic alliance to make IOOF superannuation products available to ANZ customers as the bank became the latest to exit wealth management.

Overall, IOOF managed to squeeze every last penny out of its billions in funds under management, recording a profit of $191.4 million at the end of FY18, up 13 per cent from the prior corresponding period.


39. IDP Education Limited (IEL)

Education Services Provider
Market cap: $2.27b
FY18 revenue: $487m
FY18 profit: $55.3m
Listed: 2015
CEO & MD: Andrew Barkla
CEO & MD salary: $2.47m

Australia's leading universities have seen an influx of foreign students over the last few years, and IDP Education has tapped into this trend.

Established in 1969 and listed in 2015, IDP education is an organisation which places students in institutions in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.

The organisation helps students study internationally in English language schools and conducts the English language test IELTS.

Over the last year of operations, IDP has digitised its IELTS test, integrated Hotcourses Group into the main organisation, and launched a digital platform for IDP.

With a stranglehold on the sector, IDP's growth is sure to continue well into the future, especially as more and more international students look to countries like Australia for their education.


40. St Barbara Limited (SBM)

Gold Mining
Market cap: $2.26b
FY18 revenue: $345.5m
FY18 profit: $201.9m
Listed: 1969
CEO & MD: Robert (Bob) Vassie
CEO salary: $2.34m

Listing before some ASX CEOs were even born, St Barbara is a staple stock in the mining and minerals sector.

The company, which has two mining operations in Lenora (Western Australia) and Simberi (Papua New Guinea), mined 9.16 million ounces of gold during the FY18 period, with much more to come.

In 2019, St Barbara intends on completing the construction of a $100 million Gwalia Extension project, and will continue to explore the area in Papua New Guinea.

It's not always been rosy for the company though; in 2012 the company almost flopped after a $526 million buyout of Allied Gold and exiting its core Solomon Islands asset at a massive loss.

The company only just managed to save the Gwalia Extension project in the end and has been criticised this year for its lack of new projects, acquisitions, or operational updates.

Despite this, with record figures across the board during FY18, St Barbara is one mining company that seems to be holding on tight.


41. Nufarm (NUF)

Materials/Chemical Manufacturers
Market Cap: $2.22b
FY18 revenue: $3.3b
FY18 loss: $15.6m
Listed: 1988
CEO & MD & COO: Greg Hunt
CEO salary: $1.85m

Australia's "worst ever drought" has impacted the global agricultural chemical firm which posted a net loss after tax of $15.6 million compared to a $114 million profit the year before, although there were positive signs coming out of Nufarm's overseas operations.

"The major driver of the lower profit outcome was the drought here in Australia, with conditions in large and important growing regions in the eastern states being the driest on record for around 100 years," Nufarm CEO Greg Hunt said.

In North America its sales and EBIT rose 10 percent, in Europe sales increased 19 percent and EBIT by one percent and in Latin America it was eight percent and two percent.

If seasonal conditions return to normal, Nufarm expects a lift on its FY18 results of between 29.5 percent and 37 percent.

The company went to the market in September 2018 with a $300 million entitlement offer to strengthen its balance sheet following the drought and this received a lukewarm response among retail shareholders with only half taking up the offer.

The money was raised through institutional investors and an unknown "sub-underwriter" who picked up the remaining $30 million worth of shares.


42. Costa Group (CGC)

Consumer Staples/Agriculture
Market Cap: $2.23b
FY18 profit: $115.2m
FY18 revenue: $1b

Listed: 2015
CEO: Harry Debney
CEO salary: $1.29m

Since an IPO that was met with its fair share of scepticism in 2015, Australia's largest integrated fresh fruit and vegetable company has expanded into avocados, upped its share in a Moroccan blueberry venture and started planting berries in China.

In the process, Costa Group's share price is now worth more than three times what it was back then.

In an industry that is so dependent on the seasons, Costa has treated its growing operations like a carefully managed portfolio. One year it might be mushrooms that drive profits upward, while this past financial year citrus was the star performer backed by a strong export program.

And with six avocado farm acquisitions in the 18 months to August, the group is banking on bullish trends for the popular fruit. At the same time, a $67 million extension is planned for Costa's glasshouse facility in Guyra, New South Wales focusing on snacking tomatoes.

Oranges and table grapes are Australia's two leading fruit export crops, and Costa is looking to consolidate its position in both through a recent agreement to acquire farms from Nangiloc Colginan Farm (NCF) through a leasing arrangement with a subsidiary of CK Life Sciences.

"This acquisition and location in the Sunraysia region will reduce reliance on any one region in our portfolio and will also open up additional growth opportunities," said CEO Harry Debney.

"In particular, with respect to Afourer mandarins and navel oranges this will allow us to further take advantage of export market demand."

Work continues to boost Costa's intellectual property in berries through the establishment of a dedicated varietal improvement facility in Far North Queensland, focused on developing varieties tailored to low-latitude environments in Australia and abroad, particularly in China and Mexico.

Despite weather challenges for its Moroccan blueberry joint venture this year, the berry category as a whole brought in continued gains with volume growth.

Costa now has 100 hectares of berries planted in China, but for its substantial Australian operations it almost planted that much at home just in the last financial year.


43. Vocus (VOC)

Telecommunication Services
Market Cap 2018: $2.17b
FY18 Revenue: $1.9b
FY18 Profit: $127.1m
Listed: 1999
CEO & MD: Kevin Russell
CEO salary: $1.1m

After a bumpy first half of 2018 with company results described by analysts as "disappointing", former Vocus CEO Geoff Horth resigned on a reduction of profit guidance reduction of $15 million from $140 million to $150 million down to $125 million to $135 million.

Kevin Russell, credited with turning Hutchison UK's $1.6 billion loss to a $175 million profit within four years, took the top job in late May and he's identified the fact that the company's market share is low, given its infrastructure assets.

As the owners of the of internet brands Dodo and iPrimus, Vocus has has an estimated market share of 7.4 percent share of the NBN broadband consumer market and Russell has outlined underlying earnings expectations of $350 million to $370 million for fiscal 2019FY19.

"Vocus' primary focus going forward is growth. Our market share is low relative to our fibre and network infrastructure assets," Russell says.

"Our priority is to leverage these assets to maximise profitable growth within our core Australian and New Zealand infrastructure focused businesses. Our target is to double revenue from these businesses over the next five years."

The Vocus Board chose not to declare a final dividend for fiscal 2018, citing competing demands for capital investment, including the Australia Singapore Cable and a focus on reducing leverage.

Vocus completed a key project in September 2018 when it set up its 4,600 kilometre long undersea internet cable connecting Perth and Singapore. The project is in direct competition with the rival INDIGO cable system, backed by a consortium of tech and telco companies, including Google and Telstra.



44. Iress Limited (IRE)

Diversified Financials/Financial Technology
Market Cap 2018: $2.02b
1HCY18 revenue: $229.7m
1HCY18 Profit: $32m
Listed: 2000
MD & CEO: Andrew Walsh
CEO salary: $2.47m

With the banking royal commission demanding that financial services companies produce large amounts of data quickly to meet regulatory and compliance procedures, IRESS Limited has outlined a plan to invest more in automation and analytics to better serve its wealth management clients.

The financial services software company delivered a greater-than eight percent rise in both revenue and net profit in the first half of the 2018 calendar year.

Much of that growth has come from wealth management in Australia and the UK, as well as and from lending which was the standout performer with revenue up by 40 percent to at $15 million.

IRESS dominates the financial software services market in Australia with a 60 percent share and it lists 12,000 professional trading and market data users and more than 50,000 advice software users.

The company plans to invest in cloud infrastructure and will move most of its applications to Amazon Web Services, but will maintain its own data centre for its niche services.

 


45. MYOB Group Limited (MYO)

Software & Services/Information Technology
Market Cap May 26 2017: $2.16b
1HCY18 revenue: $218m
1HCY18 Profit: $45.6m
Listed: 2015
CEO: Tim Reed
CEO salary: $1.33m

MYOB says it is "business as usual" despite allowing potential acquirer KKR access to its dataroom after it offered the accounting software company a $1.75 billion buyout.

MYOB revealed in October it was being courted by the investment firm with an unsolicited takeover offer. KKR already owns 20 per percent of MYOB and has pitched for the remainder at $3.70 a share.

The company grew its online customer base by a massive 61 percent to 492,000 in the first half of 2018, prompting CEO Tim Reed to forecast it will hit the one million subscriber mark by 2020.

Reed says to achieve that, MYOB needs to add around 200,000 subscribers every 12 months and the company is pinning its hopes on continuing continued growth in conversions from its non-paying customer base and from newly-formed SMEs.

Despite the rapid subscriber growth in MYOB's online subscribers, MYOB's net profit after tax and amortisation fell by 6 per cent to $45.6 million and statutory net profit fell 10 per cent to $25.3 million.

The dip in profits was driven by the company's increased investment in research and development, as well as sales and marketing.

Between 2018 and 2022, the company says it will invest another $30 million into sales and marketing as well as an additional $50 million into its MYOB Platform, which will allow it to retire its legacy products.

The group's strength lies in its traditional markets of Australia and New Zealand, but it also has a strong presence in other parts of the world and where it is taking on the likes of Quickbooks in the US, Sage in the UK and New Zealand's Xero.

MYOB sells products that are good and relatively inexpensive has positioned itself as the market leader in the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector.


46. Bapcor (BAP)

Distributor Of Automotive Parts
Market Cap 2018: $1.9b
FY18 revenue: $1.24 billion
FY18 profit: $94.7 million
Listed: 2014
CEO & MD: Darryl Abotomey
CEO salary: $2.67m

The leading provider of automotive aftermarket parts, accessories, equipment, and services hit the market with strong full year results to June 30, driven by positive performances across all its various businesses.

Revenue growth rose 22 percent and net profit after tax increased by 47.8 percent.

Bapcor's solid portfolio of Australian auto brands include Autobarn, ABS and Midas and its recently acquired Hellaby Holdings, the New Zealand-based company responsible for automotive brands including BNT, Autolign and Diesel Distributors.

Bapcor walked away from its pursuit of the Wesfarmers-owned Kmart Tyre & Auto, the fourth biggest tyre retailer in Australia, after carrying out due diligence and it's believed that CEO Darryl Abotomey baulked at the asking price of more than $300 million.

It now operates more than 800 stores across Australia, New Zealand and Thailand and has grown its earnings per share by around 20 per cent for the past three years in a row.

Analysts say this is a solid business and the only real risk is the delivery of electric cars although that's unlikely to affect Bapcor for some time.



47. Viva Energy REIT (VVR)

Real Estate
Market Cap 26 May 2017: $1.65b
HY18 revenue: $81.9m
HY18 profit: $59.6m
Listed: 2016
MD: Margaret Kennedy

The owner of more than 442 service station properties on the eastern seaboard enjoys full occupancy in its high-traffic metropolitan assets with which have average leases of 13 years with a guaranteed three percent per annum fixed rental increases.

With a forecast yield of more than six percent, and its very solid portfolio, VVR has been a favourite with investors since it listed in 2016.

The REIT was created when Viva, Australia's largest private fuel company, spun off its property assets and as such Viva Energy REIT is its own sole tenant.

VVR leases its petrol stations to Coles Express under the Shell brand, and under the agreement, Viva supplies the oil products and Coles runs the retail side. Its assets are now valued at $2.4 billion.


48. Webjet (WEB)

Retail/Travel
Market Cap 2018: $1.42b
FY18 revenue: $291m
FY18 profit: $43.2m
Listed: 1997
MD: John Guscic
MD salary: $2.23m

MARKET darling Webjet didn't disappoint its admirers with an impressive full year 2018 result, which included a revenue increase in excess of 50 percent and a lift in net profit after tax of 30 per cent.

A favourite measure of online travel agent performance is total transactional value (TTV) and this also rose more than half, and this was driven by growth in its travel packages, car hire and insurance which lifted Webjet's margins.

Managing Director director John Guscic says this gives the company a five percent share of the domestic market and three percent of the international market making it the largest online travel agent in Australia.

In November 2018, the acquisitive Webjet paid $240 million for the private equity-owned Destinations of the World travel business which increased its access to global hotel chains by 24 percent.

Guscic says the Destinations of the World acquisition will put a temporary halt to any further purchases in the next 12 months as the company "has enough on its plate" as it digests its latest acquisition.

The travel booking website sells flights, hotels, holiday packages, cruises, car hire and travel insurance, and its core business is selling flights and travel in Australia and New Zealand. It also has business to business websites for hotels in the Middle East, Africa, North America Europe and Asia.


49. ARB Corporation (ARB)

Consumer Discretionary
Market Cap 2018: $1.33b
FY18 revenue: $426m
FY18 profit: $51m
Listed: 2015
MD: Andrew Brown
MD salary:  $391,000

ARB's share price lost almost 30 percent through 2018 as the company warned of the "current economic climate and instability" in some parts of the world, perhaps referencing the trade wars which are impacting some markets.

ARB designs, manufactures, distributes and sells high-quality four-wheel drive vehicle accessories and light metal engineering works around the world, and they remain alert to the geo-financial issues which could affect them directly.

However, this company runs a healthy balance sheet and, has zero debt and its long-term success should be achieved thanks to an increase in the amount of four-wheel drive vehicles on the roads which is expected to create a strong revenue stream for the company in the next few years.

The company only listed early in 2016, but it's been around since 1949 in the hands of the Melbourne-based Munz family which holds a 30 per cent of the shares.


50. Macmillan Shakespeare (MMS)

Commercial & Professional Services/Salary Packaging & Leasing
Market Cap 2018: $1.2b
FY18 revenue: $545.4m
FY18 profit: $50.3m
Listed: 2004
MD & CEO: Mike Salisbury
MD & CEO salary: $1.23m

McMillan Shakespeare, Australia's largest provider of salary packaging and novated leasing services, in November made an offer to takeover target Eclipx in a move that would further strengthen the company's market share.

The merger has been unanimously backed by the board of Eclipx, subject to an independent expert conclusion, and if it goes ahead it means that existing MMS shareholders will own around 64 percent of the Combined Group and while Eclipx shareholders will hold the remaining 36 percent.

The planned takeover is moving ahead as McMillan Shakespeare also faces an $80 million class action alleging misleading and deceptive conduct in its extended car warranty business, NWC, which it purchased in 2015.

The corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has launched three separate investigations into add-on insurance after it found many of the products were virtually worthless.into add-on insurance after it found many of the products were virtually worthless.

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