Written on the 10 February 2009
When asked to evaluate and list the top 20 public companies, corporate lawyer and partner at Hynes, Scott Standen, considered indicators such as turnover, employees, profit and market cap. On the cusp of reporting season, surf retailer and home grown success story Billabong was an ‘obvious standout’, while City Pacific had dropped a few spots. Brand managers and consumer good franchisors Allied Brands and RFG cracked the top 10, while newcomer Pacific Environment Limited is expected to continue to expand in the fast moving eco-tech sector
1. BILLABONG (BBG)
CEO: Derek O’Neill (pictured)
Year established: 1973
Revenue ’08: $1,354,419 000 (consolidated)
Total staff: 450 Gold Coast, 4000 international
THE surf is up for Billabong which delivered strong economic results despite turbulent seas.
The brand is on the cusp of becoming the No.1 surf retailer in the world following financial woes at the US-based giant Quiksilver.
For the financial year ending 30 June 2008 Billabong reported $176.4 million net profit after tax indicating a 12.6 per cent rise in constant currency terms, and 5.5 per cent in reported terms.
CEO Derek O’Neill says the result reflected the strength of the company’s brands and products.
The company’s international performance has been admirable with continuous expansion.
O’Neill attributes the company’s growth to being both organic and through acquisition.
“At the start of 2007-08 financial year Billabong acquired its long-standing licensed business in South Africa, bringing an additional 300 employees into the group,” says O’Neill.
“At a brand level, the company then acquired the Hawaii-based wetsuit business of Xcel and this was followed up with the acquisition of the iconic Australian women’s swimwear label Tigerlily.”
Also among acquisitions was Quiet Flight, one of the company’s retail partners on the US east coast which gave the group ownership of the formerly licensed Billabong and Element stores in New York City’s Time Square.
Despite predicting a dip in performance, O’Neill assures investors that the company is set for a smooth year.
“Billabong International continues to outperform its peers, has focused and forward-thinking management and continues to deliver high quality, functional and well marketed product to its retailers and consumers,” he says.
“This should give you comfort that you are investing in a company that will continue to be a consistent, long-term performer.”
2. VILLAGE ROADSHOW (VRL)
Chairman: John Kirby
Year established: 1954
Revenue ’08: $1,283,706 (Consolidated)
VILLAGE Roadshow has reported a huge profit of $256.9 million for the 2008 financial year.
During chairman John Kirby’s address, shareholders were reassured of the company’s steady growth: “I am also happy to report that we are well placed to overcome any challenges that may come our way in these difficult economic times.”
Kirby also outlined how the company sells entertainment which translates to escapism. He states: “In difficult times people want small distraction to forget their worries and to be entertained. We sell those small distractions – a ticket to the movies, buying or renting a DVD, listening to the radio, going to a theme park.”
The chairman was also upbeat about the future saying the company is resilient and its businesses are performing well with sound prospects for future wealth creation for shareholders.
Village Roadshow operates key businesses in theme parks, (Warner Bros MovieWorld, Wet’n’Wild, Australian Outback Spectacular, SeaWorld, Paradise Country) film and DVD distribution, cinema, radio and film production and music.
3. SUNLAND GROUP (SDG)
Managing Director: Sahba Abedian (pictured)
Year established: 1983
Revenue: Net profit after-tax of $99M
Total staff: 543 employees within Australia and Dubai
SUNLAND Group has had a remarkably good run despite various speed bumps slowing its growth; including a 20 per cent plunge in share prices.
The dip in share prices will equate to a $25 million drop in net profit for the company; from $99 million to $74 million.
According to Sunland managing director Sahba Abedian, 2009 will be an uphill battle.
“The operating environment in 2009 will present many challenges as the global economy continues to experience deterioration and in turn, impacts domestic consumer sentiment particularly with respect to the residential sector,” he says.
Sunland’s portfolio boasts 10,000 products across residential housing, urban development and residential multi-storey projects throughout Australia.
The future of the company looks sunny with prospect of significant growth.
“The continued response by the Reserve Bank of Australia with respect to interest rate policy and the Federal Government’s first home buyers grant initiatives are providing some level of stimulus to the economy, with first home buyers and investors taking advantage of the opportunity to enter the home market,” says Abedian.
“Over the next 12 months, we believe opportunities will emerge that will enable Sunland to replenish its Australian portfolio through strategic counter cyclical acquisitions with a medium term outlook.
“Sunland’s gearing levels are among the lowest in the sector and our strong cash reserves have strongly positioned the Group to capitalise on opportunities as they arise.”
Acquisition plans/new projects
• In 2009 Sunland will return to Sanctuary Cove to undertake the largest single residential project in the resort’s 20-year history. In partnership with Mulpha Australia Limited, the $120 million development will comprise 123 luxury homes to be staged over the next three years.
• The group is also preparing to launch three new residential communities on the Gold Coast – The Parc in Tugun, Merrim in Merrimac and a new residential precinct at Royal Pines Resort.
• Internationally, Sunland has continued its focus on Dubai where it is developing Palazzo Versace and D1, the 80-storey sister building to Q1 on the Gold Coast.
4. RETAIL FOOD GROUP (RFG)
CEO: Tony Alford
Year established: 1989
Revenue ’08: $114.9M
Total staff: Approx 180
RETAIL Food Groups’ franchises Brumby’s, Michel’s Patisserie, Donut King and Cafe BB have all reported an increase in sales as at December 31.
The company expects profit of around $9.9 million.
CEO Tony Alford says the company exceeded its forecasts both internally and externally.
“In summary FY08 was a year in which RFG delivered outstanding outcome for all stake holders and re-affirmed its status as one of Australia’s leading multi retail food brand manager and franchisors,” says Alford.
Despite the downturn in retail spending and predictions of severe doom and gloom, Alford remains upbeat about the upcoming year.
“It is pertinent to re-affirm that notwithstanding the current depressed retail environment, RFG possesses a robust underlying business model well positioned to deliver solid, consistent and sustainable revenue, earnings and returns to shareholders,” says Alford.
“Management throughout the FY09 will remain focused on our franchisees, customers and trade partners while also managing our internal overheads and cashflows to sustain the business through these challenging (albeit transitory) economic times.”
5. GEO PROPERTY GROUP (GPM)
Managing Director: Guy Farrands (pictured)
Year established: 1986
Revenue ’08: $362M (consolidated 2008)
Total staff: 140
THE GEO Property Group, formerly known as MFS Diversified Group, is a fully integrated property investment and development group comprising of GEO Property Trust (trust) and GEO Property Group Limited (company).
The trust holds a diversified portfolio of properties in a number of sectors across a wide range of geographical locations.
The company’s operations are diversified across the development of land subdivisions, house and land packages, and integrated housing projects.
Managing director Guy Farrands, states in his address to shareholders that despite the effects of the downturn the company is responding well.
“GEO was one of the first businesses to be affected by this phenomenon but I’m sure you will be aware that no property developer or property investor has remained unscathed and several have become bankrupt,” he says.
“We have responded to the changed market conditions with a number of measures to ensure the future of our business in particular by aggressively reducing headcount and debt level.”
The company recently lodged an application with the Gold Coast City Council to develop two industrial buildings and a warehouse at the Yatala Industrial Estate.
6. LIVING AND LEISURE AUSTRALIA (LLA)
CEO: John Schryver
Year established: 1999 - listed 2008 as LLA
Revenue ’08: $115M
Total staff: 1000
LIVING and Leisure Australia operates in the leisure industry through Australian Alpine Enterprises, the Oceanis Group and Tree Top Walks.
Oceanis is one of the world’s largest owners and operators of aquariums with facilities in Melbourne and Mooloolaba, Bangkok, Busan and Shanghai. AAE owns and operates premier Victorian ski resorts Mount Hotham and Falls Creek.
Impressive to note these resorts collectively account for around 26 per cent of the Australia skier market.
Group chairman Julanne Shearer stated in her address to shareholders that despite 2008 being a challenging year, the company ultimately triumphed.
“By any standard there can be no doubt that Living and Leisure Australia has been through the most tumultuous period of its corporate life over the past 12 months,” he says.
“However, the group has shown perseverance and tenacity to overcome this adversity, and we have emerged from these trials a financially stronger company prepared to meet the challenges of the current economic slowdown.”
7. ALLIED BRANDS (ABQ)
Managing Director: Peter Graham
Year established: 2004
Revenue ’08: $40M
Total staff: Approx. 2000 plus across franchise systems (incl part-timers)
ALLIED Brands continues to perform exceptionally, boasting a record net profit after tax of $5.705 million up 187 per cent over the previous year.
The company acquired Kenny’s Cardiology, established Allied Brands Finance and acquired Awesome Water during the 2007/08 financial year.
Chairman Lachland McIntosh, and managing director, Peter Graham are positive about the forecast financial results in 2009.
“This year, even as the nation is embroiled in a period of substantial financial stress and highly publicised retail downturn, we remain confident that our results for the 2008/09 financial year will exceed those of the 2007/08 year,” states the company.
The company aims to continue its conservative organic expansion program and are targeting to have an increased number of stores and territories open by the end of June 2009.
Graham warns that an increase in unemployment and depressed economic conditions could lead to downward retail pressure but says it’s important to remain positive.
“Retail will be propped to a degree by the increasing population and tourist activity. Lower petrol prices will encourage domestic tourism and lower air fares and more vehicular travel,” he says.
“The Gold Coast is well placed to ride out the recession.”
The ASX released chairman and managing director’s review of operations report concludes: “In summary, despite the very difficult retail conditions that currently exist in Australia we believe the company is well positioned to sustain continued growth throughout all businesses in the foreseeable future.”
8. CUDECO (CDU)
Chairman: Wayne Mcrae
Year established: 1960
Revenue ’08: $2.3M (consolidated)
Total staff: Approx. 40
CUDECO boasts the largest single exploration programs in Australia with its Rockland Group Copper Project located in North West Queensland.
The company, which specialises in mineral exploration, has several drilling spots unearthing some steady result. CEO and chairman Wayne Mcrae reports on the company website that he is pleased with the company’s progress.
“The Rocklands Project is located in the biggest known copper belt of Australia and is host to the giant Mt Isa Copper Mine and the Ernest Henry Copper Mine,” says Mcrae.
“As at the end of November 2008 the company has completed approximately 160,000m of RC and diamond core drilling in over 1000 holes and over 2000 bedrock drill holes. The Rocklands Group Copper Project is one of the largest single exploration programs in Australia and would be in the top three exploration programs ever in Australia for the past decades to have completed such a large drilling and exploration program in such a short period.
“The company has achieved this milestone within only 2.8 years of drilling and exploration with an expenditure likely to exceed $50 million by the time the drilling has been completed.”
9. ICON ENERGY (ICN)
CEO: Raymond Swinburn James (pictured)
Year established: 1993, listed 1997
Revenue ’08: $3M
Total staff: 14 + contractors and casuals
A TROUBLING dispute for control of Icon Energy has not been enough to dampen its results. Still shining bright, the company reported turnover of more than $3 million in 2008 and forecast a market cap growth of plus 200 per cent.
Longstanding CEO Ray James acknowledges that overcoming the board challenge is something that needs to be addressed in 2009 but is positive about where the company is heading.
“Icon is pleased to be expanding its staff at a time when so many are losing their jobs,” says James.
“It is our little bit to help the economy expand in this thriving metropolis.
“Services are improving and recreational facilities are second to none on the Gold Coast.”
The dispute sees Icon Energy’s largest shareholder attempting to oust the Robina based company board including Ray James. Dianne Baldwin has nominated her husband Ron Baldwin, as one of the new directors. The company is holding an extraordinary general meeting on February 23 to vote. James believes the nominated directors have too little experience in the industry to be a part of the company on such a large scale.
• Coal Seam Gas (CSG) development of commercial project in ATP 626P Surat Basin, Queensland, north of Goondiwindi
• Exploration wells for CSG in ATP 849P near the town of Mitchell, west of Roma, Queensland
• Drill one well in EP 218 in South Australia
• Exploration to commence in ATP 855P in Cooper-Eromanga Basin
10. CITY PACIFIC (CIY)
Managing Director: John Ellis
Year established: 1997, listed 2001
Revenue ’08: $154.5M (consolidated)
Total staff: 38
CITY Pacific experienced a turbulent year which involved the consolidation of CP1 which is now an equity accounted associate.
The company’s revenues from ordinary activities are down 53.2 per cent to $154,693,236.
City Pacific also announced that the company will not pay a final dividend in relation to the 2008 financial year after writing off millions of dollars in profit.
In response to the ongoing global credit and liquidity crisis and its impact on the Australian property market, the directors have undertaken a review of operations and have implemented various initiatives including undertaking a full review and assessment of the group’s assets and investments in light of the prevailing market conditions.
11. LANDMARK WHITE (LMW)
CEO: Brad Piltz
Year established: 1988
Revenue ’08: $30M
Total staff: 150
LANDMARK White started as a valuation and property consultancy company but has grown to encompass various aspects including research and advisory subsidiaries.
CEO Brad Piltz foresees 2009 as a challenging year.
“From a property perspective we will see a return to fundamentals; that is risk will be reflected in yields. High risk property investments such as pubs, childcare and developments will no longer sell at similar yields to low risk or passive investments such as prime income producing commercial properties,” says Piltz.
“A return to more ‘sensible’ property fundamentals will mean that investors will be able to achieve better returns than other investment opportunities, which has been the case over the past few months.”
Piltz believes the tourism industry will be hardest hit during the economic crises and foresees international visitor numbers dropping.
“With an economy heavily based on tourism and development, business sentiment on the Gold Coast has been shaken by the recent collapses of developers and investment firms which provided much of the growth of the local economy,” he says.
“Tourism has also been hit with falling international visitors, but is likely to be supported by increasing domestic travel due to spending cutbacks and the falling Australian dollar.
“Slowing but positive migration rates and falling fuel prices are likely to provide some positives for businesses to look forward to.”
12. AHC (AHC)
Managing Director: Rod MacLeod
Year established: 1989
Revenue ’08: $17M
Total staff: Approximately 10
AT a time when developers are struggling, AHC Limited has reported a sales revenue increase of 7.5 per cent to $30.099 million. The company has mastered the construction of factories, large and small shopping centres, service stations, show rooms and low-rise office buildings.
The company also owns AHC Homes which have been building new homes for 20 years, boasting a completion of 1000 homes for NSW and Queensland families.
During the 2008 financial year, AHC focused on residential and commercial contract building, property development for long-term asset portfolio creation and subdivision of land for residential and commercial development. AHC CEO Ron MacLeod says the company continues to fight the frustrating planning system in Queensland.
“The Integrated Planning Act is not being adhered to by local governments and State Government departments namely Department of Main Roads are impending often straight forward applications,” he says.
“These issues are often unnecessary bureaucratic delays. As others within the industry are saying, the innovation within the development community is being choked due to bureaucratic hurdles and delays.
“These delays are such that it has made development in today’s climate very high risk as financial times can turn while waiting on necessary government approvals.”
What about 2009? “I believe that we are likely to see a significantly different business landscape heading into 2010, by this I mean 2009 will be making or breaking for many – sadly,” he says.
Acquisition plans/new projects
• Gympie Southside shopping centre anchored by Woolworth’s
• 26ha industrial subdivision in Hervey Bay on Pialba Burrum Heads Road within 5km from Hervey Bay’s Boat Harbour Drive
• 350-lot housing subdivision adjacent to the Burrum District Golf Club in Howard also located in Hervey Bay Shire
• Office park located in Siganto Drive, Oxenford
13. EARLY LEARNING SERVICES (ELY)
CEO: John Hutchison
Year established: 2007
Revenue ’08: N/A Annual report unavailable
Total staff: 572
ALTHOUGH the company is relatively new to the ASX, it is faring far better than former competitor ABC Learning centres.
Consisting of 29 centres in Queensland, NSW and South Australia the company has an aggressive expansion plan.
The company employs 572 people and is aiming to operate and manage childcare centres nationally while staying focused on the individual needs of each community.
CEO John Hutchison says the childcare industry, although faced with the same economic issues, will survive through the recession.
“The year ahead is sure to present many challenges and opportunities for our company, like any other, and the industry in general, however our team is capable and willing to take these on and together we look forward to a year of many achievements for ELS,” says Hutchinson.
“Industries which will perform better during the year I imagine will be health, services and education as these are core businesses.
“With families still moving into the Gold Coast area, demand for these core services will continue to grow. Child care is now regarded by many families as a core service and even if the economy struggles, people still need to go out to work.”
As a location for his company, the CEO quips that there is no better place: “This is a global downturn but the Gold Coast has a number of qualities which will see it ride through the year stronger than many other parts of the world and Australia.
“And not to mention that the Gold Coast has the success of the Titans, along with new soccer and AFL teams to look forward to.”
14. PACIFIC ENVIRONMENT LIMITED (PEH)
CEO: Geoff Masters
Year established: 2007, listed 2008
Revenue ’08: $2.8M (consolidated)
Total staff: 75
PACIFIC Environment Limited is helping churn out workable and sustainable solutions to climate change, air quality and related environmental problems.
Since listing in February 2008, PEL has completed or announced a total of six acquisitions.
The company is predicting strong results in 2009 which CEO Geoff Masters attributes to the immediacy of necessary solutions in this industry.
“Our companies are not recession proof but because our clients seek our services greatly outside economic cycles fundamentally to make sure they are meeting their environmental regulations and licensing requirements,” says Masters.
“Combine this with the growing recognition of corporate governance to work effective environmental planning into their day to day operations we continue to see organic growth within our operating businesses.”
The Gold Coast has proved a good base for the company and Masters believes the optimism of the coast will draw people in throughout the turbulent economic times that many forecast.
“I feel the Gold Coast is really starting to come of age with a building entrepreneurial economy,” he says.
“The global economic downturn is a frustrating bump for Gold Coast. I travel Australia constantly and find business people on the Gold Coast much more likely to take the ‘glass half full’ approach rather than ‘glass half empty’ approach.
15. CP1 (CPK)
CEO: Theo Axarlis
Year established: 2002, listed 2003
Revenue ’08: $33M (consolidated)
Total staff: 8 (management)
PROPERTY development company CP1 delivers a combination of industrial, commercial and residential property developments in geographical areas that are set to experience above average growth rates.
The company’s flagship $650 million Martha Cove waterfront residential and marina project on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula which has reportedly been hammered by poor sales and bad debts.
Despite the obvious hurdles, the company’s shares recently improved boosting investor confidence.
CEO Theo Axarlis foresees problems with liquidity in 2009.
“The Gold Coast is proving problematic due to the number of properties in the market regarding tightening liquidity,” he says.
“The uncertainty in the market place is detrimentally impacting tourism where as in reality with lower interest rate and government initiatives discretionary spending should increase and investors should now be availing themselves to the opportunity to secure development properties with a greater return.”
16. CHARTER PACIFIC CORPORATION (CHF)
CEO: Kevin Dart
Established: 1988, listed 1989
Revenue ’08: $4.5M (consolidated)
Total staff: 7 (full time)
CHARTER Pacific felt the sting of the global downturn later in 2008 when it reported a $17.9 million net loss for the year ending June 30 2008.
While the company has been employing measures to cut company expenses, it has yet to prove its stability in 2009.
CEO Kevin Dart was unavailable for comment at the time of print.
Charter Pacific announced a consolidated loss of $18 million for the 2008 financial year.
The group’s performance was adversely affected by the downturn in global equity and financial markets which has resulted in the write back of the group’s investments by $6.1 million.
Charter Pacific’s financial position remains sound with cash and listed blue chip equity investment of $19 million and no debt.
17. ELECTROMETALS TECHNOLOGIES (EMM)
CEO: Richard E (Dick) Keevers (pictured)
Year established: 1995
Revenue ’08: Approx. $6.9M
Total staff: 35
ELECTROMETALS prides itself on being a world leader in the development and supply of electrowinning technology.
The engineering and manufacturing of the product takes place on the Gold Coast but more than 95 per cent of the product is exported.
CEO Richard Keevers says global economic conditions will be the greatest challenge in 2009.
“Our market is more than 95 per cent overseas so we will be challenged by the business slowdown related to world economic conditions. Further a significant part of our market is in the mining and refining of base metals industries, principally copper and nickel. These industries are particularly hard hit at present by substantial falls in metal prices,” he says.
“On the other hand, some of our market is related to the recycling of industrial and mine solid and liquid waste, which contains recoverable metal and this market is not likely to be so badly affected. It is, however, more fragmented and more difficult to serve.
“It is likely that there will be more market opportunities in Asia, but these markets can be complicated by business cultural differences which are challenging for a small company.”
18. MEDIGARD (MGZ)
CEO: Peter Emery (pictured)
Year established: 1999, listed 2004
Revenue ’08: N/A
Total staff: 7
A RELATIVELY new player in the market, Medigard is responsible for producing innovative medical devices distributed throughout the global marketplace.
Although the company has been listed on the ASX since 2004, it is very much still in its developmental stages.
The company is focussing on preventing needlestick injuries, which have the potential to infect users with up to 20 bloodborne diseases including HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.
CEO Peter Emery believes 2009 will be a challenging year for the business community with lack of credit, volatility, and continued poor performance of the sharemarket, and a decline in the general business environment. He is, however, certain of Medigard’s goals.
“For Medigard there is a need to get deals done,” says Emery.
“Credit is tight and the recession is yet to hit and bite, as a city and economic centre, we need to remain positive and seek out opportunities.”
In a major coup, the company has received approval to sell its patented blood collection device in the United States.
Acquisition plans/new projects
• Medigard has designed and developed a range of safety medical devices which it plans to bring to the global market through licensing or distribution partnerships
• Longer term, the company will grow by the introduction of more products and also by acquisitions
19. AUSSIE Q RESOURCES
Chairman: Frank Gardiner
Year established: 2006, listed 2007
Revenue ’08: Nil
Total staff: During exploration 30 plus
AUSSIE Q Resources specialises in mineral exploration. The company holds nine prospective copper/molybdenum exploration permits for minerals (EMP) in the Rawbelle district in central Queensland.
The company’s exploration is centred on molybdenum which is a prominent economic mineral found across the project area used primarily for steel alloying. The element is a particularly important additive that can be used in projects such as pipelines in corrosive areas such as hot and cold areas.
Chairman Frank Gardiner is positive about the difference the company’s exploration will make during this difficult economic time.
“At the exploration work that we’ve just completed, we had a community consultation period and I was able to announce that the economic value of what we did in that area was worth $7.2 million to local community,” says Gardiner.
“Quite frankly with everything closing, if the area didn’t have mining taking place it would be a very sorry place. It is important to recognise that it is not only mining but preparation for mining that is important.
“It takes time to develop them and country Queensland is finding out that mining can be a godsend in a time where everything is closing.”
Gardiner also stated to shareholders during last year’s AGM that there are various reasons the company believes the pricing of molybdenum is sustainable over the long term. The reasons included the tightening and banning of export of molybdenum from China and the limited substitution of the element.
20. COPPERMOLY (COY)
Managing Director: Peter Swiridiuk (pictured)
Year established: 2007
Revenue ’08: $194,061 (consolidated)
Total staff: Australia 10; Papua New Guinea 50
COPPERMOLY is an explorer of copper-gold-molybdenum deposits on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The company is continuously delivering golden results and forecast a shiny 20 per cent growth in 2009.
Company managing director Peter Swiridiuk, outlined that the company’s future plans will include joint ventures and acquisitions of gold projects.
“The largest challenge is capital raising. With good quality projects however, joint venture arrangements are an alternative way of raising funds for existing projects,” he says.
“We anticipate a positive future of raising funds towards the second half or 2009. Our parent company New Guine Gold and half owner of our shares has an operating gold mine and is quite supportive.”
- Compiled by Cezanne Laidlaw