Murdoch may have lost a crucial ally after Saudi arrests

The shockwaves would have been felt around the world over the weekend when billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal was among a clutch of Saudi princes and ministers arrested in the kingdom.
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And the real impact of the arrests could hit a very well-known former Aussie next week.

Prince al-Waleed has stakes in many prominent global companies, but none are more important than his crucial stash of voting stock at Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Prince al-Waleed’s voting stake has made the Murdoch family’s position at both News Corp, and its more lucrative spin-off, 21st Century Fox, impregnable.

The Murdoch family’s control of the company is not quite assured with its 38 per cent stash of voting stock, which dwarfs its economic interest of only 14 per cent.

But add in the prince’s stake and the family could weather severe storms such as the British phone hacking scandal without having to make too many concessions to other investors.

But then things changed for News Corp.

Three years ago the Murdochs came within a few million votes – a wafer-thin margin by corporate standards – of their fellow shareholders voting to unwind its dual class share structure, which allows the Murdochs to control the company via their tight grip on the voting stock.

A massive 47.4 per cent of votes cast supported a proposal to eliminate the company’s dual-class share structure, which, had it passed, would have unlocked the Murdochs’ iron grip on the company.

How did this happen with the prince by Rupert’s side?

It later emerged that the prince had sold almost all of his News Corp shares, making Murdoch vulnerable to other investors for the first time.

Now it just happens that 21st Century Fox is holding its annual shareholder meeting next Thursday, and one of the items on the agenda is a vote to unwind the dual class share structure.

As of December 31, 2015, Prince al-Waleed’s group owned 5 per cent of 21st Century Fox.

If the prince no longer controls this stake, or has not voted on it yet, the voting result could be cataclysmic for Rupert.

But Rupert might be helped by the Disney news overnight, with his media group reportedly talking to Disney about selling its movie and TV production businesses for an appropriate sum.

There is nothing like a multibillion-dollar cash carrot to placate investors. McGrath Culpa

So this is what a real estate bust looks like.

John McGrath’s disastrous float of his real estate agency, McGrath Ltd, hit a new low following the latest downgrade on Monday.

The real estate agency has lost some 78 per cent of its market value since its float less than two years ago.

The promise back then was to expand its office base and continue to devour other agencies to drive growth.

As McGrath told investors in its prospectus, “acquisitions are considered an important part of McGrath’s future strategy”.

The company is now in such a financial hole that all of these expansion plans are on hold and the agency plans to shrink via some significant cost-cutting.

And CBD can’t wait for the shareholder meeting in a few weeks where chairwoman Cass O’Connor gets to explain what the company means by “balancing shareholder earning requirements with longer-term objectives”.

It sounds like the shareholder pain is going to get worse before it gets better, with more money being invested into the business.

So it is a pity that McGrath did not hang on to more cash when it raised $130 million from new investors less than two years ago.

Half of this cash went to McGrath and other existing investors. Another $31.5 million was splashed on buying franchise agents like the operations of part-time racing car driver Shanes Smollens.

In fact McGrath Ltd was left with a paltry $7.9 million for working capital needs – which is substantially less than the $10.1 million it spent on transaction costs for the float. What does that tell you about the priorities at the time of the float. Google Pay

Shayne Elliott and his fellow goody two-shoes crew at ANZ Group did not have to forfeit their bonuses last year, but it still did not help their underpaid boss get the better of his Commonwealth Bank rival, Ian Narev.

Comparing what the two banks have now reported as the ‘actual pay’ of their respective CEOs, Elliott’s $4.26 million worth of remuneration puts him roughly $1.25 million short of Narev despite the latter forgoing his bonus for the period.

At least Elliott’s underlings are not suffering to the same degree, especially the new recruits.

CBD’s eye has always been on ANZ’s new CFO, Michelle Jablko, who will receive $1.66 million in deferred equity incentives – starting this month – for bonuses she sacrificed to hop from investment banking to the banking world.

But what was CBD thinking when we didn’t twig to the pay implications of former Google exec Maile Carnegie?

She collected $2.8 million worth of shares last year as part of a $3.26 million worth of deferred equity she gets for jumping from Google. In fact her actual pay topped that of her boss, Elliott, at $4.34 million. The Hon Hartzer

Meanwhile, over at Westpac, boss Brian Hartzer lightened the mood his joke on the citizenship debacle.

“Well, the good news about citizenship is I’m a dual citizen so you don’t have to worry about me going into parliament,” he said while unveiling an $8 billion profit.

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The Melbourne Cup trainer filling the biggest shoes of all

James Cummings’ favourite book at the moment is written by his billionaire boss he has never spoken to or met. He doesn’t know if the chance will come to meet him, let alone when.
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His Highness Sheikh Mohammed’s teachings are neatly laid out in paperback, the man he has in part entrusted to win a Melbourne Cup that Arab millions have not been able to buy, thumbing through its pages.

He digests every morsel of the sermon, eagerly hoping to learn something new. It’s as close as Cummings has got to international racing’s biggest spender four months after being groomed and then unveiled as his head n trainer.

The ruler of Dubai asked a little while back for a photo of Cummings with one of his horses so he knew what his youngest worldwide trainer looked like, the grandson of ‘s greatest horse conditioner. Cummings was chuffed.

“I’ve read his book and I pick it up from time to time,” Cummings says. “I have to remind the staff of what he thinks.

“He says, ‘when a gazelle wakes up in the morning it knows it has to outrun the fastest lion to survive that day and when a lion wakes up in the morning he knows he must outrun the slowest gazelle to get through the day’.

“This is the race we’re in. He said he’s not just obsessed with horse racing, but he’s obsessed with the race of life.”

The race that has typically defined his family’s life, at least in the eyes of the n public, has rolled around again. Cummings’ grandfather Bart won the Melbourne Cup 12 times. It will never be beaten.

The expectation is James, still just 29 and in one of the most coveted yet scrutinised roles in world racing, will win one in the future. Maybe he will win two. Possibly three. It comes with the Cummings name.

Yet under his current guise, it won’t be a win for a stout New Zealand bred stayer plucked out of a paddock. Or a horse no one wanted to be patient enough to get a return with as those famous eyebrows lifted long enough to cast a knowing eye over in a sales ring. Or a horse bred on the banks of the Hawkesbury river on the family farm.

It will be for a global powerhouse who doesn’t want to win races the world over, but expects to. And if they can’t find a horse with the right pedigree, they’ll find a blueblood trainer to don their blue jacket to help the cause.

Cummings is deliberate and at a pains to stress Godolphin’s team-first ethos. The n arm of the operation is certainly not about him, neither is this race. But to most ns what is a Melbourne Cup without a Cummings, or for that matter a Waterhouse?

His boss Sheikh Mohammed has been trying for more than two decades to win the Cup and his best result is second. He and Cummings will team up with last year’s favourite and placegetter, $27 hope Hartnell, when he has the honour of wearing the No.1 saddlecloth on Tuesday. No horse will be scrutinised more.

“There are more than a few non-drinkers in the business and they have promised me if I win the Melbourne Cup for them they will drink whatever I’m drinking,” Cummings jokes. “The promise has been reiterated [recently].

“What I would say is it all overbearing for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed because he hasn’t won it yet? That certainly hasn’t filtered through to me.

“I’ve really been able to treat it like another race and there’s no added pressure really. It’s just been about preparing the horse as best as we can like any other race.

“Make no mistake it’s unlike any other race once you’re actually there and involved with it on the day. You become used to build-ups to a lot of important races whether it be the Derby, Golden Rose, Golden Slipper or a Doncaster as part of a racing carnival. The Melbourne Cup supersedes those.

“However, I’m feeling pretty comfortable about it as we speak. As for the weight of expectation hopefully it reveals itself one year when we’re able to go out and do it.”

Hartnell wasn’t going to run in the Melbourne Cup a fortnight ago, although Godolphin hadn’t officially withdrawn him from the race. A week ago he was suddenly back in when it looked like Sheikh Mohammed’s European contingent in Melbourne wouldn’t have a runner.

It fuelled speculation Cummings was coaxed into running Winx’s one-time punching bag Hartnell, an outstanding horse in his own right, in the Cup with anything but a conventional lead-up – certainly not one favoured by his grandfather.

The horse hasn’t run in more than three weeks, and his longest race this preparation has been 2000 metres. He will be forced to run a stiff two miles at Flemington and lump the race’s topweight of 57.5kg to boot.

Cummings maintains he and the racing team have autonomy over race schedules for their horses.

Yet what would Bart think of the most unusual lead-up for his grandson’s first runner solo in the race he made his own?

“He was always big on experimenting and trying new things, and he wasn’t ever big on re-hashing things that hadn’t worked well,” Cummings said. “I think he would see this as an attempt to do something different.

“More traditional methods with the horse have yet to produce a victory despite running well last year. It’s certainly nothing lost if I try something.”

Unfairly on these shores, world racing heavyweights such as Sheikh Mohammed and the globe’s most famous jockey Frankie Dettori are defined by their inability to win ‘s great race.

The Cummings clan have no such issues with that problem.

It was a decade ago Bart was asked on the eve of the spring carnival in a rare interview how his then grandson was adapting to life in the ruthless racing game. The typically quick-witted one-liner claimed James would make a good foreman in 10 years time.

Yet exactly a decade on he’s heading up an international racing monolith.

“Like most Hall of Famers from time to time he dealt blame unfairly, but I couldn’t speak highly enough of the benefit for me being a 19-year-old foreman for him with a team of 75 horses in training and feeling like a temperature on a Tuesday morning was my fault, or a poor run at the provincials on a Saturday was my fault or an injured horse going to a carnival was my fault,” Cummings says.

“Because he kept making me feel that it was when we had success it was if I was training it. I knew he was training them. [But] that prepared me for the pressure that was going to lie ahead.

“And I’m pretty impressed with how the company works together and team ethos is very important for Godolphin. We feel like we can share together some great results.

“We’ve shared consistency since July and we have pretty seamlessly hit the ground running so to speak. We look around as we get to know each other and there’s periods where we can really build. That’s really important going forward.

“We’re really proud of the efforts of our horses and we’ve been able to win a group 1 and come close in others.”

Coming close in another Melbourne Cup might be considered a good result with limited representation and a horse cast aside in betting markets this year. But in the future? Cummings will always be searching for that extra edge. And he knows he won’t have to stray too far from his desk to find it.

“It’s probably worthwhile reading [the book] again at the end of the carnival because it’s always better the second time,” he says.

China conducts naval drills to stop and search North Korean weapons ships

is stepping up its role in tightening the net around North Korea, carrying out naval drills with the United States and South Korea to practise intercepting ships suspected of carrying illicit weapons to and from the rogue regime.
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Two Anzac Class frigates began the two-day joint exercises on Monday in seas to the South of the Korean peninsula alongside powerful guided-missile destroyers from the other two countries as well as four smaller warships, maritime patrol planes and helicopters.

The crews are rehearsing how to stop and search a suspect ship of any country but the drills are clearly aimed at North Korea, which is not allowed to trade in arms because of several sets of United Nations sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: KCNA/AP

Defence Minister Marise Payne said the drills would enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2375, concerning “the interdiction of vessels carrying suspicious cargo”.

“The multilateral maritime interdiction exercise is an opportunity to practically demonstrate the n, ROK and US navies’ ability to work together, in support of the rules-based global order,” she said.

” has a world-leading maritime interdiction capability and this exercise will enable the sharing of knowledge and skills between the three navies to help prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.”

n frigates HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Parramatta will undertake the training alongside South Korea’s Sejong the Great destroyer ship and USS Chafee, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

The training mission came as the Pentagon outlayed the grim choices facing the US and its allies in stopping North Korea, saying that a full ground invasion of the country was “the only way” to be certain it could destroy all of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

And US President Donald Trump started his 12-day tour of Asia, during which mustering international determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear program is the number one objective, according to a senior US administration official.

The United States wanted to dramatically increase ship interdictions in the most recent round of UN sanctions aimed at reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. That would have allowed the US and others to use force on the high seas to stop ships suspected of carrying any type of goods whose trade is prohibited by sanctions.

But veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia stripped out those measures, leaving the noose of interdiction efforts only incrementally tightened, meaning that interdiction can only happen if ships are suspected of carrying arms materials, particularly anything used in the production of weapons of mass destruction and missiles to deliver them.

Socceroos’ airport snub puts Honduras press offside

San Pedro Sula: If it wasn’t for the dozens of armed guards surrounding it, you could have easily missed the Socceroos’ team bus parked in a dark corner at the rear of the Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula.
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The n team was braced for a hostile reception from hundreds of passionate local fans. Team staff waiting to greet coach Ange Postecoglou and the main delegation of the national team wore plain clothes rather than team uniform to avoid any association at the arrivals lounge.

They were ready for hordes of passionate supporters wielding drums, singing chants and even throwing missiles. Had they not been warned once on the ground, they may have been shocked by what they saw when they walked out of the exit gates.

Not a single football fan was in sight late on Sunday night when the core of the Socceroos squad landed in the industrial capital of Honduras. The loudest voice behind the barrier was that of a crying baby as the n contingent slipped through the rear doors.

However, if there was a sour taste to the whole event it was felt by the locals. Dozens of journalists from national TV stations and newspapers anxiously awaited the arrival of the Socceroos with plenty of questions for a team they’ve become fascinated by. The choice to not stop for the press wasn’t solely the Socceroos’ though as they were under security orders to make for the rear exit to the bus as quickly as possible.

But the waiting reporters, after the n team did not so much as glance in their direction, made no secret of their displeasure as ‘s adherence to their pre-arrival plans was perceived as hubris.

“The ns came to the country and they did it with total secrecy. They did not give a smile to the media who were covering their arrival. Part of the press wanted to interview some and [the Socceroos] did not give in,” was how the arrival was described in San Pedro Sula newspaper, La Prensa. One journalist at the scene said “even the United States say something”.

For the locals, the Socceroos are an oddity. Very rarely does Honduras get exposure beyond its own region for positive reasons, let alone entertain football teams from so far away. The only time in the last two years Los Catrachos played a team outside of their confederation was in a friendly match against Ecuador and that was away in Quito. Only once in six years has a non-CONCACAF national team visited Honduras, when South Africa played a 2015 friendly in San Pedro Sula.

So local journalists waited at the barriers with plenty of questions. They asked about Tim Cahill’s ankle injury, they wanted to know about Postecoglou’s starting line-up and most importantly, they wanted to know what the ns thought of them.

A country that’s become synonymous with violence is desperate to tell the world the other side of its story. The murder rate doesn’t lie, but nor does it impact every day life for the overwhelming majority of the population. Crime is largely contained within street gang disputes but the public fear it has tainted the image of their home. While football does its best to separate itself from politics, the two are never far away and the visit of appears to be as much a public relations opportunity for the Hondurans as it is a rare and novel event for the city of San Pedro Sula.

The local interest in the Socceroos is evident – from publishing the team’s hotel, training ground and arrival times to its around-the-clock watch on Cahill’s ankle. On match day, that attention will understandably become inhospitable inside the stadium. But, until then, could find themselves the subject of welcoming intrigue rather than the abuse some predicted.

New Myer chairman’s bombshell a ‘lie, fabrication’

Premier investments chairman Soloman Lew and CEO Mark McInnes pose for a photo on 25th Se[tember 2017. Picture by Wayne Taylor. AFR.Myer’s incoming chairman has claimed that Solomon Lew’s Premier Investment – a scathing critic of his ability to lead the department store’s board – once courted him for the same role.
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Garry Hounsell dropped the bombshell in a letter to Myer shareholders on Monday rebutting calls by Premier, its largest shareholder, to vote against all resolutions Myer puts forward at its annual general meeting on November 24.

That call includes voting against the appointment of Mr Hounsell, who Premier has pilloried for allegedly lacking retail experience, and two other directors.

Mr Hounsell fired back on Monday, revealing that the Premier board approached him to become its chairman prior to Mr Lew’s appointment to that role in 2008. He said he refused the approach.

“Why is Mr Lew trying to block me from acting as Myer’s chairman when I was considered good enough to lead the Premier board?” he said.

But a Premier spokeswoman said Mr Hounsell’s claim was a “lie and a fabrication”, and that he had never been offered the chairmanship or even a directorship at Premier.

“This letter is yet another attempt by the Myer board to mislead its own shareholders,” she said.

Mr Hounsell said Mr Lew – who owns 43 per cent of listed rival retailer Premier – was “selling fear” and encouraging other shareholders to act against their own interests by asking them to appoint Premier as their proxy at Myer’s AGM.

He also accused Mr Lew of deliberately driving down Myer’s share price with his campaign of “hostility, disruption and criticism”.

“This may be in Premier and Mr Lew’s broader interests, but it is in our view against the interests of Myer shareholders,” he said.

Premier’s $100 million investment in Myer in March sparked speculation it was positioning for a takeover bid, but it has said it has no “current intention” of buying out the company.

Since March Myer’s shares have fallen more than 36 per cent – from $1.15?? to 73??.

Mr Lew has sought two seats and the appointment of a further independent director to the Myer board, but has so far been refused.

Myer say his position as both a supplier and competitor through his businesses, which include Premier and associated family companies which together generate almost $200 million in sales a year through Myer, represented an insurmountable conflict of interest.

Premier on Monday revealed a major shake-up to its own board, announcing the retirement in July 2018 of directors Lindsay Fox after 30 years service and Gary Weiss after 23 years.

Premier said it was reviewing potential directors to fill the vacancies.