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It’s important to balance the scales

Jeremy Strode’s classic fish ‘n’ chips.Seafood sustainability is a hot topic, with many differing opinions. On a personal level, I try to use fish species, such as those in today’s recipes, that are in plentiful supply. I haven’t cooked tuna for 15 years, because of concerns about overfishing. So imagine my surprise when I checked Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide, compiled by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, and noticed pink snapper, one of my biggest sellers, is considered overfished in parts of Australia and New Zealand. I’m looking at using a different variety.
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There have been growing efforts to source seafood with minimal impact on fish numbers and the marine environment. It’s easier now to find species, wild and farmed, that are caught and managed responsibly. I find they make for a far more interesting menu than the usual suspects. In recent years I’ve cooked lots of cuttlefish, octopus, mahi-mahi, Spanish and slimy mackerel, bonito, leatherjacket, mullet and eel, which have been popular with diners.

Organic mussels from Spring Bay in Tasmania are one of the best products available at the moment and the consistency of Australia’s oysters and prawns never ceases to amaze me.

I try to treat seafood in the same way as any ingredient: if it’s in season, in abundant supply at a good price and tastes great, I’m a happy man.

Jeremy StrodeMy classic fish’n’chips

I don’t know of a better fish to batter and deep fry than flathead; it stays so wonderfully moist. A domestic fryer helps here, it’s easier and safer.

Cotton seed oil5 large sebago potatoes, scrubbed1 cup mayonnaise1/2 lemon, juiced2 dill pickles, finely chopped3 tbsp capers, finely chopped2 eschallots, peeled and chopped1 cup flat parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnishSea salt for seasoning200g plain flour375ml Coopers Pale Ale, chilled1 lemon, quartered12 pieces flathead fillet, skinned and boned, about 50g each

Preheat fryer with cotton seed oil to 180C. Bring a steamer to the boil. Cut the potatoes into squares without wasting too much – the chips don’t have to be perfectly uniform. Cut into chips about a half-centimetre square and steam until just cooked. Lay on a cloth to dry.

Make tartare sauce by mixing mayonnaise, lemon juice, pickles, capers, eschallots and parsley. Fry the chips until golden brown, drain on a paper towel and season. Make a batter by whisking flour in a bowl with beer until smooth. Quickly dip the fish in batter, allowing excess to drain, and fry until golden brown, about three to four minutes. Remove, drain on paper towel and season. Place the chips on four warm plates, the fish on top and garnish with lemon and parsley. Serve tartare sauce on the side.

Serves 4Blue-eye trevalla and curry leaf

Chef Annemarie Rodrigo, who worked with us at Bistrode, has Sri Lankan heritage and gave me a curry leaf tree. I’m obsessed with the leaves, their flavour is so unique. Barramundi is a great alternative to trevalla.

1 tsp black mustard seeds1 tsp fennel seeds1 tsp nigella seeds1 tsp coriander seeds1/2 tsp chilli flakes2 cardamom pods1 tsp white peppercorns1 1/2 brown onions, finely sliced10g fresh turmeric, peeled2 cloves garlic, peeled20g fresh ginger, peeled50ml vegetable oil, plus a dashSalt and pepper 4 blue-eye trevalla fillets, about 180g each, skin on Olive oil 12 curry leaves 2 long red chillis, cut in half lengthways 1 lemon, cut in quarters Sea salt

Preheat oven to 200C. To make the Indian spice paste, heat spices in a frying pan for a couple of minutes, tossing regularly. Place in a blender with half an onion, turmeric, garlic, ginger and a dash of oil. Blend until smooth. On low heat, add vegetable oil and spice mix to a saucepan and cook gently for 15 minutes, then cool.

Cut four squares of greaseproof paper, about 25 centimetres wide. Season fish. Put even amounts of remaining sliced onion in the centre of each piece of paper, add a dash of olive oil and put fish on top, skin up. Smear a tablespoon of spice paste on the fish skin and put three curry leaves on each. Place half a chilli alongside and fold the paper in half, seal the top at one end, add a dash of water and seal the bag completely, making sure it’s fairly tight. Put on a hot baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and serve on four warm plates with lemon and sea salt. Serve with boiled basmati rice.

Serves 4Slimy mackerel with green sauce

This is my favourite whole fish of the moment, very healthy and so tasty.

2 cups flat parsley leaves 1 cup mint leaves 1 cup coriander leaves 1 cup dill 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 2 cloves garlic, peeled 1 tbsp capers 2 anchovies 50ml extra virgin olive oil Sea salt and pepper 4 slimy mackerels, about 350g each, gutted, fins trimmed, scored 3 times on each side 1 lemon, quartered

Preheat grill to high. Preheat oven to 200C. To make green sauce, blend herbs, mustard, garlic, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Don’t over-blend, leave some texture in the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Rub the fish with some extra oil, season and char each side on the grill. Place on a baking tray and bake for eight minutes. Remove and serve with sauce, lemon and a salad.

Serves 4

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Shareholders may get angry then get even

If David Jones didn’t have enough on its plate battling a flawed online strategy, shrinking margins and a fragmenting customer base, ot will now suffer credibility issues.INVESTORS in department store chain David Jones didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or get even at the board’s handling of an unsolicited takeover approach — then withdrawal — by obscure entity EB Private Equity.
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The takeover offer, which was almost Seinfeldian in that it was a takeover about nothing, has been described as a “farce” in an afternoon note from Goldman Sachs. Others used more colourful language to describe what will go down as one of the more bizarre takeover offers and withdrawals.

For some, the David Jones announcement on Friday of a takeover proposal meant they made a lot of money as shares jumped 17 per cent at one stage. For others, it is a case of feeling short-changed. For this reason, the regulators and class-action lawyers will be trawling through the timeline of events that led up to Friday’s and yesterday’s announcements, including a trading halt, to ensure the company has not accidentally misled the market through negligence by not issuing a strong enough caution.

There is also a strong case for corporate regulator ASIC to search the David Jones share registry to ascertain whether or not any unusual trading has taken place since EB Private Equity first posted a letter to David Jones chairman Bob Savage, which he received on May 28. As part of its job to ensure market integrity, ASIC will need to rule out the current market speculation that this was an elaborate case of window dressing by some mischievous traders on the last day of trading for the 2012 financial year.

If David Jones didn’t have enough on its plate battling a flawed online strategy, shrinking margins and a fragmenting customer base, it will now suffer credibility issues.

The incident raises the question whether the board (and its advisers) could have handled themselves better when it notified shareholders that it had received an unsolicited takeover approach. The question that class-action lawyers will look at is whether the board should have issued a stronger warning and released the letters it had received from EB Private Equity to ensure full market transparency.

There is no doubt DJs issued cautions to shareholders on Friday, but whether that is enough to keep the lawyers at bay, only time will tell. The brutal reality is Savage received a letter on May 28 from EB Private Equity stating: ”Our formal offer for these assets and stocks in total is $A1.52 billion.”

It said it was an unconditional offer subject to due diligence and the acceptance of this offer by the David Jones board within two weeks of the date of the letter. It was signed John M Edgar, chairman of EB Private Equity.

The ASX statement released by the board on Friday morning was vague and carried several

qualifications but it wasn’t enough to keep the share price from rocketing 17 per cent before closing 14 per cent higher. The ASX queried David Jones on Friday to ensure it was meeting its listing rule obligations, including why it hadn’t revealed the identity of the suitor if it knew who it was.

The company said it was meeting its obligations and had undertaken inquiries in relation to EB Private Equity and was unable to obtain any meaningful information – and ”this remains the case today”.

In its initial statement to the ASX, David Jones didn’t release the name of the suitor, nor did it reveal it had received an initial approach on May 28 or a second approach on June 27. Instead, it said it was a non-incorporated British entity of which no usual public information was available.

”The directors do not believe they currently have relevant information to enable them to

qualify or value the approach but, should this change, will advise the market accordingly.” It said it recommended that shareholders treat any related market comment cautiously.

It was only after a British blog reported the identity of the suitor and the offer price that David Jones filed another note to shareholders. By this stage there were lots of rumours that it might be a hoax.

The board sat on this knowledge for more than a month. What the media revealed over the weekend was that EB Private Equity’s domain name was registered to an address in Newcastle and a search of Google maps showed only mail boxes at that address.

Given so much mystery around EB Private Equity, questions will be raised as to whether David Jones should have gone into a trading halt on Friday rather than leaving it until Monday when the share price started falling on fears the offer would evaporate.

It was during the trading halt that investors were informed that EB Private Equity had withdrawn its offer due to the publicity it had received. Not surprisingly, the stock closed down 10 per cent after the trading halt was lifted.

It is a sad and embarrassing tale for David Jones but what it has done is focus the market on the break-up value of David Jones as a property play. David Jones has some good properties on its books at an estimated $450 million. Some suggest they are worth $800 million. Even though John Edgar looks to have been a big talker with no backing, it has at least put the spotlight on the value of David Jones in the hands of private equity or a trade buyer who can sell the property, lease it back without having the headache of a big capital gains tax bill.

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No problems with Australia’s Libor equivalent, says its overseer

THE Australian body overseeing the setting of a key banking price gauge has insisted the local benchmark remains sound, even as six of the banks that provide a crucial stream of figures used to decide pricing are under investigation in Britain for manipulating a similar index.
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Britain’s growing interbank interest-rate scandal last night scored its biggest scalp yet as the chairman of London-based investment bank Barclays resigned amid fallout from his bank’s involvement in the manipulation of a key finance benchmark.

But the resignation of Marcus Agius failed to diffuse political calls for Barclays’ chief executive, Bob Diamond, to also quit in the wake of Barclays being hit with a record £290 million ($A440 million) fine.

After a wave of political fury was unleashed at Barclays for its attempt to manipulate key interest rates, Mr Agius resigned after acknowledging he was the ”ultimate guardian of the bank’s reputation”.

The bank was fined for attempting to fix interest rates, known as the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the European equivalent, Euribor.

These are two benchmarks that form the basis for pricing an array of financial products, potentially affecting the price at which households and businesses borrow money.

The Australian equivalent, the bank bill swap rate (BBSW), which provides a benchmark for Australian-dollar debt, is calculated daily through a panel of 14 banks submitting pricing data.

The industry body that oversees the BBSW remains confident the Australian benchmark is an accurate reflection of pricing, despite evidence of rate rigging overseas.

”The BBSW is fundamentally sound as a benchmark because the rates that we compile reflect the prices that are actually traded on a homogenous market,” said David Lynch, executive director of the Australian Financial Markets Association.

Traders with experience in both markets said the key difference between British and Australian benchmarks was the definition used to determine pricing. In Australia pricing is calculated on billions of dollars worth of trading in bank-bill paper.

In contrast, Libor rate contributions are based on an assessment of funding costs of any single bank. In Australia, banks are asked at what rate they believe they could borrow funds on money markets rather than actual trades.

Still, among the banking panel that provides BBSW pricing information, six have so far come under investigation by British authorities in relation to the Libor scandal. They include UK lenders Lloyds, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland. Each bank has said it was assisting Britain’s Financial Services Authority with its inquiries. RBS has also suspended four traders.

Mr Lynch declined to comment on the performance of specific banks, but said the ”quality of BBSW rate contributions has been consistently high, with few outlying rates reported”.

Any figures that are out of line with the broader market ”get eliminated” though the rate-trimming process, he said.

Barclays, which has also suspended 14 traders following the rate-fixing probe, is not a member of the BBSW panel.

From 2005, Barclays traders were found to have tried to alter rates to help themselves and rival traders. In 2008 – when Barclays raised concerns about Libor – the bank is said to have kept rates lower because higher levels might have been misinterpreted as suggesting it was facing financial difficulties.

With GUARDIAN

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Disclosure repair needed in wake of mocking bid

The 20-year-old web designer from West Yorkshire who created the EB Private Equity website and whos own site has disappeared along with her contact details.SOMEWHERE in England, or Luxembourg or perhaps even closer to home, someone is having a big laugh at the expense of the David Jones board, its shareholders and the entire Australian investment community.
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To the surprise of nobody who followed the strange twists and turns of the curious $1.65 billion bid for David Jones by an obscure British private equity firm, that offer has now been withdrawn.

The bid melted as fast as an ice cube in the Pilbara. And when David Jones shares come out of their trading halt – today or tomorrow – it’s a fair bet the stock will dive back to where it was before the takeover offer was made public on Friday morning.

The farce has made a mockery of the stock exchange’s continuous disclosure rules and raises the question of why the takeover offer from EB Private Equity was made public by David Jones in the first place when even the most basic investigation of the company showed the takeover approach lacked credibility.

David Jones claims it had to make the offer public because of the continous disclosure rules and the fact that an obscure blog in Newcastle, England, was about to leak the story anyway.

Just who owns that blog and the owner’s motivation remain unclear.

First there is the 20-year-old web designer from West Yorkshire who created the EB Private Equity website and whose own site has disappeared along with her contact details.

Then there is the fact that EB Private Equity’s website had no contact information, not even a phone number, and nobody in the financial world had even heard of it.

As Reuters noted, EB Private Equity does not rate a mention in Companies House, the registrar of privately owned firms based in England and Wales. Preqin, a private-equity tracking firm, has never heard of it either.

EB Private Equity’s British offices were then discovered to be a small building positioned, perhaps appropriately, next to a wig shop, with a noodle shop on the other side.

EB Private Equity chairman John Edgar had never even spoken to David Jones executives on the phone, all correspondence having been via email. That is convenient and perhaps voguish, given the world’s growing penchant for social media.

EB Private Equity now claims it has had to withdraw the takeover bid because of the publicity the offer attracted, which had made it difficult to proceed. Again, that is strange, given that Edgar had hired a Sydney-based public relations firm to spruik its bona fides to the media.

Ultimately, the joke is on all of us – our investors and our sharemarket authorities – because continuous disclosure laws have heightened the importance of lawyers within companies these days. All directors are scared of being sued by angry shareholders if they knock back a takeover offer – even if it originates from a backwater on the other side of the planet. So, David Jones was obliged to inform the market about the approach. Investors piled in and the share price rocketed.

The corporate regulator is said to be investigating this bizarre affair, but it will probably find nothing. There will be renewed calls for better continuous-disclosure rules to prevent a recurrence. Otherwise we will see more letters being sent to Australia’s listed companies making grandiose takeover offers, with no intention on the part of the bidders to follow through.

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Disappearing DJs bid leaves egg on faces

IT COULD be one of the most costly April Fool’s jokes ever pulled on the Australian investment community, even if it is July, with a $1.65 billion takeover bid for the country’s second-biggest department store, David Jones, evaporating yesterday and causing its share price to dive.
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The farcical nature of the day’s corporate activity included lingerie models, noodle shops, vanishing websites, a roller-coaster share price and the sometimes shadowy world of private equity investors.

The surprise David Jones bid, made public on Friday, created more than $175 million in value in an instant as investors piled into the stock hoping a takeover war would erupt. But the offer was pulled just as quickly yesterday afternoon, stripping $140 million from DJs’ market capitalisation as the shares gave up most of their gains.

In the wake of the disappearing takeover offer – which until Sunday night was being spruiked by its mysterious backer to local media via a PR firm – there may be renewed pressure on the Australian Securities Exchange’s rigid regulations on continuous disclosure and directors’ obligations to inform investors about every letter that comes across the boardroom table.

Last night, David Jones was forced to defend its disclosure of the offer to investors in a letter responding to a series of queries from the stock exchange.

In its letter, drafted by top-tier law firm Freehills, David Jones said it disclosed the ”unusual, incomplete and uncertain” offer to the exchange on Friday morning only because news of its existence was likely to be known to market participants outside the company.

Further details, including the identity of the purported bidder,

were disclosed later that day after David Jones became aware that a mysterious UK blog had published EB Private Equity’s name.

The last few days’ shenanigans came to a head late yesterday when David Jones, the upmarket and venerable 174-year-old department store, called for a trading halt in its shares on growing concern about the credibility of the billion-dollar proposed takeover from the unknown Luxembourg-based EB Private Equity, and its just as mysterious chairman, John Edgar.

In a brief statement to the market, David Jones said it had been informed via a letter from EB Private Equity that the unsolicited and incomplete $1.65 billion offer for 100 per cent of the company had been withdrawn.

”The EB Private Equity letter states that recent publicity around its proposal has made it difficult to proceed,” David Jones said.

A Sydney PR firm engaged by Mr Edgar and EB Private Equity to feed information to some media outlets is no longer engaged to work for the client.

”What is going on?” asked Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Coppleson. ”This has many investors questioning if this was a real bid and also the timing – on the last trading day of the financial year!”

The market’s response to the announcement that the bid had been withdrawn was immediate. The shares dropped 26¢, or 10 per cent, to close at $2.33, leaving the stock only marginally above Thursday’s closing price of $2.26, before the EB Private Equity offer was made public.

It is believed no one at David Jones has ever spoken to EB Private Equity or to its reclusive chairman over the phone and that all contact between the parties, going back to late May, was via email.

It is also believed that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is investigating the entire affair.

Among the early victims of the past few days could be hedge funds that reportedly were shorting David Jones shares last week, with 10 per cent of the retailer’s issued capital being shorted. As the stock rallied on Friday after the announcement of the offer they piled into the market to buy up David Jones shares – at ever higher prices – to close out their positions and limit losses.

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Cooking the books OK if you back the local tennis club

SEEMS the sacrifices one makes for their local tennis club really does count for something.
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Especially when you are sentenced in the Victorian County Court for falsifying the books of a now collapsed listed company and providing false information to the corporate regulator during an examination. The former chief financial officer of OnQ Peter Couper was sentenced to a wholly suspended 21-month jail sentence last Friday and a $10,000 fine.

Couper received a ”sentencing discount” for helping provide evidence in the prosecution of other individuals linked to the parent company of the now defunct Bill Express. But his sacrifices to the tennis community were also recognised.

”You have engaged in a great deal of community service over the years,” said Judge Liz Gaynor when she outlined the reasons for her sentence.

”You joined the Glen Waverley Tennis Club in 1974, serving there as treasurer for five years and 30 years as auditor on a voluntary basis,” said Judge Gaynor, who noted how Couper joined the Templeton Tennis Club in 1978 where he served as treasurer and president.

”Your children played tennis there and you continued on in the convener role well after they had finished competing and were eventually awarded a life membership and an annual award, the Couper Award, named after you, is given to the junior

player of the season,” said Judge Gaynor.

Social enterprise

Perpetual chief executive Geoff Lloyd, BankSA managing director Jane Kittel and spinmeister to the stars Sue Cato are among the list of corporate luminaries who will provide ”webinar” and mentoring support for university students looking develop an idea for a new ”social enterprise”.

The social enterprise best known for its fortnightly magazine, The Big Issue, yesterday launched a competition where it is seeking ideas for a new program to help homeless and disadvantaged people find stable employment.

The judges who will decide the winner of the The Big Idea competition include the executive chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia Terry Campbell, former politicians Cheryl Kernot and Natasha Stott Despoja, Telstra chief financial officer and former AXA Asia Pacific boss Andrew Penn and all-round Macquarie do-gooder and former Australian of the Year Simon McKeon.

Slow beer

The four-month-old independent body established to offer ”speedy adjudication” on community concerns related to alcohol advertising seems to have a different concept of time to the alcohol industry. The Wowser Complaints Board (aka Alcohol Advertising Review Board) was launched by a group of public health advocates in March to ”highlight the fact that more action is needed to pull the alcohol industry into line”.

Among some of the concerns raised on the AARB website about the current industry-led Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme is: ”Making a complaint is difficult, confusing and the process is very slow-moving. Often a determination is made after the advertisement in question has finished its run.”

Under the current system of self-regulation complaints are usually adjudicated on by the ABAC within a month. Seems several beer campaigns must have run their course in the three months since the new independent body received its first complaint in relation to a Foster’s ad. The nation’s leading public health campaigner, Curtin University’s Mike Daube, who co-founded the new body, told the advertising industry journal AdNews last month: ”We are working on our timelines, not the alcohol drink industry’s.

”For our first report, we wanted to include what we thought was an appropriate amount of complaints, rather than just a few early ones.”

Got a tip? [email protected]南京夜网.au

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Whiff of a hoax in DJs ‘takeover’ bid

TO THE esteemed list of creative endeavours that brought the likes of Ern Malley, Helen Demidenko, Norma Khouri and the Hitler Diaries to prominence, it’s perhaps time to add the name John Edgar.
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News that a takeover offer of Australia’s upmarket retailer David Jones bore greater resemblance to Milli Vanilli than Veuve Cliquot, has been rightly greeted with derision. Clearly, there is no other takeover like David Jones.

And while it might be worth a chuckle that the high financier is located between a wig shop and a noodle shop in Newcastle, England, plenty of investors stand to lose money out of Friday’s and Monday’s share market shenanigans.

In reality, this goes to the heart of the corporate regulator’s continuous disclosure and market integrity.

DJs felt obliged to disclose the offer it had received, particularly once it established that the offer had been referred to in an obscure online blog.

Those buying into Friday’s share market surge may have been warned by DJs to treat the offer with caution but the question remains if there was an informed market on Friday and again yesterday morning before DJs was belatedly placed into a trading halt.

ASIC has little choice but to examine every trade conducted in the lead-up to the announcement of DJs disclosure that it had received an offer from EB Private Equity, particularly now given the offer’s spectacular collapse.

While market integrity and certainty are important aspects of an informed market, there’s arguably a whiff around Friday’s shenanigans, given it was the last trading day of the financial year.

Funds managers holding DJs stock were boosted by a 20 per cent share price jump. Short sellers targeting the struggling retailer were squeezed. And it all came crashing down yesterday.

What was the ASX doing on Friday that it didn’t order a trading halt? The ASX profits from every trade made on the market. What was the corporate plod doing on Friday? Why didn’t it order a trading halt while DJs asked some questions? If this was a hoax, or a well- planned rumour aimed at a quick profit, the perpetrators may have sweaty palms. There’s been too much publicity for the corporate plod to ignore it.

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Model case of mystery over DJs’ ex-suitor

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THE combined resources of the Australian finance industry have been on a four-day mission to track down details of the mysterious Scottish man, John Edgar, who was behind last week’s $1.7 billion proposal to buy David Jones. But it is a fashion model who has emerged as the only one who has verified having business dealings with him.

Mr Edgar dumped his proposal to buy the department store chain yesterday blaming the recent publicity over the deal. This included revelations in The Age of questionable businesses and labyrinth-like links to shelf and asset-devoid companies in Britain and Australia.

The model, now based in Sydney, told The Age: ”I have had dealings with both John and Ellen’s Brands in 20050 when I was contracted to model his products for a ”large Australian department store”, adding she was surprised to read the story about his purchase of David Jones.

Questions about Mr Edgar this week centred heavily on his ability to finance the purchase of David Jones. The model said it took her a year and two legal threats before Mr Edgar paid her the £700 owed for the fashion shoot.

One of the few consistent features found in the snippets of Mr Edgar’s business history is the link to the sale of alcoholic beverages.

The slender blonde said her part in the photo shoot for which she had been hired by Mr Edgar involved modelling lingerie, alcohol and perfume for his company Ellen’s Brands. She noted the intimate apparel had been bought from a discount High Street retailer, Primark and the alcohol and perfume bottles were all major brands but emptied with the labels removed.

She said she was perplexed about why for the menswear section of a department store shoot Mr Edgar had a ”Page 3” topless model wearing what appeared to be his ”large and unbuttoned shirts”.

”When I questioned him about why menswear was being advertised on women, and how a topless girl was appropriate for shop-front advertising we were under the impression we were shooting, he told me men wanted to see ‘hot young girls wearing their shirts’.”

Mr Edgar used an Edinburgh domiciled ”company” EB Private Equity to make his offer for DJs. But searches revealed it was unregistered in Britain.

David Jones and its advisers were unable to satisfy themselves of the company’s bonafides but were forced to alert investors to the proposal when a ”pop up” blogger revealed details of the offer, which were quickly found by the media.

In a conversation with The Age on Sunday night, a nervous and hesitant Mr Edgar insisted his company had been involved in large property projects, but refused to name any of them, saying only that they were in the US and Africa.

Meanwhile, his only well-publicised business venture involved his Luxury Beverage Company, which claimed to be marketing a $5.3 million jewel-encrusted bottle of non-alcoholic drink to the Islamic market.

Investigations of the EB Private Equity site using the company’s domain address brought up several UK companies including Mimu Ltd, Goodinvestor Ltd and Marshall McNair – all of which have been dissolved.

An Australian chapter of Ellen’s Brands was established in Darwin 10 years ago but has since disappeared. Mr Edgar’s fellow director on that board, a retired accountant, William MacDonald, told The Age he had never met Mr Edgar and knew nothing about what the company did.

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Virgin’s toll on Qantas shows

Tails of two rivals point to weaker figures for Qantas.QANTAS has laid bare the impact of its battle with Virgin Australia after recording its first monthly decline in yields from both its domestic and international operations in more than two years.
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The group’s latest traffic statistics show that total yields for its domestic operations – including Jetstar and QantasLink – were up 4 per cent for the 11 months to May 31, compared with the same period last year. Yields for the international operations rose 1.5 per cent over the same period.

But excluding Jetstar – which analysts described as the ”only shining light” – the group’s traffic figures for May reveal the toll that the battle with Virgin is taking on the core driver of Qantas’ earnings.

Qantas suffered monthly declines in yields from its international and domestic operations – of 0.8 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively – for the first time since November 2009, in yet another sign of why the airline warned last month that its profit would fall as much as 91 per cent for the year to June 30.

The latest figures come before Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin began to significantly increase flight frequencies and use bigger planes on domestic routes, in a worrying sign for them all that their earnings will also be dented significantly in the new financial year.

CBA Equities transport analyst Matt Crowe said he was surprised at the weakness in yields from Qantas’ domestic operations in May.

”We have seen three or four months of weakening domestic air-fare trends [from Qantas]. But we would have expected more of the weakness to be in the international side of the business,” he said.

While international fares have been relatively flat in recent months, those for Qantas’ domestic flights have been trending down, reflecting a large increase in capacity by airlines.

Macquarie Equities aviation analyst Russell Shaw said in a note to clients that there was likely to be ”limited upside” to Qantas’ share price because of risks to earnings in 2012-13 from a substantial increase in capacity by airlines in the domestic market.

”As capacity is ramped up more aggressively by Qantas over the next six months on both the mainline and domestic front, it is hard to see the yield growth trend heading anywhere else but further south,” he said.

Despite the release of the weak traffic figures, Qantas shares rose 2.5¢ to $1.10 yesterday, helped by a 1 per cent rally on the sharemarket. Virgin fell 0.5¢ to 38.5¢.

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Slower growth forecast

WESTPAC’S senior leaders have cautioned that growth across the Australian financial services sector will remain modest over the medium term as consumers and businesses pay down debt and curb spending.
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The slower pace of growth is part of a broader structural shift in the banking landscape, prompting banks to overhaul their businesses, the bank said.

”The uncertainty and volatility created by the European sovereign crisis are contributing to more cautious customer behaviour and lower growth,” Westpac said in an update to shareholders released yesterday. The comments come as closely watched credit growth figures released by the Reserve Bank show lending across Australia remained subdued during May, with mortgage lending mostly flat.

”Businesses and consumers are more conservative in their approach with a preference for lower levels of gearing and increased saving activity,” said the joint update by chief executive Gail Kelly and chairman Lindsay Maxsted.

”As a result, growth remains uneven and activity remains soft in those sectors that rely on consumer demand, non-commodity exports and tourism.” However, activity in mining and other related sectors remained solid. In a separate update to shareholders – also issued yesterday – rival ANZ said that even in the face of softening global economic growth Australia and New Zealand remained well placed.

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