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Yield downturn confirms Qantas pain

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 showed total yields for its domestic operations – including Jetstar and QantasLink – were up 4 per cent for the 11 months to May, 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 revealed the toll the battle with Virgin was having on the core driver of Qantas’s earnings.

The group suffered monthly declines in yields from both its international and domestic operations – of 0.8 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively – for the first time since November 2009, in another sign of why the airline warned last month its profit would fall as much as 91 per cent for 2011-12.

The latest figures come before Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin begin to significantly increase flight frequencies and use bigger planes on domestic routes, in a worrying sign for them that their earnings will also be dented significantly in 2012-13.

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

”We have seen three or four months of weakening domestic airfare 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 remained relatively flat in recent months, those for Qantas’s domestic flights have been declining, reflecting a large increase in capacity by airlines.

The Macquarie Equities aviation analyst Russell Shaw said in a note to clients there was likely to be ”limited upside” to Qantas’s share price because of risks to earnings in 2012-13 from a substantial increase in capacity from 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, shares in Qantas rose 2.5¢ to $1.10 yesterday, helped by a 1 per cent rally on the sharemarket. Virgin fell 0.5¢ to 38.5¢.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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No comfort for investors in watchdog’s ancient history

INVESTORS banking on the accuracy of the corporate watchdog’s register of financial services licence holders to work out whom they should trust with their money, might want to reconsider.
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Insider tried yesterday to get an answer to whether (a) the Australian Securities and Investments Commission does regular checks of its licence holders, and (b) if the licence is ”attached” to the company to which it is issued, or the person controlling the company.

The official response was a link to an ASIC website, and a copy of its regulatory guide to financial service licences, both of which raised more questions than answers.

Audits and checks of holders seem to be random, and so long as the appropriate forms are filed and no flags are raised, there appears to be no restraint on how you use the licence once it is granted.

That probably explains the emails and phone messages Insider received over the weekend after last Friday’s column on the mysteries of Republica Capital, and its attempt to inject itself into the hollowed-out ASX listing of MediVac.

According to ASIC’s professional registers, Republica is an authorised representative of a derivatives trading company called Alt-FX. That same company has also authorised Beauchamp Securities to trade under its licence.

ASIC’s register of licensees, available so investors can check the bona fides of people offering to invest their money, says that Alt-FX operates from the offices of E.Vo Global Asset Management in Sydney, and is audited by Peter White. According to E.Vo director Jacob Pope, who rang Insider from Canada, that company has not had anything to do with Alt-FX, and its then controller Andrew Howard, for the past four years.

At any rate, ASIC company records, as distinct from the licence register, show that Howard passed control of Alt-FX to fellow director, Kieran Honour, last November, who then shifted its official digs to his home in suburban Prahran before giving it a shingle in Collins Street.

Honour is named on Republica Capital’s website as its chairman, so it was presumably a pretty simple matter, as the owner of Alt-FX, to authorise Republica to be its representative. Beauchamp shares the same Collins Street address as Alt-FX, and its director Trent McKendrick also sits on the board of Alt-FX.

The last time Alt-FX lodged a set of accounts with ASIC was in July 2010 – and they were already more than 12 months old. Honour signed them, with banker Albert Verdicchio, and they showed the company had a grand turnover of less than $60,000 and net assets of less than $75,000.

They also claimed that the company’s principal activity was acting as investment adviser to Alt-FX SPC, based in the Cayman Islands – which is interesting because Insider has seen records that say the Cayman company was struck off in October 2009. Presumably Alt-FX must have found something else to do so its directors could make the statement that nothing had happened since the end of the financial year that would significantly affect operations.

Last week, Honour, as shareholder/director, filed a copy of a letter sent to himself as company secretary to convene a meeting to have Alt-FX’s auditor, Peter White, removed. The letter was dated April 20, which brings a new meaning to snail mail.

Insider wonders just what use ASIC’s register of licence holders is if Alt-FX is an example of how outdated the information can be.

How many people are giving their hard-earned money over to licence holders on the naive assumption that those operating under a licence have been vetted by ASIC within living memory?

Symex comes up short

SYMEX Holdings appears to have been unable to meet an $11 million debt repayment obligation due by June 30, judging by its call for a halt to share trading yesterday.

The troubled consumer goods and tallow trader has been trying to offload non-core assets to generate cash to cut its borrowings. It recently sold its DCS International offshoot, having written off more than $4 million of associated goodwill in the half-year result, and had been aiming to sell non-core properties by the end of financial year to help meet the bank loan repayment.

Symex has had plenty of time before yesterday to alert the market to its attempts to get its repayment terms extended before the deadline, and the ASX should be asking if those buying and selling its shares in recent times were trading in a fully informed market.

[email protected]南京夜网.au

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Finance sector growth will stay sluggish – Westpac

WESTPAC’S senior leaders have cautioned that growth across the 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 growth pace is part of a broader structural shift in the financial landscape, prompting banks to overhaul their businesses, they said.

”The uncertainty and volatility created by the European sovereign crisis are contributing to more cautious customer behaviour and lower growth,” the bank said in an update to shareholders released yesterday.

The comments came as closely-watched credit growth figures released by the Reserve Bank showed 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,” the joint update by the chief executive, Gail Kelly, and the chairman, Lindsay Maxsted, said.

”As a result, growth remains uneven and activity remains soft in those sectors that rely on consumer demand, non-commodity exports and tourism.” But activity in mining and other related sectors remained solid.

In a separate update to shareholders – also issued yesterday – rival ANZ said Australia and New Zealand remained well-placed even in the face of softening global economic growth.

Early signs of a recovery in business lending have appeared, with the Reserve Bank data showing loans to business growing for the third month in a row. Business lending is now more than 8 per cent on an annualised basis.

Despite the broader caution, Westpac said Australia’s economic fundamentals remained sound, with low unemployment, controlled inflation and low levels of government debt.

The ANZ chairman, John Morschel, said his bank’s Asian focus was providing it with a competitive advantage. But he noted there was ”significant pressure” on profit margins as a result of competition for deposits and higher long-term funding costs.

Westpac said it was directing efforts into investment sectors that were expected to generate higher growth and returns. That included pushing ahead with its retail strategy of multi-branding while building its wealth management business.

Analysts say banks can survive a period of slow credit growth as long as broader economic growth remains in place. But investors should prepare for a period of subdued returns.

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No improvement in home affordability: report

Single mother, Patricia Finkel of Monash spends almost half of what she earns on housing costs.Almost half of what Patricia Finkel earns is consumed by housing costs.
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Despite having a good education and a steady job in the public service, the single mother spends 47 per cent of her wage on keeping her Monash home.

Ms Finkel had moved to Canberra for her husband, but found herself a single mother with little savings after her marriage ended.

”It’s a tough situation and I’m at the positive end of the scale,” she said.

”If I’m finding it tough when I’m educated with a good job, imagine how others are doing … It’s a scary situation.”

The issue of affordable housing has been highlighted in a report issued by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council, which stated there was no indication that housing affordability had improved in recent years.

Ms Finkel said the precarious housing situation was of particular concern in Canberra, where some of her friends in the expensive rental market were living from pay cheque to pay cheque. ”Rents in Canberra are high and buying a home is a dream at this point,” she said.

”I mean, we’ve all watched The Castle. That’s the dream, to have your own home. But I don’t know how it’s ever going to happen in Canberra.”

The COAG report stated that nationally rental affordability worsened significantly for the lowest 10 per cent of households by income, with the rate of rental stress jumping from 49.2 per cent in 2007-08 to 60.8 per cent the following year.

Sarah Toohey, from Australians for Affordable Housing, is calling for action from both Commonwealth and ACT government.

”While the report shows that the ACT is more affordable than the national average for low to middle income home buyers, just 19 per cent of properties are affordable to 40 per cent of Canberra’s households,” Ms Toohey said.

”For three years in a row the COAG Reform Council has reported that housing affordability in Australia is getting worse, particularly in the rental market.”

The Housing Industry Association is also calling for urgent action from government bodies to address the housing shortage across the country, reported as 186,800 dwellings.

HIA chief executive officer Graham Wolfe said the report highlighted the shortfall created after the estimated underlying demand for housing outpaced the supply of new homes by 13.5 per cent from 2001 to 2010.

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Local stocks eye solid early gains

Join the Markets Live blog from 9.30am
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Australian shares are expected to rise in early trade after Wall Street was mixed on weak manufacturing data but European markets rose strongly.

On the ASX24, the SPI futures index was 20 points higher to 4117. The Aussie has held well above the $US1.02 mark. It was recently buying $US1.0248, up from $US1.0226 late yesterday.

What you need to knowSPI futures are 20 points higher at 4117The $A is higher at $US1.0251In the US, the S&P500 rose 0.25% to 1365.51In Europe, the FTSE100 rose 1.25% to 5640.64Gold rose to $US1597.70 an ounceWTI crude oil fell $1.32 to $US83.64 a barrelReuters/CRB index is up 0.01% to 284.21

All 28 economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect the RBA to hold rates steady at 3.5 per cent today. The RBA cut rates by a total of 75 basis points at the last two monthly meetings but a run of stronger economic data since the June decision has made another downward move today less likely. Financial markets give a 25 basis points rate cut only a 15 per cent chance, according to Credit Suisse data.

Concern about the US economy grew after the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index fell to 49.7, showing contraction for the first time in almost three years and trailing the median economist estimate of 52.

Making news today

In economics news:Reserve Bank of Australia board meeting and interest rate decisionAustralian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) building approvals for May

In company news:Image Resources NL general meetingIndochine Mining Ltd extraordinary general meeting

Analyst rating changes:Bandanna Energy rated new outperform at Credit SuisseAristocrat Leisure raised to hold at Deutsche bankSt Barbara downgraded to neutral from buy at Goldman SachsInvocare rated new buy at Nomura

Offshore overnight

Bonds

Bond market pressure on Spain increased on Monday despite a plan that should cut Madrid’s debt by allowing a eurozone rescue fund to directly aid troubled Spanish banks.Italy’s 10-year bond yield tumbled a third day, dropping eight basis points to 5.74% after earlier losing as much as 19 basis pointsSpanish 10-year securities rose five basis points to 6.38%German 10-year bond yields lost six basis points to 1.52%

Treasuries and the dollar gained after a report showed American manufacturing unexpectedly shrank in June. Bloomberg reports that investors are plowing cash into new Treasuries at a record pace, making economic growth rather than budget austerity a key issue as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off in November’s presidential election.US 10-year Treasury yields lost six basis points to 1.5%

United States

US stocks edged higher on Monday, shaking off a surprise contraction in US manufacturing, which some investors took as a signal the Federal Reserve will take more forceful actions to boost the economy.

Key numbers:S&P500 added 0.25% at 1365.51Dow Jones Indus Avg lost 0.07% at 12871.39Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.55% at 2951.23

Europe

European stock markets have rallied while the euro has fallen against the dollar, as a trend sparked by last week’s surprise EU deal was underpinned by anticipation of an ECB rate cut, analysts say.

Key numbers:London’s FTSE 100 added 1.25% to 5640.64 In Frankfurt’s the DAX 30 added 1.24% to 6496.08 In Paris the CAC 40 added 1.36% to 3240.20

Asia

Asian stocks rose for a fourth day in the longest winning streak since March as economic data from China to Japan and steps by European leaders to address the sovereign-debt crisis eased concern global growth is slowing.

Key numbers:MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 0.4% to 117.67Japan’s Nikkei 225 was flat at 9003.48Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 2.2% to 19441.46China’s Shanghai composite was flat at 2226.11

How we fared yesterday

The Australian sharemarket has closed higher, but local gains remained below those on US and European markets in the wake of last week’s summit of European Union leaders.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rose 38.4 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 4133.0, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 37.0 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 4172.5.

BusinessDay with agencies

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Cummins vulnerable: coach

AUSTRALIA’S coach Mickey Arthur is adamant that broken teenage quick Patrick Cummins will continue to be used in all three international formats, warning that it was anticipated he could battle with injury for the next two years.
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In a worrying sign ahead of the Ashes series here next year, Arthur indicated that he expected the electric Cummins to be vulnerable to breaking down for the forseeable future. It was announced that the 19-year-old New South Wales fast bowler was being sent home about an hour before the start of Australia’s second one-day international against England at the Oval.

Cummins was replaced by Mitchell Johnson, whose own return to international cricket after more than eight months was blighted by an early spate of over-stepping the mark in the host’s six-wicket win.

England took a 2-0 series lead ahead of tomorrow’s third game at Edgbaston and with Michael Clarke’s side lacking real firepower in attack, James Pattinson is expected to come into contention.

Losing Cummins for the rest of the campaign was a significant blow, not only for the series, which England is thoroughly on top of, but in the context of what he could have learnt in these conditions in the lead-up to the Ashes.

The express bowler was making his comeback from a heel injury, having not played at international level since his match-winning performance on Test debut in Johannesburg last November, but picked up a medium-grade side strain in the series opener at Lord’s last Friday.

While Cummins insisted via Twitter that the latest problem was only minor – it is hoped he can return for Australia’s limited-overs contest against Pakistan in Dubai next month – there remain questions about how best to manage him.

But Arthur is insistent that Cummins will be considered in all three formats – Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 – for Australia and he is a priority for the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka in September.

”We forget he is only 19. He is still growing, his body is still growing,” Arthur said. ”It’s disappointing him coming back and then picking up another injury but we’re going to have to live with that for another couple of years until he gets stronger, until his body is used to the workloads. We’ve just got to keep giving him the quality opportunities because he is going to be very, very good. I definitely see him playing all three forms.

”We’ve just got to find out what works for him. We’ve got to expose him to conditions around the world. It’s really important that he gets exposed to English conditions. We’ve got a pretty important tour here next year so it’s really important that he has a look at these conditions. Hopefully he’ll be ready for the Twenty20 championship, which will expose him to bowling in the subcontinent a little bit. We know he’s proficient in our own conditions.

”It’s just about giving him experience all around the world, but we’ve got to live with the fact that he is going to break down. He is only 19.”

Aside from the Test in South Africa in which he starred, Cummins has played only three first-class games. He broke down with a back injury following a marathon bowling stint in the 2010-11 Sheffield Shield final.

Of Johnson, who finished with 0-43 from seven overs after conceding 20 runs in a disastrous first two overs marred by no-balls, Arthur said patience was required. ”We just have to realise that it is his first time back,” he said.

”Hopefully Mitch will just get better and better. He’s still a world-class performer.”

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ABS job figures wrong, but it’s too big a job to fix

THE Bureau of Statistics has got the official employment figures wrong, and although it is happy to acknowledge the errors, it won’t correct them in the official record because it will cost too much money.
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Officially, employment grew not at all in 2011 after surging 363,500 in 2010. Yesterday in an invitation-only seminar attended by The Age, assistant statistician Paul Mahoney said employment probably climbed 30,000 to 35,000 more than officially acknowledged in the first nine months of 2011 and climbed 60,000 to 70,000 less than acknowledged in 2010.

This means official figures overstated the weakness in the labour market that led the Reserve Bank to cut rates at the end of 2011 and overstated the strength that led it to push up rates at the end of 2010.

“We acknowledge we have problems with the way we are benchmarking the labour force at the moment,” Mr Mahoney said. “We are not hiding behind this, we are being very open about it. This is a public seminar, this is going to be repeated a few times.”

The problem arises because, in order to convert the results of its survey into figures for the whole nation, the ABS has to estimate the size of the Australian population.

Usually it gets the estimate right. But at times when the rate of population growth is changing rapidly it can get it wrong. Instead of revising the official employment figures when more correct population information comes to hand, it instead revises its estimate of future population growth. This means incorrect employment figures remain on the public record and future employment growth figures are adjusted in the opposite direction to compensate.

This meant that in 2011 the ABS biased down what it believed to be the true rate of population growth, biasing down the official employment growth figures reported by The Age and other media.

Mr Mahoney said yesterday the changes were not “statistically significant”, but acknowledged they were significant in terms of presentation, making it look as if jobs growth had stopped in 2011 when it almost certainly had not.

“Yes, it does change the story,” he told The Age.

To improve the bureau’s processes might cost $1.5 million. It would take more than a year and be defined as capital expenditure. The bureau had its capital budget cut 25 per cent.

“We are certainly considering changing our processes and looking at how we might fund it,” Mr Mahoney said.

“But we are far more capital constrained than we were. This is just one system within the organisation. There are competing demands.”

The ABS will try to save money by moving its monthly employment survey online, posting passwords and login codes to the 29,000 households that take part rather than visiting them and following up with phone calls.

It will also abolish or make less frequent a number of less-important labour force surveys.

The unemployment rate – 5.1 per cent – is unaffected by the Bureau’s problems with its measure of employment.

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Long wait for smuggling suspects

ACCUSED people smugglers can be held in detention for three to nine months before formal charges are laid and their status as adults or children is raised, a parliamentary committee has been told.
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The Northern Territory government lodged a submission with a committee looking into the incarceration of Indonesian minors in Australian prisons, saying that once formal charges were laid, suspected people smugglers were sent to adult jails to await trial. But this could take up to nine months, it said.

The NT government said 36 Indonesians were serving sentences at Darwin Correctional Centre, the youngest of whom was 20.

The committee will hold hearings this month, and is taking submissions, to establish whether any Indonesian children remain in adult prisons, and to explore compensating minors who have been charged (contrary to government policy).

On Friday, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced a review into 28 cases of Indonesians suspected to have been minors when they arrived in Australia had been completed.

She said seven more Indonesian people-smuggling crew members suspected of being children would be released from adult prisons and sent back to Indonesia.

It brought the number returned to Indonesia since the start of the inquiry to 15.

But Ms Roxon said it was government policy to release from custody any crew members thought to be under 18.

It was only the efforts of The Age, in tracking down the birth certificate of a child, Sam, that secured his release last month after two years’ detention. He repeatedly claimed he was a child, but no Australian official or police bothered to check or inform his family.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said authorities did everything possible to establish the age of boat arrivals.

The government established the review into smugglers held after the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Indonesian government raised concerns that children were being locked up in adult jails.

Of the 28 cases reviewed, as well as the 15 released over reasonable doubt they were adults when they arrived in Australia, another two were released early on parole, three completed their non-parole periods and eight remain in prison, with no evidence found to support their claims they were minors when they arrived in Australia.

The West Australian-based Indonesia Institute said minors who had been incarcerated in adult jails should be financially compensated for having been detained.

It recommended that adult crew members should be released on ”bail” within the Indonesian community in Australia while their age was determined.

The Indonesia Institute claims that young children and adult fisherman in remote parts of Indonesia have been targeted by smuggling syndicates.

”The current law as applied in Australia therefore treats these fishing people – by definition – as people smugglers,” the institute said.

Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU

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Gillard snub to African Union

FOR months Australian diplomats lobbied African leaders to give Julia Gillard a starring role at a top level regional summit and to spruik Australia’s security council campaign – only for the Prime Minister to knock back the invitation when it came.
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Malawi President Joyce Banda, who was to host 54 leaders of the African Union next week, had written to Ms Gillard asking her to be the only non-African leader to attend the summit.

That honour had in the past been reserved for key African partners, including China’s Wen Jiabao, and officials had sought similar access for Australia.

It was seen as a real chance to push Australia’s bid for a prized security council seat at the United Nations with a critical voting bloc.

But when the invitation came – co-signed by the Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi and veteran Gabon political leader and African Union chairman, Jean Ping – Ms Gillard decided to knock it back.

She spoke to Dr Ping and Dr Boni Yayi on the phone last month to smooth over any embarrassment. A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said last night President Banda was travelling at the time and a call was not possible.

The spokeswoman said that the Prime Minister underlined her need to be in Australia’s during the early stages of the carbon tax and while the summit was a chance to promote Australia’s security council bid it was not the sole reason for going.

Parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Richard Marles will now go in her place.

Australia has been reaching out to African nations in recent years in a drive to improve ties. A new embassy is set to open in Senegal, following an earlier decision to open a post in Ethiopia.

Support of African nations is also seen as crucial to Australia’s chances in a vote this October of securing the 128 votes needed from the 193 UN members to beat European rivals Finland and Luxembourg for a two-year stint on the security council.

As it turns out, Mrs Banda is unlikely to have any lingering resentment about Australia’s snub.

Soon after the knock back, Malawi took the decision not to host the African Union summit after other regional leaders insisted Sudanese president and indicted war criminal, Omar al-Bashir, also attend.

The summit will now be held at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa – a towering building, funded by China.

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Driving success on Facebook

KartWorld already has over 350,000 players on FacebookDespite very little marketing, new Australian indie game developer Twiitch already has over 350,000 players enjoying their latest game.
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The success of KartWorld on Facebook has provided more validation for veteran local developers Shane Stevens and Steven Spagnolo that the game industry has changed dramatically in recent years.

After six years in the most senior technical roles inside global gaming publishing company THQ, the pair “could see the writing was on the wall” for the industry, and they had to adapt or perish.

Shane and Steven were co-owners of Blue Tongue Entertainment, which they sold to THQ in 2004. They then went on to become global directors of technology at THQ, visiting developers around the world performing technical due-diligence and solving problems.

THQ’s current financial difficulties, which led to the closure last year of Blue Tongue and more recent staff redundancies at THQ’s Australian office, are symptomatic of massive change currently transforming the interactive business.

Shane and Steven decided in early 2010 to jump ship and start afresh with a new studio and a new vision.

“The time was right,” Shane told Screen Play earlier in the year. “We watched the market very closely for the six years following our sale of Blue Tongue, basically not trusting where it was all going.

“Multi-year development cycles costing tens of millions of dollars just wasn’t sustainable for all but a few. The release of the iPhone and the explosion of Facebook caused a strategic, permanent shift towards the casual market, and that’s where we wanted to be.”

Shane and Steven self-funded a new independent studio in Melbourne called Twiitch, and earlier in the year release their first game Coco Loco.

Both Coco Loco and their latest release KartWorld adhere to the studio’s vision of creating  “original, fun, mobile and web-based social games that anyone can play”.

“After six years, we could see the writing was on the wall for US$30 million budget games,” says Shane. “(We) wanted to start a fresh new company focusing our sharp technical skill on games which could appeal to the masses, on devices everyone has in their pocket.”

Screen Play today chats with Shane about the aftermath of Coco Loco and how Twiitch hopes KartWorld could be the next big thing in Facebook gaming.

The full interview can be found below.

Have you been happy with Coco Loco’s sales?

Coco Loco has met our expectations thus far, but there is more to be done.

Would you have done anything differently?

We have a saying at Twiitch, “Ship it!”  The idea is to not get too precious, but to get your product to market as quickly as possible with the best quality you can.  We were a little precious about our first game/baby so took longer than we probably should have to launch.  This meant we launched around GDC, going head to head with “Angry Birds Space” and “DrawSomething” which obviously just dominated at the time.  All round, we’re very happy with Coco Loco, we’ve had awesome reviews and everyone can see how technically impressive and distinct it is, and the characters are much loved.  Still, we could have shipped a month earlier and it would have been pretty much the same.

Are you going to continue supporting the game?

Absolutely!  In fact since Coco Loco’s release, we’ve pushed a further 30 levels and two new theme packs.  Also they’re much harder, so you can forget about blasting through them like the earlier levels. We have also completed the Android version, which looks awesome on the Samsung Galaxy tablet. We’re just integrating the Amazon app store and Google Play store, and we’re going to ship.  We’re also going to release a free version on both platforms which will remove any initial friction. The next update after the Android release will see new characters and a cool new secret Cocoa character.  So yes, we intend to keep showing Coco Loco love.

Tell me about KartWorld.

KartWorld is our second project at Twiitch, and is hugely ambitious.  KartWorld is a free-to-play, synchronous, real-time kart racing game for Facebook.  You race online against your friends and other people on Facebook, winning money and gaining experience which you can use back at your garage to upgrade and buy new karts.  There are heaps of quests to complete, with other in-game characters in larger worlds, plus you can challenge your friends to beat your race times on different tracks.  You can even directly paint onto your karts and see your creations in real-time while you’re racing.  It’s awesome to see what the community has already created!

Technically, we’re pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a browser.  We use Flash, so our gamers don’t have to download anything to play our game.  We have written our own technology stack for both the game client and the cloud back-end.  We’ve invented an incredible new rendering technique that allows us to have karts with exquisite detail, yet can be custom painted by players, plus real kart physics giving a ‘console’ feel to the game.  We also invented a cool control mechanic, after a lot of iterations, so anyone of any skill level could pick the game and not touch the keyboard.  In can steer the karts with nothing more than the mouse cursor!  If you’re hardcore, you can still use the keyboard if you like.

Twiitch’s DNA is in the cloud, so it’s no surprise that we’ve gone all out on our back-end infrastructure.  This is where our technical background in the games business has come into its own in this new social field.  We built KartWorld from the ground up to scale, and it’s performed perfectly since the initial launch.  We’ve scaled to hundreds of thousands of users without a hitch, plus we’ve written our own analytics platform, producing nearly 20 million analytic events since launch.  It’s these analytics that we use to drive design decisions.  In other words, we know what our players do and don’t like and adjust the game day-by-day, focusing on what’s important.

I’m incredibly proud of our team, and what they’ve accomplished.

How did the game come about?

When Steven and I founded Twiitch, we saw the future of games, but there were two potential futures: premium and freemium.  We decided to put a foot in each, so Coco Loco was born as our mobile “premium” game and KartWorld was our “freemium” social, Facebook game.  Steven and I love racing games, and could see how we could bring value to this space.  In fact when it was just Steven and I programming out of our new office at the beginning, we had the prototype running of KartWorld in a couple of weeks.  We could see this was going to be a great addition to the crowded “farming” Facebook space, and so we went for it.

How important was the Film Victoria support in getting the game off the ground?

Steven and I have always managed our businesses such that we could still survive without outside help or debt.  We both equally invested into Twiitch, with a plan on how to scale over some time.  That said, being fast to market is everything in this space, and if we hadn’t had funding approved by Film Victoria, we would have only been able to make one game at a time, and it’s hard to say how that would have gone.  So Film Victoria provides an amazingly helpful service to the gaming community, and we were lucky enough to benefit with some early support.

What did you think of the Victorian Government cutting financial support to the Digital Media Fund?

I think it’s short-sighted.  The video game industry has been decimated locally, and worldwide actually, so there are a lot of talented people around now without jobs.  Or they’ve moved into other fields, because they have no choice.  The Indie industry is really important for both creativity and nurturing new talent, so this community will take a blow for sure.

Who is your target audience for KartWorld?

Anyone with a Facebook account, who is sick of farming for carrots! Seriously though, we have algorithms for matching people together, such that total noobs don’t get matched against seasoned players. We want people who are new to this genre to have fun right from the start, which is why, unlike other games, we let the player race their kart before any other sort of tutorial kicks in. It seems obvious, but it’s critical people have fun first and foremost. I don’t think that is adhered to enough in a lot of Facebook games.

Where do you think your key markets will be and why?

Without a doubt the top tier 1 market is the US, followed by the UK, Western Europe, Australia, Japan, China and others.  These are markets that know and love racing games, and are used to the freemium/micro-transactional model.

How different is it designing a game for Facebook compared to console or mobile platforms?

The number one issue you have to deal with from day zero is scale.  We are obsessed with scale at Twiitch, and it shows in everything we do.  Our game loads quickly, minimises how much data is thrown around, has no central server and uses peer-to-peer networking.  There is no single point of failure by design, so if you don’t get that sorted right at the beginning, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.  In addition, there is a much larger User Acquisition Cost.  There are really only two ways to get customers: direct marketing (ads) or viral (referrals, search, etc).  Companies like Zynga have an extensive private network that they use to significantly lower these costs, which was largely built during the earlier Facebook era.  Facebook has since plugged most of the viral hooks developers used to rely on, so it’s harder to acquire those users now.  This is why we have partnered with RockYou in the US, who are our publishing partner.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

1. Scale.

2. Analytics.

3. Making a fun game! (Actually that problem always exists)

How hard is it to release an original IP on Facebook?

It’s easier than releasing an original IP on a console, that’s for sure.  I think people are more willing to take a chance on something that’s free, and that goes for mobile/PSN/XBLA/Steam too.  When you have to cough up $80 for a game, that is a huge friction point, so publishers really want to make sure they can have reasonable projections before committing development/publishing dollars.  That’s much easier for brands and sequels.  It’s not a business we want to be in.  We own everything we do, and are passionate about our original concepts, which I think shows.

How do you get that crucial initial player interest so you can build some momentum and grow the community?

You have to spend money to make money! The nature of Facebook is that there are review/community channels, like on mobile, however there are a huge number of games/distractions that can make it hard to stand out from the crowd. So there will always be direct user acquisition costs – paid, directed ads. You just have to have a business model where your LTV (user Lifetime Value) is greater than your CPA (cost per user acquisition). We strongly believe that fun and quality are the most important selling points, which is often surprisingly overlooked. In other words, if you build something cool and fun, the community will get behind it and you’ll get more of a viral lift, driving down the user acquisition cost. Users will be truly engaged and be driven to want to spend in your game, rather than feel pressured into it.

What do you think makes KartWorld different from its competitors?

The main differentiator is that KartWorld is its synchronous kart racing gameplay. It is built around the idea of having true engagement, and a competitive community. There is nothing like playing against people live. We have gorgeous graphics and a natural player control mechanic.  There really is nothing else like this on the market.

How has the response been so far?

The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve deliberately rolled out carefully and slowly, improving the game and refining the features before opening up worldwide, which we’ve now done. With very little marketing we rocketed to more than 350,000 users in a few weeks! We have more than 17,000 likes on our official page and we’ve only just begun. The community is passionate and feedback constantly to us.  We couldn’t do it without the community.

How many concurrent players can the game support?

We don’t have any limits on concurrent users. Our architecture scales elastically, so there is nothing stopping us from having millions of concurrent users (actually playing at the same time), or tens of millions of monthly users.  We’ve spiked up to tens of thousands of concurrent users, and our server architecture hasn’t skipped a beat.  We’re justifiably proud of this.

How do you ensure players can’t cheat?

Because of our experience with the Korean online market during our time at THQ, we learnt how important cheat prevention is. A lot of Facebook games have avoided the full brunt of cheaters, and the affect they can have on a community, due to the fact that most don’t have synchronous and competitive play. Most games are really just solo experiences in their essence.  Right from the beginning we knew this, and built cheat prevention into everything, from the network packets sent from our player’s machines, to server-based pattern matching and data analysis.  We handle everything from the people messing with the clocks on their computers, all the way through man-in-the-middle data injection, network data replaying, etc.  Also, nothing important is ever done on the player’s machine, the client machines are assumed to be unreliable.  Everything is sent to the cloud for analysis.  To date, there was has only been one cheat found.  Through a hacked client, some players took advantage of a game exploit enabling them to gain coins. However, straight away our server analysis picked this up, and we reset the accounts.  We keep these users around and set their accounts to monitor, this way they can show us if there are other problems.  So in short, never underestimate cheating, it’s very important to the cohesiveness of the community.

What are your plans for the game in the next 12 months?

We are updating the game every day.  Everything from the graphics, performance, networking, new karts, skins, the economy, quests, etc. change frequently, showing our players that we’re listening.  Now that we’re live, these decisions are driven by analytics from the game, so we know what to concentrate on. We let our audience tell us what they want to see, through their actions.  We are also about to deliver a huge performance update, which we’re keeping close to our chests.  It’s awesome though.

The most importantly for us, though, is mobile.  I’m happy to announce, we’re bringing KartWorld to iOS and Android as a free app.  It’s very exciting; we can’t wait to share more on this soon.

Great, many thanks for your time Shane. All the best with the game.

Screen Play is on Twitter: @screenplayblog

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No Djoke for Sharapova after shock Wimbledon loss

Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during her women’s singles tennis match against Sabine Lisicki of Germany at Wimbledon. Sabine Lisicki of Germany celebrates after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia at Wimbledon.
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia, (left) embraces friend and countryman Viktor Troicki after their Wimbledon clash.

Novak Djokovic does a famous impersonation of Maria Sharapova, but there was little about his fellow No.1 today that Djokovic wished to imitate.

While Sharapova crashed out of the tournament she had been favoured to win, Djokovic, the men’s favourite, could scarcely have advanced more emphatically.

Latest scores: click here.

On the day that Sharapova was beaten in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, by 15th seed Sabine Lisicki, Djokovic dominated his childhood friend and doubles partner Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in a one-sided instalment of a rivalry that began back in Serbia when Troicki was nine and Djokovic one year his junior.

After Roger Federer, his main rival from the top half of the draw, had struggled with a back spasm early in his four-set win outdoors over Xavier Malisse, Djokovic waited for the centre court roof to be closed and then took just 90 minutes to join the Swiss in the last eight.

“I returned really well; I served great. The baseline game, I was patient and waiting for a chance to be aggressive.  Everything was quite compact, and I’m satisfied,” said Djokovic. “There is no secrets between us, and it is never easy to play your very good friend, someone you grew up with. But there had to be one loser.”

Still, on a rain-interrupted day, there were only three men’s winners from the round-of-16. Of the incomplete matches, Andy Murray leads Marin Cilic by a set and a break, Mardy Fish is 6-4, 1-1 against fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Richard Gasquet trails Florian Mayer, while the two remaining matches are yet to start.

The only certain quarter-final match-up is between Federer and his 13-time whipping boy, Mikhail Youhzny. “I never beat him, so it’s why I’m happy, because I will play against him.  I will have one more chance, ”

While Federer will appreciate another rest day to recover from his latest back spasm, the women will back-up immediately for a quarter-final round in which titleholder Petra Kvitova meets her predecessor Serena Williams in a rematch of the 2010 semi-final the American won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

Following top seed Sharapova’s ejection by Lisicki, the last two former champions in the field were both pushed to three sets in their round-of-16 appetisers, but the contrast was that Williams struggled after a great start against wildcard Yaroslava Shvedova, while Kvitova finished strongly after a sloppy opening against Francesca Schiavone.

“The last matches I played so well and so quick, and today it’s about the fight,” Kvitova said. “I’m so happy that I showed that. It’s important. Tomorrow is different day, so I hope they will be better tomorrow.

“I think it will be huge match for both of us, and I’m looking forward to play against her. Looking forward to have a challenge. She is a great champion. She won many times here. I will try my best and we will see.”

Williams claimed not be be jaded after successive three-setters. “I had a year off, so I’m good. I’m really fit. I don’t feel tired at all. I feel so fresh. This match, it was long, but it wasn’t arduous, so I feel totally fine,” she said. “I feel like I can do a lot better, which is very comforting, because if this is my best I’m in trouble.” Kvitova, she said is “obviously a great grass court player, as well as I am. I’ll be ready”.

The 13-time major winner’s other issue was with the crowd control as she was escorted on the long journey back from remote court two. “I literally was almost knocked over today. The security, was tons of security guards in there just going nuts and screaming.  I’ve never heard them scream so loud.”

Was she frightened? “No, I wasn’t scared. Nobody going to knock me over, for real. I’d like to see that happen.”

Germany is guaranteed a semi-finalist for the second consecutive year, and Kim Clijsters, who won just two games against Angelique Kerber in her Wimbledon farewell, slightly favours the eighth seed over the big-serving Lisicki.

“I definitely think she’s a better mover than Lisicki. Lisicki has a great serve, has a very good kind of first shot.  She likes to hit that 1-2 shot, a good serve, then open up the court with the serve and really hits aggressive. I think Kerber is more of an all around player, plays really well, anticipates really well, but is a great mover. I think on grass it will be close. Then the whole German situation I think will probably have an effect, too.”

The remaining quarter-finals feature the two contenders to replace Sharapova at No.1: Victoria Azarenka against world No.38 Tamira Paszek, and Agnieszka Radwanska, who is yet to reach a grand slam semi despite her ranking of No.3, against 17th seed Maria Kirilenko.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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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.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Electricity customers in massive power grab

In the past 10 years, the average household’s electricity use has risen by about 30 per cent.It is your fault your electricity bill is expensive.
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That is the message from Energex and a range of data that shows 25 per cent of Australians buy a new television each year and collectively spend millions of dollars annually to charge their phones and laptops.

The data also shows, on average, households in regional Queensland have three air conditioners installed.

Energy retailer Origin last week incurred the wrath of Premier Campbell Newman after the company unveiled plans to charge about half of its customers about an extra $400 a year on their electricity bills.

Mr Newman ordered letters be sent to government departments telling them to switch electricity providers, a move that would cost Origin about $27 million in government contracts.

But Origin corporate affairs executive general manager Phil Craig said the biggest part of a customer’s bill was network costs, which were set by Energex.

An Energex spokeswoman yesterday said the network costs were driven up by the need to build more infrastructure to support Queensland’s insatiable appetite for electricity.

The latest figures show in the past 10 years, the average household’s electricity use had risen by about 30 per cent.

The network was being built to cope with “peak demand” times, which was typically a handful of summer days in which almost every household turns on the air conditioning.

In order for the network to cope on those few days, it had to be upgraded and the cost was passed on to the consumer.

But it was not just the few hot summer days that could overwhelm the network; every day there was peak energy usage between 4pm and 8pm as people turned on their flat screen televisions and charged their smart phones and laptops.

“There has been a significant surge in the number of homes across Queensland with large screen televisions which are now in 86 per cent of homes,” the Energex spokeswoman said.

“The survey also found that 41 per cent of homes now had two or more LCD, LED or plasma televisions, while many home owners identified that their TVs were on ‘all of the time’.”

The Energy Use in the Australian Residential Sector report, published by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, tracked energy use of Australian households every year since 1986 and forecast energy usage for every year up to 2020.

The report pointed to personal computers and larger televisions as the major contributors to growing electricity bills, with a whopping 25 per cent of people buying a new television every year.

The report found the amount of energy the average household was consuming through a television had quadrupled between 1986 and 2005 and was projected to triple between 2005 and 2020.

The other major driver of household energy use has been the rise in personal computers, laptops, smart phones and tablets.

In 1986, the energy consumption for these types of products was so low the report said it was too “negligible” to rate.

By 2005, Australians’ energy use through IT devices was 8 pilojules – or 2,222,222,222.224 kilowatt hours – and that was expected to almost double again by 2020.

It was not just new technologies pushing up people’s electricity bills – the use of energy for lighting doubled between 1986 and 2010, despite the introduction of energy saving light bulbs.

The report attributed the rise in the use of lights to houses becoming larger over the past couple of decades.

And then there is the serial offender when it comes to high electricity bills in Queensland – the air conditioner.

“Queenslanders’ love affair with the air-conditioner shows little signs of ending,” the Energex spokeswoman said.

“In fact survey forecasts that by 2017 there will be 2.4 million air-conditioners in southeast Queensland – up from the current 1.64 million – and 1.6 million air cons in regional Queensland, rising from the current 1.15 million.

“The data shows that while southeast Queensland homes have an average of two air-conditioners, in regional Queensland more than half of homes have three or more systems.”

The Australian Energy Regulator’s latest electricity bills benchmarks for residential customers report showed the average Queensland one-person household used 4030 kWh per year, a two person household 5331 kWh, a household of three 6633 kWh and a household of four used 7934 kWh.

The report showed the running of a swimming pool almost doubled the energy usage of any household.

Origin’s winter data for Queensland last year showed a swimming pool cost about $73 per quarter to run in peak times and $42 per quarter to run in off-peak times.

It also broke down the costs of other household appliances for the winter months with a clothes dryer used once a week costing $15 per quarter.

Origin estimated people would use a heater for a small room for 65 days out of every quarter at a cost of $164 to their bill. To heat an average lounge room for 65 days it cost $263.

A 42-inch plasma television, which was used for five hours per day, cost $34 per quarter.

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