RESERVE Bank moves to officially limit the amounts retailers can charge customers for processing credit cards pose a problem until banks – the owners of the credit card brands – reduce their own impost on retailers.

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Jost Stollmann - calling on banks to lower their card fees to retailers.

Tyro Payments CEO Jost Stollmann said the changes – which were announced on March 18 and aimed at bringing down allowable credit card surcharges from as much as 4 percent to 1 percent – would benefit consumers, but the major banks had a responsibility to help bring down costs for struggling retailers.

“If excessive surcharging on all credit and debit card transactions was removed it would save the Australian consumer an estimated $350 million a year,” Mr Stollmann said.

“Often consumers are charged nothing to use their credit cards, but in many cases they do have to pay a fee, for petrol, clothing and food. It can be for anything.

“The major banks impose unnecessary costs on small retailers, who then pass the costs onto consumers.

“Banks are making record profits, while retailers are struggling to survive. Banks need to lower their ‘interbank’ fees, which will give retailers the capacity to lower credit card fees for consumers,” he said.

From March 18, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) issued a guidance note on new Standards that give credit card companies the power to force retailers to limit what they can charge consumers to use credit and debit cards.

Mr Stollmann said the ramifications could be huge as Australians spent $440 billion on credit, debit and charge card transactions last year.

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Jost Stollmann (right) interviewed on ABC's Lateline Business (now The Business).

 

This included $208 billion on Visa and MasterCard credit cards, $130 billion on eftpos cards, $54 billion on AMEX and Diners Club charge cards and $49 billion on Visa and MasterCard debit cards.

American Express and Diners Club card transactions attract surcharges of 3-4 percent, while 36 percent of all retailers levy a surcharge on credit card purchases, according to the RBA’s Review of Card Surcharging: A Consultation Document, published in June 2011.

The use of surcharging has grown dramatically in recent years, Mr Stollmann said, and is most popular with large retailers who wield strong market power. The RBA first allowed credit card surcharging from 2003 to ensure customers who paid in cash did not subsidise those who used credit cards, which require costly technology.

Mr Stollmann said today 44 percent of large retailers charge customers to use credit cards, compared with only 23 percent of small businesses. This is thought to be because small business has a closer and more interdependent relationship with its customer base.

In December 2010, the average surcharge paid by consumers for Diners Club was 4%, for American Express 2.9%, for Visa 1.9% and for MasterCard 1.8%, according to RBA research.

In taxis, customers are forced to pay 10% when paying for their trip with a credit card. The RBA is currently considering whether to regulate the Cabcharge system as it does the Visa, MasterCard and eftpos payment schemes.This would open up the Cabcharge system to competition for the first time in 36 years.

Mr Stollmann said Australians spent an estimated $4.6 billion on cabs in 2011 from 209 million separate journeys, according to Australian transport industry statistics.

“It is a scandal how Cabcharge is allowed to continue to stifle competition and gouge the Australian consumer,” Mr Stollmann said. “Customers pay 10% in a cab every time they use a credit, debit or Cabcharge card, yet only pay between zero and four percent in a shop.

“The payment system in cabs is more expensive than in a retail store, but there is no justification for the 10% if the market was open to competition. Every man, woman and child in Australia takes more than 15 taxi journeys a year on average, so the stakes are high.”

The 10% taxi surcharge contributed $90 million of revenue to Cabcharge in the 2012 financial year, charged on $1.05 billion in taxi payment turnover.

Mr Stollmann said the momentum to provide customers with a better deal was growing.“Every man, woman and child in Australia takes more than 15 taxi journeys a year on average, so the stakes are high.”

Mr Stollmann lamented the inequalities that bedevil Australia’s payment systems. He said Tyro was the first new entrant into the EFTPOS business in more than 14 years, and is independent of the brand ‘eftpos’, which is majority owned by the major banks.

He pointed out that a major anomaly was that Cabcharge is not registered with APRA, holds no financial services licence or credit licence with ASIC and is not governed by the RBA, yet the proprietary Cabcharge payment system processed $438 million in fares 2012 financial year.

www.rba.gov.au

www.tyro.com

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PROFESSOR Hari Tsoukas, a Cypriot academic based at the UK's Warwick Business School, has warned unemployment could double to 30 percent in Cyprus following the nation's bailout.  Image The EUR10 billion rescue plan agreed by the European Union and Cypriot MPs will see depositors with more than 100,000 losing 40 percent of their cash while the Popular Bank will be closed and its debts absorbed by the Bank of Cyprus.

There will also be controls on cash flows to stop more money being drained out of the country. Although it has stopped the Cypriot economy from collapsing Professor Tsoukas believes it will bring great hardship for the next decade.

The Cypriot professor, who is back in his homeland at present, said,  "Unemployment is likely to at least double from 14 percent to at least 25 percent and possibly up to 30 percent. Not so long ago it was just five percent.

"Those two banks employ around 8,000 people, which is a big number for a country like this.

"They are extremely important for the economy.

"Imagine if the City of London was a country and its financial institutions were suddenly wiped out. It's extraordinary. If you try to impose a new business model overnight, the country will stop functioning.

"This is a fascinating case study of how to turn a problem into a drama and a drama into a crisis. Things should not have escalated to this point," Prof Tsoukas said.

"I think the future could be terribly bleak. It's going to have huge knock-on effects for the whole economy."

There is speculation that Cyprus will leave the Eurozone now with a lot of resentment towards the European Union, and although Prof. Tsoukas believes the interest of the country is best served within the Euro, the price Cyprus pays for Eurozone membership has become so high that he will not be surprised if the debate concerning a return to the Cyprus pound intensifies and, ultimately, the country is forced to exit the common European currency.

"There is a lot of anger against the Eurozone in Cyprus because of the way this has been handled. The EU has been perceived by many people as almost hostile to the country; after all we are talking about the shrinking of the banking sector which is the most important sector of the economy almost overnight. It is a violent change to the business model and people will see their lives being turned upside down," Prof. Tsoukas  said.

"These voices to exit the euro will increase, but I don't think they will dominate in the short term at least, and I still think people will probably see it is in their best interests to stay part of the euro."

Prof. Tsoukas says in the long-term Cyprus' untapped gas reserves will offer a way to grow the nation's economy again.

"It is a huge challenge now facing the Cypriot people, we have been resilient before and we will need all that again," said the Professor of Organisation Studies.

"We have seen for the first time since 1974 signs of the country sliding into a non-normal economy. People have been able to get by, but most worryingly people are seeing their daily lives out of normality.

"We are going to see things getting worse in Cyprus, life will deteriorate. Life will be difficult for people living in Cyprus and the country will be another version of Ireland and Greece with a tough austerity programme.

"In another decade we can look forward to another recovery and money coming from the country's natural gas reserves. Banking will still play a part but the economy of Cyprus will shift to an energy-based economy and other services. The question of course is how people will survive between now and the end of the decade. But the powerful members need not worry about it - Cypriots do not vote in their elections!"

www.wbs.ac.uk

 

BACKGROUND:

Warwick Business School, located in central England, is the largest department of the University of Warwick and the UK's fastest rising business school according the Financial Times. WBS is triple accredited by the leading global business education associations and was the first in the UK to attain this accreditation. Offering the full portfolio of business education courses, from undergraduate through to MBAs, and with a strong Doctoral Programme, WBS is the complete business school. Students at WBS currently number around 6,500, and come from 125 countries. Just under half of faculty are non-UK, or have worked abroad. WBS Dean, Professor Mark P Taylor, is among the most highly-cited scholars in the world and was previously Managing Director at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.

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MERGER and acquisition (M&A) activity and price-to-earning (PE) multiples across the engineering and mining. food and agribusiness and information and communication technology sectors remained steady in February, according to research by InterFinancial Corporate Finance.

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Certain agribusiness, ICT and engineering firms have been ripe M&A pickings in February.

 

The InterFinancial Engineering and Mining Services (EMS) Index is an unweighted index comprising EMS related companies trading on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). Multiples in the EMS sector stayed on the same level as in January, and by the end of February, the sector traded on a forward PE of 10.2-times, compared with the ASX200 on 15.3-times.

Multiples in the Food and Agribusiness (F&A) sector improved slightly from January. By the end of February, the F&A sector traded on a forward PE of 15.4-times, compared with the ASX200 on 15.3-times.

In the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, compared with the first half of the 2012 financial year, the sector overall has an increased EBITDA, but the individual company performance has been widely varied. In total, the companies in the InterFinancial sample set recorded a 12 percent increase in EBITDA over the period, with the average EBITDA increase for the sector being 8 percent.

InterFinancial, a specialist corporate finance advisor to mid-market companies (and a Queensland Leaders industry expert member) has particular insights and expertise in the area, through providing independent commercial advice to both listed and unlisted companies concentrating on mergers and acquisitions and sourcing private capital and strategic advice.

 

ENGINEERING & MINING

In February, InterFinancial removed mining services group Industrea from the index, following its takeover by GE. There was also a range of interesting company moves logged as part of the research.

InterFinanical reported WorleyParsons has agreed to acquire Bergen Group Rosenberg, the Norway based company engaged in the oil and gas market providing offshore engineering services, from Bergen Group ASA, the listed Norway based company engaged in supplying products, services and solutions to the offshore and maritime industry, for a  cash consideration of EUR 146.8m.

Genuine Parts Company announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the remaining 70 percent stake of Exego Group, headquartered in Melbourne, for a total purchase price of approximately US$800 million, including the assumption of certain debt. The company had previously purchased a 30% stake in the Exego Group on January 1, 2012, and held the option to acquire the remaining shares of the Exego Group at a later date, subject to Exego meeting certain earnings thresholds.

Korvest, the Australian cable, pipe manufacturing and galvanizing services company, is keen on more buys to diversify its products and client base after bedding down Power Step and Titan Technologies. A deal could happen after nine to 12 months. It will monitor potential targets while integrating both companies.

Decmil Group Limited, the listed Australia based company engaged in design, civil engineering and construction services, has agreed to acquire Eastcoast Development Engineering, the Australia based engineering, construction, manufacturing and maintenance company, for an undisclosed consideration. In 2012, Eastcoast Development generated revenues of $80 million. This acquisition will enable Decmil to expand in the significantly growing coal seam gas industry in Queensland.

Leighton Holdings, the listed Australia based holding company involved in civil engineering and infrastructure, building construction, contract mining, telecommunications, environmental services, property development and project management has agreed to acquire construction projects and associated assets of Macmahon Holdings, the listed Australian contracting and related services group, operating in the civil construction and mining sectors for a consideration of $20 million. The acquisition will enable Leighton to expand its mining operation services.

Rototherm, a private, UK-based manufacturer of instrumentation products, is seeking acquisitions and is interested in receiving target dossiers. The company typically seeks two acquisitions a year, although the figure can be exceeded if interesting targets become available. The Margam, Port Talbot-headquartered company has already concluded two deals this year, with discussions with an unnamed Australia-based company taking place.

VDM Group Ltd intends to divest its Como Engineers business for a cash consideration of $5.45 million. VDM has entered into a non-binding agreement to divest the Como business through a buy-out by the existing Como management team. The sale price of $5.45m will be settled in cash on the date of completion.

Seymour Whyte, an Australian construction and engineering services company, is studying potential acquisitions of its peers as well as joint venture partnerships for project work. The Queensland-based company, which has a market capitalization of about $90 million, is interested in acquiring construction and engineering services targets that have exposure to the oil and gas and iron ore industries, primarily in the Australian states of Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory.

Sedgman, the Australian engineering services provider, is seeking to acquire process engineering companies in Canada for market entry. It will also continue to look for targets across Australia, Africa, South America and Asia where it is already present.

InterFinancial reported Sedgman would like its revenue base to be split equally among its coal, metals and operation services. Sedgman is interested in process engineering companies, mainly those that offer engineering design services for rail and ports supporting coal, gold and copper projects. Ideal targets would have up to $100m worth of revenues, a $400m order book and net profit after tax of $ 15m.

Meanwhile, Coffey International, the geosciences consulting, international development, and project management company to the mining, infrastructure and government industries is focused of improving profitability and margins in the next 18 months. The $103m market cap company is focused on breaking even its unprofitable Project Management division as soon as possible. The division's client revenues were $15.4m in the first half of FY2013, compared to $19.3m the period prior.

Norfolk Group has commenced formal process which could involve a sale or merger. Following a strategic review, the company expects underlying EBIT for the year to March 31m 2013 (FY2013) will be in the range of $20-22m and reported EBIT for the full year to  March 31, 2013 will be in the range of $6-8 million.

Transfield Services is seeking do divest non-core businesses, with a view to focusing an high value asset management services. Non core business include Easternwell's Minerals Exploration and Marine Geotechnical businesses, the majority of Transfield's Middle East and Asia operations, and its 20% Ratch Australia investment.

FOOD & AGRIBUSINESS

InterFinancial reported Goodman Fielder has completed the sale of its Champion flour milling business in New Zealand to Nisshin Flour Milling Inc. and its parent, Nisshin Seifun Group Inc. for US$42.4m. Net proceeds of the sale will be used primarily to reduce debt and further strengthen Goodman Fielder's balance sheet.

Manassen Foods, the Australian food manufacturer backed by China's Bright Food, is seeking acquisitions in Asia. The company, which is 75 percent owned by Bright Food, would like to grow its turnover to $1bn from its current A$600m.

Chevalier International, the Hong Kong-listed diversified company, has signed a share sale deed to acquire Moraitis Group for $211.25m. Moraitis Group is a leading fruit and vegetable supplier aggregator in Australia. Chevalier is looking to buy plantation operators to expand its newly acquired fruit and vegetable business in Australia.

Lempriere Group, a family-owned Australian wool producer, trader, and textile manufacturer, is seeking acquisitions of wool and cotton suppliers for vertical integration. Lempriere acquired Australian cotton irrigation business Cubbie Group, in a deal completed in January this year.

Divella, the privately held Italian pasta group, is eager to make acquisitions to raise its market share. The group would like to invest EUR30m from its own reserves for the potential buys. The group expects to reach turnover of EUR310m this year and a rise of sales between 6% and 7%. Divella aims to grow its market share in Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Germany.

Inghams Enterprises, the Australian poultry business, has been acquired by the US private equity firm TPG Capital for about $880m. Forecast earnings for Inghams financial 2013, before tax, interest, amortization and depreciation is $210m, and the company has an $2bn a year turnover.

Fresh Produce Group, the private Australian fruit and vegetable supplier, could sell a minority stake to fund new growing operations. The Sydney-based importer and exporter caters to wholesalers and retailers and has annual turnover of about $200m.

Twynam, the Australia-based agricultural group, has acquired modular home manufacturer Quicksmart Homes. Twynam Agricultural Group is owned by the Kahlbetzer family.

PrimeAg Australia announced that it had agreed to the sale of the Crooble aggregation, the MacIntrye Downs, Mullala and Milchengowrie properties with an option to sell one of either the Lower Box or Warra properties to TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC, an investment company managed by an affiliate of TIAA-CREF.

InterFinanical has reported that Moira Mac's Poultry & Fine Foods, the private Australian meat processing company, is looking for domestic food groups that could use its newly-developed Hyperbaric Pressure Pasteurisation (HPP). The HPP technology ensures the meat is low-salt and free of chemical additives and preservatives. While it is prominent in the US, HPP technology remains under-developed in Australia.

Cordina Chicken Farms, the private Australian poultry processor, plans to focus its growth organically in Australia's east coast for the short to medium term. The family owned company received an approach 12-18 months ago. The interested parties were a mixture of poultry companies and private equity firms in Australia. Discussions never reached a serious stage and the family is not interested in selling. The company had $160m in revenues for FY2012.

Turi Foods, the family-owned Australian chicken and cheese producer, plans to expand its production of day-old chicks, in an effort to be self-sufficient and control its inputs. The Victoria-based company, which has annual turnover in the $ 200m-400m range, will execute a $50m-60m project to expand its sheds, property portfolio, labour and farming equipment over the next 12-18 months. It will likely fund the project through internal cash, but Turi would speak with equity investors. Debt would also be an option.

Byron Bay Cookie Company, the Australian cookie maker, has entered receivership. A valuer has been called in and a sales process is expected to get underway in April. Reports were that 13 employees in the company's head office had been laid off. The company is believed to have debt of $1.2m.

INFORMATION & COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY

Multiples in the ICT sector stayed on the same level compared to January while the general market improved slightly, although the sector continues to trade below the market. At the end of February, the ICT sector traded on a forward PE of 13.5-times, compared to the ASX200 of 15.3-times.

JB Hi-Fi has bought a 51 percent stake in Melbourne reseller Network Neighborhood for an undisclosed amount. The deal marks an important step in the expansion of JB Hi-Fi's commercial division, which will now offer professional IT services to businesses across Australia. It has the option to acquire the remaining shares of Network Neighborhood in 2014.

Alphabird, a leading global digital publishing solutions company headquartered in San Francisco, announced the acquisition of Volt Media, one of the largest independent premium video advertising and technology companies in Australia and New Zealand.

Leighton Holdings Limited announced today that the Company had begun exclusive negotiations to sell 70% of its telecommunications assets which include Nextgen Networks, Metronode and Infoplex to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, through its Long Term Equities Division. The sale price values 100% of these assets at $885m.

Airport Partners the Regional Airport Advertising specialist bought EYE UK from Australian TV broadcaster Channel Ten.

Bglobal, the leading provider of smart energy solutions and services announced that on 28 February it completed the sale of its Australian subsidiary Utilisoft to Hansen Corporation for a cash consideration of $3.5m.

Outotec has signed an agreement to acquire Scanalyse Holdings Pty Ltd, an Australia-based software technology company with operations in Australia, Brazil, Chile and the United States. Scanalyse provides services in process equipment condition and performance monitoring. The acquisition strengthens Outotec's specialized maintenance services, supporting life cycle solutions and Outotec's strategy to grow the services business.

Southern Cross Media Group the Australian radio and television group, has announced the sale of two of its Queensland radio assets to Eon Broadcasting for $17.75m.

Melbourne IT announced it had entered into definitive agreements with respect to the sale of its Digital Brand Services division to US-based Corporation Services Company for a cash consideration of $152.5m.

Also of interest,  Alphabird, a San Francisco, US-based digital media company, is looking to raise $10m-20m in its Series B fundraising round to raise capital for acquisitions in Singapore and Hong Kong. Alphabird entered the Australian market last year with the acquisition of Australian digital media and advertising company Ventures in Digital Media last month.

Silex Systems, the Australian listed energy group, is looking for an acquirer or a strategic investor for its IT subsidiary Chronologic. Chronologic is a non-core asset for Silex, whose value and future profitability lies in its core laser uranium enrichment business.

Attache Software, the private Australian maker of accounting and payroll software, is no longer interested in undergoing an IPO. The company's new goal is to double current revenues to $40m over the next two years by capturing the remaining small business clientele in Australia.

Donaco International, a Sydney, Australia-based listed leisure, gaming and wagering group, is assessing acquisitions and a capital raise after its reverse merger with Two Way. Donaco welcomes approaches from financial advisors suggesting potential investment opportunities and investors.

Contexti, a private Australian cloud-based managed services provider of ‘big data', is eyeing growth into English-speaking markets such as Hong Kong, New Zealand and the Philippines which will be financed by a stake sale.

http://www.interfinancial.com.au/

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