Archive for September, 2018

Hunter Water first as refinery disconnected from sewer

Disconnected: Hunter Water has acted quickly after contaminant perfluorooctane sulfonate was found in waste water discharged from Australian Waste Oil Refineries at Rutherford. The contaminant is at the centre of the Williamtown RAAF Base contamination scandal.HUNTER Water has temporarily disconnected a Rutherford waste oil refinery from the sewer network aftercontaminants at the centre of the Williamtown RAAF Base water contamination scandal werefound in a refinery discharge.

Theaction is a first for Hunter Water and “reflects the seriousness of the non-compliance”, a spokesman said on Thursday in a statement announcing the disconnection.

The water authority is now investigating the location and identity of the organisation that supplied the contaminated waste to Australian Waste Oil Refineries at Rutherford.

The company’slicence to discharge trade waste into the system was suspended on Tuesday after tests confirmed contaminants perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were found in samples collected from the site on February 12.

The samples were collected after a Hunter Water inspection identified a potential trade waste breach. They were taken from the site and the downstream sewerage system, with contaminants found in all samples including the Farley Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge point at Fishery Point, a Hunter Water spokesman said.

The samples do not affect Hunter Water’s drinking water supply and relate to discharges into the sewer only.

The refinery wastewater sample showed a very high level, 116 micrograms per litre,of PFOS and 1.14 micrograms per litre of PFOA, while the Farley Wastewater Treatment Works discharge point sample showed 1.48 micrograms per litreof PFOS and 0.13 micrograms per litreof PFOA.

Hunter Water advised the EPA of the test results on 22 February.

Hunter Water advised the refinery on Tuesday that its licence to discharge into the sewer was suspended until it could comply with its trade waste agreement and demonstrate controls to keep PFOS and PFOA from entering the system.

Hunter Water has requested a large amount of information from the refinery owners as it investigates the discharge in consultation with the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

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Essential Energy cuts power to Yass residents as temperature soars

Up to 240 residents of rural properties south-east of Yass will lose power for more than six hours today. Photo: Nic WalkerYass residents have hit out at a scheduled power outage which saw hundreds of homes lose electricity, and some water, on a day when the temperature was forecast to reach 40 degrees.

Up to 240 occupants of rural properties around Yass were scheduled to lose power from 8.45am until 3pm on Thursday, but Essential Energy said on the morning they would reduce the hours; from 9am until 1pm.

The outage was part of a series scheduled each Thursday for four weeks as the new Walgrove housing estate is built.

It left many rural properties which rely on water pumps without running water for the duration, while the temperature was forecast to hit 40 degrees and the fire danger rating was very high.

Tracey Bassett was one of several residents who had lodged a formal complaint with Essential Energy in the lead up to Thursday’s scheduled outage.

Ms Bassett said many elderly and infirm people were placed at risk and criticised the company’s “lack of flexibility” in performing non-emergency work.

She described their attitude as “sorry, not sorry”.

“It’s not emergency work or regular maintenance, it’s work on a new estate. I don’t have an issue with the work in general but I want them to take the risk factors into account,” she said.

She said while the reduced hours of outage are “better than nothing”, it still left many people suffering.

She said no power left many homes at risk of fire and many animals vulnerable to the effects of the hot weather.

“If there’s a fire, there’s no first line of defence. There’s quite a bit of fuel around at the moment,” Ms Bassett said.

Another affected resident, Anita Langford said she knows of people on her road who are battling cancer or have young children, and she herself has two very sick dogs.

She said the work should have been more spread out or scheduled for a month not notorious for extreme heat.

“If it was chucking lightning bolts out of the sky or raining, they’d call it off, they would find room in their schedule for those extreme weather events. They just don’t want to do it,” Ms Langford said.

But Yass farmer and local Rural Fire Service brigade captain Eric Gruber said while the outage was an inconvenience, property owners needed to have a back-up plan.

“If we get a big fire we’re going to lose power anyway. People should be prepared in the bush,” he said.

He said the power came back on at his place well before 1pm.

According to their website, Essential Energy last week cancelled another outage scheduled for Thursday affecting 217 customers north-east of Yass in Blakney Creek, Broadway and Dalton.

Another outage scheduled for Thursday, affecting 168 residents east of Collector, was canned on Wednesday.

Essential Energy’s general manager Steven Ilitch said the company’s top priority was always the safety of the public, its contactors and their employees.

He said Essential Energy assesses the risk of planned work on a case-by-case basis to “determine the appropriateness to proceed”.

“In line with legislative requirements, Essential Energy provides all customers with at least four business days’ prior notice of any planned power outage to allow them to make alternative arrangements, if necessary,” Mr Ilitch said.

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What not to do, according to Warren Buffett

For anyone wondering, “What would Warren Buffett do?” the 85-year-old billionaire has given plenty of advice in his public remarks and in annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a home buyer considering a mortgage, or an executive weighing a takeover; he’s got something for just about anyone looking to live a more rational, financially successful life. There’s also a growing catalogue of no-nos that Buffett has handed down to help investors, corporate managers and his own employees avoid mistakes. With his next annual letter due on Saturday, it’s time for a review of “What Buffett wouldn’t do” – and you probably shouldn’t, either. Don’t be too fixated on daily moves in the stock market

“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field – not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard. If you can enjoy Saturdays and Sundays without looking at stock prices, give it a try on weekdays.” (from letter published in 2014) Don’t get excited about your investment gains when the market is climbing”There’s no reason to do handsprings over 1995’s gains. This was a year in which any fool could make a bundle in the stock market. And we did.” (1996) Don’t be distracted by macroeconomic forecasts”The cemetery for seers has a huge section set aside for macro forecasters. We have in fact made few macro forecasts at Berkshire, and we have seldom seen others make them with sustained success.” (2004) Don’t limit yourself to just one industry”There’s no rule that you have to invest money where you’ve earned it. Indeed, it’s often a mistake to do so: Truly great businesses, earning huge returns on tangible assets, can’t for any extended period reinvest a large portion of their earnings internally at high rates of return.” (2008) Don’t get taken by formulas”Investors should be sceptical of history-based models. Constructed by a nerdy-sounding priesthood using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like, these models tend to look impressive. Too often, though, investors forget to examine the assumptions behind the symbols. Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.” (2009) Don’t be short on cash when you need it most”We will never become dependent on the kindness of strangers. We will always arrange our affairs so that any requirements for cash we may conceivably have will be dwarfed by our own liquidity.” (2010) Don’t wager against the US and its economic potential”Who has ever benefited during the past 238 years by betting against America? If you compare our country’s present condition to that existing in 1776, you have to rub your eyes in wonder ? We will regularly grumble about our government. But, most assuredly, America’s best days lie ahead.” (2015) Don’t beat yourself up over wrong decisions; take responsibility for them

“Agonising over errors is a mistake. But acknowledging and analysing them can be useful, though that practice is rare in corporate boardrooms … When it comes to corporate blunders, CEOs invoke the concept of the Virgin Birth.” (2001) Don’t have mandatory retirement ages”At the Harvard Business School last year, a student asked me when I planned to retire and I replied, ‘About five to ten years after I die.'” (1992) Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircutBecause the answer will be what’s best for the man with the scissors. A CEO is no more likely to get an impartial opinion if he asks outside advisers whether to proceed with a deal, as “friendly investment bankers will reassure him as to the soundness of his actions”. (1983) Don’t dawdle”When a problem exists, whether in personnel or in business operations, the time to act is now. The time to have considered – and improved – the reliability of New Orleans’ levees was before Katrina.” (2006) Don’t interfere with great managers”At Berkshire, we do not tell .400 hitters how to swing.” (1994) Don’t succumb to the attitudes that undermine businesses”My successor will need one other particular strength: the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency. When these corporate cancers metastasise, even the strongest of companies can falter.” (2015) Don’t be greedy about compensation, if you’re my successor”It’s important that neither ego nor avarice motivate him to reach for pay matching his most lavishly-compensated peers, even if his achievements far exceed theirs.” (2015) Don’t worry about my healthBecause so much of the company’s success is tied to reinsurance lieutenant Ajit Jain. “Worry about his.” (2001) Bloomberg

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BlackRock’s $118 billion fund manager says stock pickers’ time has come

Traders working the floor of the New York Stock Exchange: Rather than punting on central bankers’ next steps, it’s time to focus again on companies’ performance, top fund manager says. Photo: Richard DrewDan Chamby, who manages $US85 billion ($118 billion) for the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, says central banks’ waning power over markets means old-style share investors can get back to what they do best. Chamby is buying again after having 21 per cent of holdings in cash at the end of last year. He says the turmoil in share markets is natural as traders numbed by years of stimulus relearn how to price risk, and instead of agonising about monetary policy makers’ next steps, he’s poring over economic data and looking for bargains. He’s going against many investors, and colleagues within BlackRock, with bets that oil will rebound. “We have to become much more fundamentally focussed,” Chamby said in a phone interview from Princeton, New Jersey. Now is a time for stock pickers to “begin to distinguish ourselves.” The years after the 2008 financial crisis were lean ones for value investing — the style of seeking out companies trading at deep discounts to earnings and assets — as unprecedented central bank asset purchases helped push equities up across the board. There are signs that’s changing as the Federal Reserve tightens policy and Europe and Japan’s forays into negative rates fail to stem a stock selloff. Companies’ valuations, for one, are starting to diverge after growing more alike in recent years. “We’re seeing greater dispersion,” Chamby said. “The pricing’s better than it was.”

Chamby managed $US85 billion at the end of January, he said. That’s down from $US100 billion in April. The BlackRock Global Allocation Fund, the largest he helps oversee with $US45.5 billion in assets, lost 5.1 per cent this year to beat 36 per cent of peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It posted an annualized gain of 2.9 per cent over five years, topping 60 per cent of competitors, the data show. Since inception in 1989, its average yearly return is 10 per cent, according to BlackRock. The fund had 59 per cent of assets in equities and 24 per cent in bonds at the end of January. It reduced cash to 16 per cent of holdings, and its three largest stock picks were Apple, Alphabet (the new Google parent company) and Uber Technologies. Chamby says he’s been buying energy, health-care and technology shares, while declining to specify which ones. ‘Out in the wilderness’The 55-year-old says he’s convinced oil prices will rebound. US crude traded at $US31.17 a barrel on Wednesday and has fallen more than 70 per cent since June 2014. He’s looking at cheap companies with interesting reserves and firms that process and transport the commodity. “We are feeling rather alone” in the oil bet, Chamby said. “Out in the wilderness. Not even our colleagues within BlackRock seem to support us on that.”

Chamby, who is bullish on Japan, has reduced allocations to Tokyo stocks to twice from three times his benchmark after the market saw the wildest swings since the March 2011 earthquake. The fluent Japanese speaker who previously worked as a research analyst for Fujitsu says his fund’s goal is to provide competitive returns with less volatility. On China, he says the economy will transition to a services-led model without a hard landing. The bigger concern for him is further devaluations of the currency. While that would hurt his fund’s performance, he says the nation’s policy makers probably won’t take that approach because it would destabilise the global economy. Chamby expects further stimulus from the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank, but he’s unsure it will be effective. Still, Chamby isn’t too concerned that markets have to learn to live without the support of central bankers. Training Wheels

“The market lost the ability to price risk for itself,” Chamby said, likening the new environment to a child learning to ride a bike without training wheels. “Once you take the training wheels off, you’re going to fall off, but it won’t be fatal. You learn to ride again.” In fact, he says this is good for equity buyers with a long-term view, as it signals markets are getting back to normal. Traditional stock pickers have to be prepared to suffer some pain until their bets pay off, he says. “Being a value investor, being a stock selector has not worked in this central bank policy regime,” Chamby said. “It’s starting to work again.” Bloomberg

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Rio Tinto downgraded by Moody’s, outlook negative

“There has been a fundamental downward shift in the mining sector with the downturn being deeper and prospects for a recovery extended,” Moody’s said. Photo: FDCRio Tinto had its credit rating lowered by Moody’s Investors Service on concerns that excess supplies, including for iron ore, will push raw-materials prices lower for several years. Moody’s lowered Rio’s senior unsecured bonds to Baa1 from A3, the ratings company said Wednesday in a statement. The outlook for the company’s new rating is negative. Rio escaped being brought down to junk status, a fate plaguing an increasing number of mining companies. Standard & Poor’s last week cut its ratings for Kinross Gold and Anglo American below investment grade. Freeport-McMoRan had already been cut to junk by S&P and Moody’s. Metals prices reached multi-year lows in 2016, and while some have rebounded, they’re still trading close to their cost of production, eroding profit margins. “There has been a fundamental downward shift in the mining sector with the downturn being deeper and prospects for a recovery extended, resulting in increased credit risk and weaker metrics for Rio Tinto as well as the global mining sector,” Moody’s said. “Consequently, ratings need to be recalibrated to reflect expected performance over a more protracted challenging operating environment,” Moody’s also said. Commodity producers sank 6.5 per cent as a group in London on Wednesday, after they rebounded as much as 35 per cent from this year’s low through Monday. Rio shed 5.7 per cent. BHP Billiton lost 8.4 per cent. Moody’s said the slowing economic growth rates in China materially impact the demand for base metals while the reducing steel production rates impact demand for iron ore and metallurgical coal – leading to lower prices. “Supply imbalances, particularly in iron ore, the major earnings and cash flow driver for Rio Tinto, will maintain pressure on prices for several years,” the ratings agency said. “While lower oil prices, lower freight costs, and currency depreciation contribute to reduced costs, the drop in prices has and will continue to significantly impact performance. In addition, the strong US dollar is a further factor contributing to weakening demand and driving prices lower since most metals are traded in dollars.”

The negative outlook reflects the ongoing pressure in the markets in which Rio participates and “our view that Rio Tinto’s debt protection metrics will remain outside appropriate levels for a Baa1 rating during 2016”, Moody’s said, adding: “Metrics are expected to evidence improving trends in 2017 and onwards.”

The ratings could be downgraded should Rio Tinto’s leverage, as measured by the Debt/EBITDA ratio remain above 2.5 times, (CFO – dividends)/debt is less than 25 per cent and liquidity contracts, Moody’s said.

The ratings could be upgraded should Rio Tinto evidence a sustainable debt/EBITDA ratio of no more than 2 times and (CFO-Dividends)/debt ratio of at least 35 per cent, it added.


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