Reliance set for biggest ASX IPO of 2016

Australian plumbing supplies company Reliance Worldwide could raise more than $900 million when it floats on the Australian stock exchange next week.

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The Brisbane-based business is expected to list at $2.27 to $2.50 a share and generate up to $919 million, making the April 29 listing the largest local listing of 2016 so far.

Reliance, which sells valves, pipe fittings and thermostatic products across the English-speaking world and in Europe, is forecast to have a total market capitalisation of up to $1.3 billion.

Chairman Jonathan Munz, whose family has owned Reliance for 30 years, will retain at least 30 per cent of shares after the float.

Writing in the company prospectus, Mr Munz said the company had achieved average net sales growth of more than 13 per cent per annum over the past decade.

Mr Munz, a high-profile horse owner and breeder in Melbourne, said Reliance will use the additional capital to continue pursuing growth and increased market penetration in the United States and Canada.

“The purpose of the offer is to enable the existing owners to partially realise their investment in Reliance, provide Reliance with access to capital markets … broaden the shareholder base and provide a liquid market for its shares,” Mr Munz wrote in his letter to potential shareholders.

According to the prospectus, Reliance generated net sales of $451.7 million in 2014-15, with almost 70 per cent in the US and Canada.

The company expects to generate sales of $534.9 million in 2015-16 and $587.8 million the year after.

Sales were contingent on the shape of renovation and construction markets around the world, the prospectus said, as well as changes in economic conditions.

The company intends to target a dividend payout ratio of at least 40 per cent of net profit after tax.

Heath Sharp, who has been with Reliance since 1990, will serve as chief executive.

Syrian peace talks suspended by opposition

Syrian opposition negotiators and rebels have temporarily withdrawn from UN-brokered peace talks, vowing to strike back in reaction to the government’s alleged ceasefire violations.

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While an opposition spokesman says his side has “decided to postpone” the talks that started on Wednesday in Geneva, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura clarified that the delegation has left an opening.

The delegates will suspend their participation in official meetings at UN offices in the Swiss city, he says.

“They told us, however, their intention to remain in Geneva in their hotel and possibly, at my own suggestion, to pursue technical discussions with myself and my team,” de Mistura told reporters.

The opposition decided that continuing negotiations despite a lack of progress on humanitarian issues and escalating ceasefire breaches would be “increasing the ordeal of our people,” spokesman Ahmed Ramadan says.

De Mistura has been shuttling between the regime and the opposition teams, rather than bringing them to the same table.

US President Barack Obama telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express concern about the status of the Syrian ceasefire and push Putin to pressure the Russian-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop attacks against the opposition.

Earlier on Monday, several major Syrian rebel factions vowed to retaliate against government forces for alleged violations of the cessation of hostilities in a further sign that the war-torn country’s ceasefire is teetering.

Rebel troops attacked government positions in Latakia province in the north and on the outskirts of western Hama in Syria’s central region, according to the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.

The latest clashes come on the heels of recent skirmishes and a build-up of forces at potential flashpoints.

The opposition accuses the government of using the ceasefire, which was brokered by Russia and the United States on February 27, to gain ground and prepare for future attacks, especially around Aleppo city.

“The cessation of hostilities is still holding in many areas, but the increase in fighting is indeed worrisome,” said de Mistura, summing up the United Nation’s assessment.

Humanitarian shipments were proceeding too slowly he, he said.

In the Geneva talks, the opposition has been demanding a transitional government without the involvement of President Bashar al-Assad, while the government side has ruled out an early departure of the president.

Meanwhile, rebels including Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaeda wing al-Nusra Front are under pressure from the Islamic State extremist militia in the northern province of Aleppo.

More than 100,000 people are trapped in a small pocket in northern Syria, amid ongoing clashes between Islamic State and rebels, the aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned.

Tests suggest drugs can kill cancer cells

Dramatic trial results indicate that a combination of two immunotherapy drugs can wipe out the most deadly form of skin cancer even when the disease is advanced.

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Of 95 patients given the treatment, more than 60 per cent were still alive after two years and of these a fifth had no detectable tumours remaining.

A total of 142 patients were randomly allocated either to receive two drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab, or ipilimumab alone.

The therapies, consisting of lab-made antibodies, are designed to overcome the ability of some cancers to evade the immune system.

Findings from a phase II US-led trial testing the effectiveness of the drug combination were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in New Orleans

British expert Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, has treated patients with the drugs as part of another on-going trial.

Dr Larkin said: “Both nivolumab and ipilimumab have changed survival expectations in advanced melanoma over the last few years and these latest data show us that combining these two immunotherapies is an effective two-pronged attack against the cancer.

“The overall survival rates observed using the regimen of nivolumab plus ipilimumab are very promising and provide further hope for patients and their families affected by this disease.”

In 2013, around 14,500 people in the UK were diagnosed with melanoma and 2100 died from the disease.

Melanoma is at the forefront of new immunotherapy approaches to cancer treatment.

The immune system is constantly fighting a battle with cancer, and usually wins. But sometimes it fails, due to cancers exploiting mechanisms designed to prevent a too-strong immune response harming the body’s own tissues.

The antibody drugs, known as “checkpoint inhibitors”, interrupt two different signalling pathways to take the brakes off the immune system.

Patients taking part in the trial had two common forms of melanoma, one with a “normal” version of the BRAF gene and the other with a mutated version.

A total of 69 per cent of patients from the normal or “wild-type” BRAF group treated with the combination therapy were still alive after two years.

For the whole population of combination therapy patients, two year survival was achieved by 64 per cent.

Checkpoint inhibitors can have side effects linked to the way they impact on the immune system which may cause skin, gastro-intestinal, liver and hormonal problems.

In the trial, the adverse effects associated with the combination treatment included rash, itching, diarrhoea, gut inflammation and raised levels of a marker of liver damage.

Target the focus in Wesfarmers results

Wesfarmers’ problem child Target will likely be the focus of attention when the Perth-based conglomerate unveils its quarterly sales results.

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While Coles and Bunnings are the largest assets in Wesfarmers’ portfolio, analysts say the group is under pressure to address increasing speculation about the future of its discount department stores in the wake of an accounting scandal.

Wesfarmers will update the market on its March quarter sales on Thursday.

Target has been grappling with years of declining sales, while stablemates Kmart, Coles and Bunnings perform strongly with positive like-for-like growth.

Bell Direct equities analyst Julia Lee said the market expects Target to continue to struggle.

“Kmart and Target are very much in focus with a lot of talk about the Target brand disappearing,” Ms Lee said.

“Any commentary about Target’s future will be keenly watched.”

Market analyst Ben Le Brun of optionsXpress said Target has been the problem child for some time and the group was under pressure to turn it around.

“Wesfarmers is managing well in a tough retail environment with the exception of Target and that’s probably where the spotlight will be,” he said.

“There has been talk of merging Target and Kmart because they are so similar.”

Analysts expect Coles and Bunnings to continue to report same store sales growth.

However, Coles’ growth is expected to continue to slow amid an intense price war with Woolworths and German discounter Aldi.

The major supermarkets have been investing heavily in reducing its food prices as Aldi aggressively expands beyond Australia’s eastern states.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley has said Aldi could hit $15 billion in sales or 10 per cent of the Australian grocery market by 2020.

As for Bunnings, analysts will look out for whether the fire sale at Woolworths’ soon-to-expire Masters stores has hurt short-term sales.

Wesfarmers may also update the market on Bunnings’ expansion into the UK following its takeover of British DIY chain Homebase earlier this year.

Bill Campbell, mentor to Steve Jobs, dies

Bill Campbell, a former Ivy League football coach who became a management guru for Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley luminaries, has died.

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He was 75.

His death on Monday was confirmed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a venture capital firm that often called upon Campbell to help mould entrepreneurs as they tried to manage the rapid growth often triggered by their innovations.

Campbell died after a long battle with cancer, according to the firm, which was speaking on behalf of his family.

Although he wasn’t widely known outside Silicon Valley, Campbell played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of both Apple and Google, two of the world’s most powerful companies.

After working in marketing and sales at Apple during the 1980s, Campbell joined the company’s board in 1997, shortly after Jobs returned as the company’s CEO.

At the time, Apple was flirting with bankruptcy.

Campbell frequently served as Jobs’ sounding board during one of the most resounding corporate turnarounds in US history as Apple first redesigned its Mac computer line and then rolled out the iPod, iPhone and iPad to emerge as the world most valuable company.

Campbell ended his 17-year stint on Apple’s board in 2014.

While working with Apple, Campbell played a behind-the-scenes role in Google’s success, too.

Prompted by Kleiner Perkins, Campbell worked with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to help them work out their early differences and eventually forge one of the most successful partnerships in corporate America.

Alphabet, Google’s corporate parent, is now the world’s second most valuable company, ranking only behind Apple.

Indian ‘baby farm’ operation discovered in private hospital: report

Indian police has unearthed a “baby farm” operation in the city of Gwalior, north of Bhopal, which sells and swaps unwanted newborn infants illegally, Times of India reported.

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So far two babies have been rescued from Palash hospital in Gwalior, however authorities are still searching for several of the couples who have illegally bought babies from the hospital.

The operation was housed within the 30-bed private hospital, and sold each infant for around Rs. 1 lakh (almost $2,000AUD).

The babies were allegedly sourced from mothers who have had unwanted pregnancies, either out of illicit relationships or out of rape.

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“When a girl or her parents approached them for termination of pregnancies, doctors at this hospital used to convince them assuring a safe and secret delivery. Once baby is delivered and mother gets discharged, hospital authorities start hunting for gullible couples who could buy them,” an investigating officer on the case said.

Those infants, once born, were then sold to childless families for a profit.

“Three others have been sold to childless couples in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,” Prateek Kumar, ASP crime branch, said.

In one case, a couple even swapped one of their own newborn baby boys for a baby girl from the outfit.

“A Gwalior-based couple had two boys. They swapped one of their boys with a girl at this hospital,” said the investigating officer.

Five people from the hospital have been arrested so far, including the Palash Hospital’s director, TK Gupta, hospital manager Arun Bhadoria, and a few parents who have purchased babies from them.

The perpetrators have been charged on counts of slavery and child trafficking: for dealing in slaves, buying or disposing of people as slaves, and for buying minors for the purposes of prostitution.

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins to tackle sexism in sport

When Kate Jenkins joined the board of Carlton, one Blues fan remarked the footy club had “hit rock bottom”.

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Three days into her new job as Australian sex discrimination commissioner Ms Jenkins says she sees sport as a powerful setting to advance gender equality issues.

“I have to confess, not every Blues supporter cares about gender equality in sport,” she told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

She recounted the online comment from a man named Gary who was less than impressed with her appointment to the board.

“Let me tell you, Gary, you’ve got it all wrong, on every level,” Ms Jenkins said.

Universities are another venue Ms Jenkins plans to focus on as commissioner.

On-campus gender discrimination and sexism will be put under the microscope with a project that has the support of 39 vice chancellors, she said.

“It should be of grave concern to us all to know that it is our youth who are learning to accept and excuse violent attitudes to women and girls,” she said.

“We need to intervene now so this is not a problem we pass on to the next generation.”

She noted that students at the University of Queensland recently sold cupcakes on campus at prices that reflected the 17.3 per cent pay gap between women and men based on average full-time ordinary weekly earnings.

“Much to their shock, and in fact the university’s shock … instead of giving rise to a genuine discussion about wage inequality, the organisers of this inoffensive campaign … received rape threats and even death threats,” Ms Jenkins said.

Her personal measure of success as commissioner will be when the pay gap disappears and students at the University of Queensland can sell cupcakes at lunchtime at the same price for everyone.

Gluten-free benefits ‘overhyped’: study

A new Australian study of more than 3200 gluten-free supermarket products has found little or no difference in their nutritional value when compared to standard items.

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“There has been a tidal wave of gluten-free products coming on to the market in recent years and many people have been caught in the wash as they search for a healthier diet,” lead author Dr Jason Wu, from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, said.

“The foods can be significantly more expensive and are very trendy to eat, but we discovered a negligible difference when looking at their overall nutrition.

“Gluten-free products are necessary for people with coeliac disease, but this information is important because of their broader use in the community.”

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton agrees, saying many people think if a product is gluten-free it must be all right but “gluten-free junk food is still junk food”.

“Just about every junk food in the book these days has a gluten-free version,” she told AAP. “It is interesting to look at some of the food marketing magazine which promote (gluten-free versions) as a great way to increase your business.”

The research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, compared the nutritional content in foods such as breads and pasta that were staples in a balanced diet, as well as junk foods such as potato chips, biscuits and lollies.

“In the core foods we found significantly lower levels of protein in gluten-free foods, but the remaining content such as sugar and sodium was actually very similar,” Dr Wu said.

The researchers also found almost no difference in the nutritional make-up of the junk foods.

“The consumption of GF products is unlikely to confer health benefits, unless there is clear evidence of coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or allergy to gluten-containing grains,” they concluded.

“Fancy labels on gluten-free foods have the potential to be used as a marketing tactic, even on products that traditionally don’t have any gluten in them anyway.”

 

Clinton, Trump seek to quiet critics in NY

For Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, victories in New York could help quiet critics who have questioned their strength as front-runners.

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Each has suffered losses in recent contests that emboldened their rivals, though they still lead in delegate counts and are favoured in Tuesday’s New York primary.

Clinton, who represented the state as a senator for eight years, spent the final hours of campaigning trying to drive up turnout among women and minorities, her most ardent supporters.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” she said on Monday after greeting workers at the Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube in Queens.

Clinton has accumulated 1,758 delegates to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 1,076.

Those totals include both pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates, the party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their state votes.

Heading into the New York primary, Sanders needs to win 68 per cent of the remaining delegates if he hopes to clinch the Democratic nomination. It takes 2,383 to win.

On the Republican side, Trump leads with 744 delegates, ahead of Cruz with 545 and Kasich with 144. It takes 1,237 to win the Republican nomination.

Clinton’s campaign sees New York as a make-or-break moment for the Democratic race.

A loss in her adopted home state would be a devastating political blow, but a big win would bolster her delegate lead over Sanders and put her closer to becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major political party.

Sanders has rattled off a string of wins in recent primaries and caucuses, but unless he can topple Clinton in a state like New York, where 247 Democratic delegates are up for grabs, he faces increasingly limited opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.

For Trump, New York is an opportunity to rebound from a trying stretch for his campaign.

The biggest question for him heading into Tuesday is whether he captures more than 50 per cent of the vote statewide, which would put him in strong position to win all of the state’s 95 Republican delegates.

Trump has spent the past week emphasising his ties to New York, particularly New York City, where he was born and where buildings bear his name.

A big win for Trump is crucial if he hopes to clinch the nomination before the party’s convention in July.

If the race isn’t settled by then, he faces the very real prospect of losing to Ted Cruz, whose campaign is mastering the complicated process of lining up individual delegates who could shift their support to the Texas senator after the first round of convention balloting.

Tigers hopeful of Deledio AFL return

Hopes are rising at Richmond that star utility Brett Deledio might return for the crucial Anzac eve AFL match against Melbourne.

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Richmond have made another poor start to the season, with last Friday night’s horror trip to Perth against West Coast leaving them under mounting pressure with a 1-3 record.

Deledio, an All-Australian last year, has not played this season because of a quad muscle injury.

But he trained on Tuesday and the Tigers hoped he would make a strong case on Thursday for a surprise recall.

“Fingers crossed, he can train again tomorrow and get the okay from the medicos,” teammate Shaun Grigg told Triple M radio.

“I think that’s the only final hurdle … hopefully, we can get him back in.”

Grigg also confirmed Deledio was back kicking adult-sized footballs.

The nature of his leg injury meant their vice-captain at one stage was restricted to kicking smaller footballs designed for children.

“He was actually kicking the big football,” Grigg said.

Richmond also should regain their No.1 ruckman Ivan Maric, whose back injury has also prevented him playing in the senior side this season.

The Tigers are easing Maric back through the VFL.

“Ivan got through the VFL again, so I would say he will be up for selection.”

While injuries have not helped the Tigers, coach Damien Hardwick has plenty of headaches with how they are playing.

In particular, they have handballed too much early in the losses to Adelaide and West Coast.

The first quarter against Adelaide featured 31 kicks and 46 handballs while, last Friday night, they had 32 kicks and 28 handballs in the opening term against the Eagles.

“There’s no doubt it’s causing us a little bit of grief, especially early in games, with the amount of turnovers we’ve had,” Hardwick told the club website.

“We don’t want to be over-handballing for the sake of it.”