Barbs spurred Bombers forward into action

Essendon forward Cale Hooker says he used as motivation the stinging criticism levelled at him after the Bombers’ loss to Richmond.

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Hooker’s goalless AFL outing against the Tigers moved Melbourne great Garry Lyon to label him a liability and remark on SEN radio he was “playing like he has no clue what he is doing”.

The 28-year-old, who has kicked 23 goals from 12 games this season, booted two goals in his next match then slammed through five in a 70-point demolition of Port Adelaide.

“I heard the comments. I didn’t agree with them but I understand how the media works … it’s an important part of the game,” Hooker said on Tuesday.

“I didn’t take it personally. It didn’t worry me too much. If anything it gave me a little bit of motivation to keep pushing and keep striving to perform for the team.”

Hooker, an All Australian defender in 2014, was moved forward midway through the 2015 season and kicked 21 goals.

Debate has raged over the best use of his talents but coach John Worsfold remains adamant the veteran plays a vital role in attack even when he’s not kicking bags of goals.

Hooker has an open mind when it comes to whether he sees himself as a permanent forward.

“I think even this year I’ve swung down back at times throughout games when it suits and I’m happy to do that,” he said.

“Whatever the team requires I’m happy to do and I’ll give it my best shot.”

The Bombers are eighth with a 6-6 record coming out their bye and face a tricky encounter against Sydney at the SCG on Friday night.

The resurgent Swans, who are 12th, came from behind to beat Richmond by nine points last week, their fifth win in six matches.

Sydney superstar Lance Franklin was held to one goal by Tigers defender Alex Rance but he has an impressive record against Essendon.

The three-time Coleman medallist has kicked 64 goals in 13 games against the Bombers – an average of nearly five a match.

“We’re not too worried about one player in particular,” Hooker said.

“We know the Swans are an even team, a good side, and we’ll have to be at our best to beat them.”

Bold is beautiful for Saints: Billings

St Kilda feel they’ve been rewarded by playing bold football which has put their season back on track.

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Saints forward Jack Billings said his AFL team had been “boring” in their three-game losing streak, which ended with a 17-point win over North Melbourne last Friday night.

“We wanted to be more bold with the footy,” Billings said.

“We felt like we got a bit boring with the way we were playing so we tried to get back a bit of flair that we had early in the season.

“Hopefully we’ve got a bit of form going into the next few weeks because the competition is so tight you’ve got to be on your game every week.”

St Kilda host Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, when the Suns will be desperate to give their veteran midfielder Gary Ablett a game worthy of his 300th.

Billings has been one of the Saints’ most consistent performers this season, which he puts down to an injury-free full pre-season.

He admitted his goal-kicking could improve, so far booting 13.17 this season.

“I wish I knew the answer… sometimes you probably try too hard and overthink it so it’s something I’ve got to keep working on,” Billings said.

The 21-year-old is currently in talks to extend his 54-game career at St Kilda, who on Tuesday announced they had re-signed young defender Jimmy Webster for a further two years.

Billings said he’d put on his recruitment hat to try to add to the Saints playing list himself by luring Greater Western Sydney rising star Josh Kelly to the club.

The pair played together as juniors and Billings said he’d had a word with Kelly after the AFL teams met in round seven this season.

“I had a cheeky word to him at the end of the game and just said, ‘What are you thinking?’,” Billings said.

“He’s obviously really happy at the Giants, and why wouldn’t you be, they’re big premiership contenders.

“You never know, there’s obviously a few teams chasing him… I’d love him in the Saints colours next year.”

Tabcorp, Tatts merger expected by August

Tabcorp expects its proposed $11 billion merger with gaming rival Tatts Group to be completed by August.

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Tabcorp chairman Paula Dwyer said the Australian Competition Tribunal’s approval of the merger on Tuesday is an important step towards creating a “world class, diversified gambling entertainment group.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with Tatts to successfully complete the transaction and are working towards implementation in August 2017,” Ms Dwyer said in a statement.

The deal will deliver significant value for shareholders of both companies and “material benefits” to other key stakeholders, she said.

The combined company is forecast to generate annual revenue of more than $5 billion and dominate Australia’s tote betting market by bringing together TAB and the Tatts-owned UniTAB.

Tabcorp said it still expects the merger to deliver at least $130 million in earnings annually from synergies and business improvements, which will be realised in the first full year after completion of the integration.

“The combination will bring together two great Australian businesses, well positioned to invest, innovate and compete in a global gambling entertainment marketplace,” Ms Dwyer said.

Tabcorp shares were up 17 cents, or 3.7 per cent, at $4.80 at 1430 AEST, and Tatts shares were up 16 cents, or 3.8 per cent, at $4.33.

Meanwhile, Tabcorp said it expects its revenue for the year to June 30 to be in the range of $2.22 billion to $2.24 billion, growth of 1.4 per cent to 2.3 per cent from the previous year.

Net profit before significant items is forecast to be between $173 million and $180 million, down from $186 million in 2015/16.

ACT president Justice John Middleton said the tribunal was satisfied the proposed merger of Tabcorp and Tatts would benefit the public.

The only condition imposed by the tribunal is that Tabcorp continues with the already agreed sale of its Queensland gaming machine monitoring business, Odyssey, in response to concerns over competition in the sector.

Tabcorp said the competition watchdog has given the nod of approval to the proposed purchaser, Australian National Hotels, a subsidiary of Federal Group.

‘Big four’ may yet face another downgrade

Australia’s big four banks are at risk of another a credit agency downgrade.

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Standard & Poor’s in May cut the ratings of 23 small Australian lenders, but retained those of ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac, reflecting expectations of support from the federal government in the event of a housing crash.

“There is a chance we could downgrade the big four banks,” Gavin Gunning, S&P senior director of financial institutions ratings, told a briefing on Tuesday.

If Australia’s sovereign rating, which is already on a negative outlook, came under pressure, that would have an impact on bank ratings.

Also, if there was a shift away from government support for the banks, as seen in the US and Western Europe.

“If this trend also takes hold in Australia that also could also impact the Australian major ratings,” Mr Gunning said.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded 12 Australian banks, including the big four, on Monday citing elevated risks within the household sector heightening the sensitivity of Australian banks’ credit profiles to an adverse shock.

While it does not anticipate a sharp housing downturn, the risk represented by increased household sector indebtedness became a material consideration in the context of the very high ratings assigned to Australian banks, the agency said.

The downgrade suggests bank funding will be slightly more expensive when raising money overseas, a factor that has forced higher independent interest rate increases in the past.

The downgrade came as a double blow to the big four banks after parliament passed legislation imposing a new levy on them.

The levy, announced in the May budget, will be imposed on the big four and Macquarie from July 1 and is expected to raise $1.6 billion in the first year.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has rejected a recommendation from a government-dominated Senate committee to review the levy after two years, as requested by the banks.

The committee also said the legislation should be amended to allow the treasurer to suspend the levy in cases where banks are in extreme financial hardship.

“There is no need to do any of those things,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“The bank levy has been legislated as I said it would be.”

The committee also said the Treasury should better explain why foreign banks were excluded.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate the levy would apply to foreign banks if they were ever to meet a liabilities threshold but, at present, none fits the “major bank” category.

The indexed threshold starts at $100 billion.

Treasury conceded to a Senate hearing last week its modelling assumed some “pass through” to customers and shareholders from the levy.

Bank shares fell on Tuesday, contributing to an overall decline on the Australian stock exchange.

Big four facing open banking threat

The domination of Australian banking by the big four banks is nearing its end as agile, tech-focused competitors chip away at their markets, a new report on the evolution of global banking suggests.

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ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac’s position as the nation’s central providers of financial products is being eroded by the consumer-centric rise of fintech, the Capgemini World Retail Banking Report says.

Capgemini banking and capital markets industry practice head, Phil Gomm, said Australian banks are latecomers to open banking opportunities compared to institutions elsewhere.

“The clock is ticking, the barriers to distribution have eroded through technology, so the majors need to embrace and collaborate with fintechs,” Mr Gomm said.

“The majors have the scale to maintain an advisory interface but the days of the model of dominant distribution of financial products are over.

While traditional banks still enjoy a significant hold on their customer base, more agile and customer-centric fintech firms are achieving traction worldwide, with nearly one-third of banking customers surveyed having a relationship with at least one non-traditional firm.

Fintechs – or financial technology companies – use digital technology, including data-derived services and online interaction – to offer new products in financial services ranging from payments to loan applications.

According to the report, released Tuesday, the key to securing customer loyalty is for traditional banks to collaborate across technology providers and drive open banking – the sharing and personalisation of banking data.

Such a move would boost innovation and allow banks to monetise their data, opening up new revenue streams.

However, Australia is well behind the eight ball on that measure, Mr Gomm said.

“It is a mistake for Australian banks to stall on an open banking strategy by simply defending their position using inflated security concerns,” Mr Gomm said.

“It’s just not sustainable for Australian banks to hide behind legacy models.”

Mr Gomm said regulation is driving innovation in Europe and the market is driving innovation in North America.

“Australia is somewhere in the middle,” he said.

The Australian government introduced an open banking regime in its federal budget, with the scheme to increase customers’ access to their personal banking data from 2018.

“The government has been telling banks to get on with it and open your banking to new technologies. The clock is ticking, the barriers to distribution have eroded through technology,” Mr Gomm said.

According to Mr Gomm, there is some cause for optimism, as National Australia Bank, through its Nablabs and NAB Ventures and Westpac through its Reinventure fund both look to be progressive.

“If the banks accept the government position that ultimately consumers own the data then it is up to the consumer to decide what is ultimately done with it, Mr Gomm said.