James steals the limelight ahead of Crown AGM

James steals the limelight ahead of Crown AGM

James Packer on Channel Seven’s Sunday Night. Photo: Channel SevenNobody does the public confessional quite like billionaire James Packer.
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Of course he chose, The n, the local rag of his close mate Lachlan Murdoch, for his latest tell-all which pointed the finger on the circus that has enveloped both Packer and his casino operator, Crown.

The interview was conducted from Packer’s bunker in Argentina before Andrew Wilkie dropped his parliamentary bomb last week.

By the time the papers landed on people’s doorsteps, Packer was already in Perth for a quick stop at Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network Telethon.

By Monday he was at Crown Melbourne lunching with The n’s editor Paul (Boris) Whittaker at Neil Perry’s Rockpool.

At lunch, Packer was looking prosperous, as the Chinese would say, in a blue polo shirt, chewing on some chips while Whittaker banged on about the size of his audience. It’s enormous, we’re told.

On Wednesday Packer will tuck into the Crown board meeting that will precede the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday.

Investors will get to grill Packer on why he is still so gung ho about the $2.4 billion Crown Sydney gamble when he openly admitted in the interview that there is a real risk it won’t get the return it needs to justify the massive investment.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Packer has been complaining for years that Crown’s investments in Perth and Melbourne have not delivered the returns to justify the massive investment. Why should Sydney be any different.

In his latest confessional, Packer also blames the financial settlement with his sister Gretel for plunging the family’s privately-owned Consolidated Press Holdings into debt to the tune of $2.3 billion in 2015.

We don’t know what numbers Packer was looking at, but CBD had a quick look at the CPH financial statement lodged with ASIC and it showed the company had $4.66 billion worth of short-term liabilities in 2014-15, rising to $5.17 billion in 2015-16.

Long-term debt was a much more palatable $736 million.

The cash flow statement shows that the $338 million in interest payments over the two financial years was almost offset by the $320 million in interest received.

And if the debt was such a worry for Packer, he might not have extracted more than $330 million worth of dividends over the two years. Sol-o

The ABC’s Four Corners was already grabbing the headlines ahead of Monday night’s big story on the NBN.

And we could only hope that somewhere in the US, former Telstra boss Sol Trujillo was watching this $49 billion trainwreck with a chuckle.

More than a decade ago, Sol proposed an audacious $4.5 billion fibre-to-the-node network (FTTN) with user speeds of 24 megabits per second, upgradeable to 100Mbps, deployed to 4 million urban homes within 40 months – if the government gave it the appropriate regulatory protection.

Telstra ended up scrapping its plans after failing to come to an agreement.

“The government decided they wanted to keep us in the dark ages,” said Trujillo’s comical sidekick Phil Burgess.

It does not bode well that the NBN’s $3.6 million CEO, Bill Morrow, is worried that wireless broadband will stifle any chance of the NBN making a profit.

It’s a bit like Qantas boss Alan Joyce fretting that drones will torch his airline’s profits. Baggage clearance

The Myer crew are firmly on message as they prepare for an intense investor day, shareholder meeting and chairman transition that might just be derailed by its largest investor, billionaire Solomon Lew.

Having nailed his colours to the mast, appointed chairmanGary Hounsell had no choice but to double down on his support for the current strategy when Myer’s annual report and AGM notice came out on Monday.

“If I am elected at this year’s AGM” – and CBD thinks that’s a significant ‘if’ with Lew now lined up against him – “I am very much looking forward to playing a leading role in its transformation,” Hounsell said in the report.

He praised the skills and diversity of the current board and Myer’s senior executives – echoing the words of departing chairman Paul McClintock. Just in case Lew was having second thoughts about his Myer crusade.

The one concession Hounsell is making to the huge task ahead is that he will be lightening his considerable workload to focus on Myer.

“Gary has advised the company that he will resign from one of his other ASX listed boards by 30 November 2017,” said a line at the bottom of page 8 of Myer’s annual report.

We doubt that Hounsell would dump his chairmanship of travel group Helloworld – given he only got the $175,000 a year gig last year. And there was certainly no mention of his retirement in Helloworld’s AGM notice on Monday.

Which leaves his board seats at Dulux Group and Treasury Wine Estates as the remaining candidates.

The loss of the Treasury Wine board seat could be a big sacrifice for Hounsell given reports that he is about to offload his beloved Yarra Valley winery, Toolangi.

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