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07 May

Salim Mehajer’s date Constance Siaflas parachuted into wedding party after marriage split

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Kat Mehajer arrives with brother Salim’s date Constance Siaflas. Photo: Andrew Murray Salim Mehajer and Constance Siaflas at the wedding. Photo: Andrew Murray
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Salim Mehajer yells at his estranged wife in a video broadcast by the Nine Network. Photo: A Current Affair.

She was pictured as one of six maids of honour just months ago when the bridal festivities kicked off. But Salim Mehajer’s estranged wife, Aysha Learmonth, appears to have been swiftly replaced by a pouting look-a-like at the notorious family’s latest wedding.

Khadijeh “Kat” Mehajer, younger sister to former Auburn deputy mayor Salim, and her new husband, Ibraham Sakalaki, dazzled suburban Sydney on Saturday with their lavish nuptials.

Despite having little apparent history with the family, flight attendant Constance Siaflas was parachuted into Kat’s bridal party at the last minute.

Siaflas, previously known for her five-second fling with pop singer Cody Simpson, arrived as Salim’s date to the million-dollar reception at the Longuevue Mansion in Kenthurst.

Mehajer has posted several gushing tributes to Siaflas on Instagram in the past week following the explosive A Current Affair report revealing terrifying videos of him abusing Learmonth and threatening to rape her.

Until then, he was insisting he was still happily married to Learmonth – who has reverted to her maiden name following the split – and was posting heartfelt tributes to her on his social media platforms.

Now, it appears to be all about Siaflas.

“Just be yourself and have fun,” he posted from the wedding, alongside a photo of him and Siaflas looking into each other’s eyes.

“Night too [sic] remember,” Siaflas posted on Sunday morning.

Both Siaflas and Mehajer have denied they are an item. Indeed, Mehajer was still wearing his wedding ring on Sunday despite his much publicised break-up with his wife.

Earlier on Saturday, Siaflas Snapchatted a photo of herself getting ready in just a towel.   Congratulations beautiful Kat @katmehajer A photo posted by CONSTANCE (@constancesiaf) on Aug 26, 2016 at 11:58pm PDT

Later, she emerged in a pink, bejewelled Doll House tutu dress along with Kat’s other five bridesmaids, including her sisters Aiisha, Mary and Sanaa Mehajer and friend Anita.

The wedding moved from Kenthurst to Doltone House’s Hyde Park venue on Saturday evening where guests were asked to refrain from social media.   Just be yourself and have funA photo posted by Offical ᴱᴺᵀᴿᴱᴾᴿᴱᴺᴱᵁᴿ (@salim.mehajer) on Aug 26, 2016 at 11:33pm PDT

Despite the ban, the wedding’s selfie-loving crowd couldn’t resist posting photos of guests revelling among the dozens of motorbikes, luxury cars, drummers, flowers and a towering wedding cake taller than the bride and groom.

American model and actress Olivia Culpo was invited to the wedding as a “special guest”.

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07 May

Renee Zellweger told not to gain weight for Bridget Jones’s Baby

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Will Bridget Jones finally make it down the aisle in the third film in the popular franchise? Renee Zellweger is back but Hugh Grant is absent from the new Bridget Jones movie. Photo: Supplied
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that Bridget Jones’ main vices are Daniel Cleaver and diets.

In the books, and subsequent film versions which premiered in 2001 and 2004 respectively, each diary entry began with a snapshot of her calorie intake.

Her weight has been a common trope of the hapless heroine’s narrative that began in the ’90s via Helen Fielding’s column inThe Independent newspaper.

“8st 13, alcohol units 2 (excellent), cigarettes 7, calories 3100 (poor),” is how Jones was introduced to the world on February 28, 1995.

Fast forward 21 years and Jones, in the new film Bridget Jones’s Baby, has achieved her “ideal weight”.

“In her mind she had a weight issue. She didn’t have a weight issue it was just this imagined ideal that she was trying to achieve. What I love is that while she’s achieved it her life isn’t anymore together, she makes it OK for people to be imperfect and I think that’s what we connect to,” star Renee Zellweger said.

While Zellweger was looking forward to piling on the 13 kilograms again like she did for the first two instalments in the franchise, director Sharon Maguire wanted to put Jones’ body image issues to bed to focus on the issues impacting on her life as a 43-year-old pregnant single woman.

“It was a decision the director had made, she was hopeful that we could show that just by achieving this personal ideal of about how you’re supposed to be it doesn’t necessarily mean that your life is suddenly going to be perfect and make sense,” Zellweger said.

“I like the message in that.

“It was a matter of choosing how she has evolved so that the ways in which she hasn’t stand out more prominently. Because I think the ways she hasn’t changed are much more important.”

Zellweger too has evolved since she was cast in the breakout role 15 years ago. She disappeared from Hollywood for five years, returned to study, wrote scripts, travelled the world and fell in love after she had her four-month marriage to country singer Kenny Chesney annulled in 2005.

Bridget Jones’s Baby marks her return to the big screen and the versatile actor, who already conquered indie, period drama and musicals before her sabbatical, is hungry for more.

“It’s fun. You want to evolve. You want to keep going. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing, telling the same stories, I’m ready, let’s go. Human experience gives you character and it makes the characters that you are prepared to play much more interesting.”

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07 May

Masters deal creates Australia’s largest large-format landlord

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The Masters stores are estimated to cover about 700,000 square metres combined. David Di Pilla is leading the consortium that is buying the Masters portfolio. Photo: Louise Kennerley
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Rich-lister Zac Fried, who parts owns the Anaconda and Spotlight stores, is in the consortium. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Woolworths’ sale of its Masters stores will propel a consortium of wealthy private families to become Australia’s largest retail landlord, overtaking shopping giant Harvey Norman.

The 61 Masters stores, estimated to cover about 700,000 square metres combined, will close their doors for good on or before December 11 after being offloaded this week to Home Consortium –  a company controlled by the families behind Aurrum Group, Spotlight Group and Chemist Warehouse – in an $800 million deal.

The single transaction will give a handful of well-known rich-listers a large-format property empire to rival retail kings Gerry Harvey and Brett Blundy.

The Home Consortium includes Melbourne-based Chemist Warehouse owners Mario Verrochi and Jack Gance and retail rich-listers Zac Fried and Morry Fraid who own the Anaconda and Spotlight stores.

The consortium is being led by UBS banker David Di Pilla, who is a major investor, along with his parents-in-law Mary and Alex Shaw, and Greg Hayes. Others chipping in to the consortium are UBS directors Robbie Vanderzeil and Matthew Grounds.

The Shaws and Hayes are major investors behind aged-care start-up Aurrum.

Insiders suggest the consortium managed to outflank other circling property powerhouses – fund giant Blackstone and local heavyweights Charter Hall, Vicinity and Stockland – by offering a retailer-led concept complete with pre-leases to tenants like Spotlight, Anaconda and Chemist Warehouse.

“They not only went with cash but a substantial pre-leasing commitment to demonstrate they could turn this around,” a source close to the deal said.

“It’s as close to turnkey as you can get,” they said. “That’s what won them the day.”

The consortium expects to have first centres refitted and open between April and June next year.

The wind-up of Masters, foreshadowed for months, will see a fire sale of all the store’s hardware stock and thousands of workers losing their jobs, although the new owners expect to create a similar number of jobs in the new retail centres.

The flood of empty space has concerned some industry watchers.

“While it is still early days, this is a negative read-through for large-format retail given the potential for new competing supply to come online,” Macquarie Bank said in a research note.

Others welcomed the deal. “It’s great news for the industry,” said Philippa Kelly, chief executive of the Large Format Retail Association, which represents an industry with a turnover of $66 billion a year that employs 425,000 people.

“There has been a shortage of supply of new space in the last few years,” she said.

CBRE’s head of large format retail Chris Parry said his firm investigated the Masters portfolio and found significant demand for new space among the nation’s largest retailers.

“We were quite surprised at how much demand there was,” he said.

Home Consortium said it was already negotiating with retailers including Anaconda, JB Hi-FI, Super Amart, BBQs Galore, Woolworths Supermarkets and Dan Murphy’s to take over some of the 61 freehold properties.

The deal to offload Masters is still subject to approval from Woolworths’ US-based joint-venture partner Lowe’s.

It covers 40 trading freehold stores, 21 development sites and 21 Masters leasehold sites which the consortium plans to repurpose into multi‐tenant large-format centres.

Woolworths said it will acquire three Masters freehold sites and take assignment of 12 leases to facilitate the deal.

Rival hardware giant Bunnings was quick to jump on plum locations, confirming it planned to take over 15 Masters sites.

“Eleven of the 15 locations will be replacement stores and provide us with a great opportunity to improve our offer in these areas,”  Bunnings CEO John Gillam said.

The process of re-letting and subdividing stores could take up to five months, he estimates.

Bunnings’ deal with Home Consortium will see it lease six freehold sites, two development sites and seven of Masters leaseholds.

The two freehold development sites Bunnings intends to lease will require normal development approvals before it can build and open its warehouses.

The other leg of Woolworths’ Masters divestment, a deal to sell its Home Hardware chain to Mitre 10’s owner Metcash for $165 million, will create a new 1800-store competitor to Bunnings.

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07 May

VW to pay $1.6 billion to US dealers hurt by diesel emissions scandal

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Not that long ago, Volkswagen dealerships were among the hottest properties in the retail auto business.
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The German brand was growing rapidly, and an ambitious goal of tripling sales in the United States to more than 800,000 cars a year seemed within reach, helped by increasingly popular diesel models and a new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. With the future looking bright, buyers as recently as 2014 typically paid premiums of $US3 million ($3.9 million) to $US4 million to acquire Volkswagen franchises in the United States.

But the diesel scandal that erupted almost a year ago, setting off a plunge in Volkswagen sales, changed all that. Some dealers who tried to sell their franchises in the last year found their dealerships were worth little more than the value of the land they stood on and their inventory of cars and spare parts, according to brokers involved in dealership sales.

Now help is on the way.

On Thursday, Volkswagen told a federal judge it had reached a basic agreement to compensate its 650 dealers in the United States for the troubles they have suffered.

The company declined to disclose specific terms of the pact, saying they were still being determined, but a person briefed on the matter said the company was prepared to pay as much as $US1.2 billion to offset the declining value of the Volkswagen franchises.

That figure, on top of whatever Volkswagen will end up spending to buy back unsold and unfixable diesels from the dealers, would work out to an average of $US1.85 million per dealer – although the amounts will vary, depending on the size of the dealership and other factors.

“We believe this agreement in principle with Volkswagen dealers is a very important step in our commitment to making things right for all our stakeholders in the United States,” Hinrich Woebcken, chief executive of Volkswagen’s North American operations, said in a statement. Sitting on unsold stock

The agreement with dealers was described in general terms in court in San Francisco on Thursday before the federal judge, Charles Breyer, who is overseeing the cases against Volkswagen by the government, car owners and the dealers.

”They have cars on their lots they can’t sell,” Steve Berman, the lawyer for the dealers, told Breyer. “Their franchise value has gone down. And they have invested millions in these Volkswagen franchises. So we are pleased that the settlement will address the financial harm that they’ve incurred.”

Volkswagen fell into turmoil last September after admitting it had equipped nearly 600,000 diesel models sold in the United States with “defeat device” software that allowed the cars to cheat on emissions tests and spew far more pollutants than allowed in regular driving.

The deal with its car dealers comes some two months after the German carmaker agreed to pay nearly $US15 billion, a record, to settle claims in the US by Volkswagen owners and regulators.

In June the company, government and lawyers for car owners reached a settlement covering some 500,000 cars equipped with 2.0-litre diesel engines. Under that accord, the company will spend as much as $US10 billion to buy back affected cars at their prescandal values and pay additional cash compensation to owners. Models include the Volkswagen Jetta and Passat.

Lawyers for the company and the government who were in the courtroom Thursday told Breyer that they were still working on how to fix or otherwise resolve the status of about 80,000 Volkswagen Audi and Porsche models with 3.0-litre diesel engines that were equipped with emissions-cheating software. ‘Big, big hit’

The dealer settlement announced Thursday stems from a lawsuit filed in April by the owner of three Volkswagen franchises, seeking compensation for the economic damage to the dealerships.

One of the potential beneficiaries, Jeff Williams, owner of Williams Auto World in Lansing, Michigan, said on Thursday that he welcomed the compensation agreement but that the toll on his business had been heavy.

“In 2012, we sold 477 new Volkswagens,” Williams said. “So far this year, we’ve sold 86 new. That’s a big, big hit.”

But he expressed hope for 2017. Next spring, Volkswagen is expected to introduce an all-new gasoline-powered sport utility vehicle, which had been sorely missing from the Volkswagen lineup. “Once we get some SUVs, that ought to kick-start things,” Williams said.

In 2015, the Volkswagen brand sold nearly 350,000 cars in the United States, down from 438,134 in 2012. But most of the 2015 sales were made before the diesel cheating was disclosed. In the first seven months of this year, Volkswagen sales have slipped 13.6 per cent to 205,742 vehicles.

For dealers, that decline is compounded by the fact that many invested millions of dollars to expand their stores in expectation of rising sales.

“VW said the dealers needed bigger facilities because they were going to be a volume player,” said Alan Haig, president of Haig Partners, a dealership advisory firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “So this has been a disastrous turn of events for them.”

The New York Times

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07 May

ASX slips as profit season peaks, eyes turn to Federal Reserve

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The ASX 200 ended the week down just 0.2 per cent. Photo: Brendon ThorneProfit season moved up a gear in its last big week as did the wild swings of the share prices of many reporting companies, however, the sharemarket ended the week stagnant in anticipation of a speech from US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen.
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The S&P/ASX 200 traded within the range of 5510 to 5570 points all week, but on Friday fell 0.5 per cent, or 26 points, to 5515.5, while the All Ordinaries ended 0.4 per cent, or 24 points, lower at 5607.4. The benchmark index closed just 0.2 per cent lower for the week.

Woolworths was among the blue chips reporting this week that turned heads, posting a $1.2 billion loss, however its shares pushed higher as investors bet that the worst of the pain is over for the retailer’s restructuring. Its shares did however hand back some of its strong gains on Friday. Wesfarmers also lifted despite its profit plunge, and the consumer staples index ended 2.6 per cent higher, the week’s best performing sector.

Qantas shares soared after the airline broke its seven-year dividend drought, declaring a 7¢ fully franked dividend while posting a record pre-tax profit of $1.5 billion and announcing a $500 million buyback, but the stock failed to hang on to its gains to end the week.

Fortescue Metals Group also shined, delivering a much higher than expected 12¢ a share dividend after lifting its net profit by 212 per cent.

Market darling Blackmores, however, suffered a 20 per cent intraday fall after the company more than doubled its profit to $100 million but warned its first quarter results would be lower than the previous year.

On Friday, the reporting companies included Coca-Cola Amatil, Corporate Travel Management, Mayne Pharma, Saracen Mineral, Select Harvests, Star Entertainment and Super Retail Group, which was among the day’s best performing stocks, up 6 per cent. Select Harvests was among the laggers, falling 6.7 per cent on its update.

“Across the market as a whole, company earnings for the financial year 30 June 2016, are down on the previous year by around 8 percent, but this reflects the major impact of resource companies where average earnings fell 48 percent,” Australian Unity Investments chief executive David Bryant said.

“Excluding this, company profits have grown around 5 percent this financial year. Overall it has been a fairly stable reporting season, without too much unexpected bad news.” Market moversJackson Hole

Global markets were fixated on news from the US Federal Reserve’s annual meeting at Jackson Hole in Wyoming this week. While chatter has given little indication that Fed members will provide any clues to the timing around further interest rate rises in the world’s biggest economy, local investors have the weekend to digest a speech from Fed chair Janet Yellen due on Friday night. Currencies

The Australian dollar joined global risk assets in sideways trade as investors patiently awaited news from Jackson Hole. Central bank monetary policy remains the main game and the US dollar has remained stagnant in anticipation. However expectations are low that Yellen’s commentary on timing will be explicit and analysts expect any short term spike in the US dollar to be shortlived. The Australian dollar firmed above US76¢ on Friday, buying US76.40¢ in late local trade. Commodities

While oil prices had a volatile week amid speculation ahead of an OPEC meeting in September, iron ore continued its stability, on track for its fourth weekly gain out of five. The benchmark iron ore price slipped 0.4 per cent overnight to $US61.44, a more than three month high, and analysts from ANZ expect its strength to continue into September with steel producers rebuilding their stockpiles ahead of China’s G20 summit. Japan

Core inflation data from Japan on Friday cast further doubt over the success of prime minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Abenomics’ policy while raising expectations of further easing. Data revealed consumer prices dropped 0.5 per cent from a year earlier, below the expected 0.4 per cent fall, capping off five straight months of contraction. Despite its expansive stimulus program, the data shows businesses and consumers are stuck in a deflationary mindset. Stock watch: Ardent Leisure

Investors cheered Ardent Leisure’s full-year result on Wednesday after it reported a 32 per cent increase in net profit to $42.4 million. Bell Potter analyst John O’Shea said the results reflected the company’s crystal clear strategy: it is all about entertainment, a comment echoed by chief executive Deborah Thomas. Ardent’s share price has risen 36 per cent this month as it strips off its gym and marinas businesses to focus on its bowling, entertainment centres and theme parks. “In our view this change increases the likelihood the company will be re-rated over time,” Mr O’Shea said, retaining a ‘buy’ rating on the stock and lifting the price target from $2.57 to $3.13.

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