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07 Aug

Bigger ETF market gives investors chance to outperform

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State Street Global Advisors’ chief operating officer for Asia Pacific said many investors were building portfolios solely from ETF products. Photo: Jessica HromasSavvy investors are tapping into the vast array of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) – which started out as a passive benchmark achiever in a portfolio – to generate outperformance in their own right.
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James MacNevin, chief operating officer for State Street Global Advisors Asia Pacific, part of the team that launched Australia’s first ETF in 2001, says the much-expanded product range means investors can choose to forgo active strategies altogether.

“We have lots of experience with investors being able to build a well diversified portfolio using nothing but ETFs,” MacNevin told AFR Weekend on the 15th anniversary of the launch of the SPDR S&P/ASX 200 and S&P/ASX 50 funds.

While benchmark funds such as the S&P/ASX 200 or S&P 500 funds remain among the most popular, MacNevin says investors are becoming more sophisticated and moving towards “smart beta” products, funds that scan company balance sheets in picking stocks rather than simply by index weight.

“Other investors have an appetite to do a kind of barbell approach, where they have index as well as core beta ETFs, and then complement that around active investments,” he adds. “What we’re looking to do is provide those investment exposures via ETFs,” he said.

Tim Murphy, director of manager research at Morningstar, says while it is possible to build an ETF-only portfolio, it is far from the norm and not advisable for many investors. There are some areas, such as small cap equities, where active managers have been able to consistently outperform.

“It is not a black and white scenario like many paint it. In a lot of these investing ideas you can get some polarising arguments. But, like most things in life, the right answer probably sits somewhere in the middle,” he adds.

Of the four major ETF players in Australia (including BlackRock, Vanguard and BetaShares), SSGA holds $4.8 billion of the total assets under management in Australia. Of that, $2.9 billion sits in its flagship ASX 200 fund, with an average daily trade turnover of $9 million.

MacNevin says while the rise of the ETF market had been a slow burn in its first 10 years, since 2001 the market has grown exponentially, with $23 billion under management. He believes the market  could hit $100 billion by 2020, such is ETF popularity particularly among self-managed superannuation funds.

“The benefits for investors will continue to be quite profound: a full range of ETFs for all asset classes and exposure to sectors,” he adds. It also means more competitors joining the market, putting the onus on SSGA to deliver thoughtful products while keeping the cost to entry low, a big draw for increasingly fee-conscious investors.

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07 Aug

Holden’s Jamie Whincup wins to reach Supercars ton

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Jamie Whincup, winner of the Sydney SuperSprint, is sprayed by vanquished teammate Craig Lowndes. Photo: Daniel Kalisz Whincup on his way to victory at Sydney Motorsport Park. Photo: Daniel Kalisz
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V8 superstar Jamie Whincup spoiled veteran Craig Lowndes’ race record party as he celebrated another Supercars milestone of his own at the Sydney SuperSprint on Sunday.

Already the most titled driver in Australian touring car racing history with a record six Supercars crowns, Whincup joined Lowndes in the exclusive club of winners of 100 or more championship races by beating his popular teammate in the second race at Sydney Motorsport Park.

The win denied Lowndes a fairytale victory in his record-breaking 600th championship race start after he blazed into the lead from fourth position on the grid to dominate the first 30 laps.

Whincup jumped Lowndes during their second pit stops, getting away fractionally faster to hit the front and run away to an unchallenged 100th race victory.

He achieved his century 14 months after Lowndes became the first to reach the ‘ton’ of race wins, a mark he has since extended to 105 successes.

While it took Lowndes, 42, almost two decades to amass his 100 wins, 33-year-old Whincup got there in just over 10 years.

He scored his first victory in his first event with the Triple Eight Holden team at the 2006 season-opening Adelaide 500, whereas Lowndes’ first two wins were in his championship debut in 1996 at Sydney Motorsport Park, which was previously known as Eastern Creek Raceway.

Whincup’s 100 wins is the latest milestone in his remarkable 10-year rise to become the most dominant and successful driver of his generation, and the best of all time if measured by his unmatched tally of championships.

Along with his narrow defeat by his other Triple Eight teammate Shane van Gisbergen in an epic battle in the closing stages of Saturday’s opening race of the Sydney SuperSprint, his win on Sunday – his third this season – consolidated his title points lead as he bids for a record-extending seventh Supercars title.

He is 137 points ahead of van Gisbergen, who faded to fifth place on Sunday, while Lowndes regained third place in the championship standings, 198 points off the lead, to stay in contention for an elusive fourth V8 crown 17 years after his last title-winning season.

Whincup was presented with a gold-painted replica of his race helmet in recognition of reaching his century, an achievement he acknowledged with typical humility.

“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of relief there,” he said. “I’m very, very proud to join Lowndesy on the ton. It’s an honour. I think today (with Lowndes joining him on the podium) was very fitting.

“I like to think it’s 100 not out. There’s still a lot left in me.

“I’m not trying to tick boxes. I’m just out there for the fun of racing. The feeling of winning never gets old and that’s what drives me.”

Lowndes paid tribute to Whincup, who has been his teammate and nemesis for the past decade, and predicted he would eventually surpass his records for race wins and starts.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It was a matter of when rather than if. He’s had a stellar career and he’s still as intense as ever.

“Records are made to be broken and there’s no doubt in my mind Jamie will do it (break Lowndes’ records).”

The next Supercars event is the September 16-18 Sandown 500 in Melbourne – the first of the two-driver endurance races and the traditional warm-up for the October 6-9 Bathurst 1000.

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07 Aug

[email protected]: Investors still on the sidelines

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Local sharemarket set for another flat open as global markets had a quiet night, with investors waiting on Janet Yellen’s speech at Jackson Hole on Saturday morning (AEST), while earnings season rolls on, with Coca-Cola, Mayne Pharma and Star Entertainment among those reporting.
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1. ASX: SPI futures are up 5 points

2. Equities: Dow -0.2%, S&P 500 -0.1%, Nasdaq -0.1%, Stoxx 50 -0.7%, FTSE -0.3%, CAC -0.7%, DAX -0.9%

3. Currencies: Aussie dollar still very flat, gaining +0.04% to 0.7616. It is fetching 76.59 Japanese yen, 67.51 Euro cents and 57.75 British pence

4. Energy: WTI oil gained +1.22% to 47.34 after Iranian oil minister said he would attend OPEC. Brent crude +0.5% to $US49.27 a barrel

5. Commodities: Spot gold -0.1% to $US1322.28 an ounce

6. Overseas data: Japanese CPI

7. US: BHP +1.2%, Rio +1%

8. Earnings: Coca-Cola Amatil (CCL), Corporate Travel Mgmt (CTD), Mayne Pharma (MYX), Saracen Mineral (SAR), Select Harvests (SHV), Star Entertainment (SGR), Super Retail Group (SUL)

Waiting on Yellen

Well the final countdown to Janet Yellen’s speech at midnight AEST has begun, and after a week where most markets have barely moved from where they started there are likely a number of traders who would relish a bit of volatility this evening. There certainly is a fear evident in markets that Janet Yellen is going to be surprisingly hawkish and talk up a September hike, this may be devoid of any real evidence apart from constant calls from the band of perma-hawk US economists, but nonetheless market liquidity has dried up in fear. Volumes have been down all week, while the volume on the S&P 500 overnight was more than 15% below its 100-day moving average and the Dow Jones had volumes down more than 27%.

Gold woe

The gold price has been battered this week as the threat of rising US bond yields has seen it lose 1.5% this week. Gold has been relatively well cushioned above the US$1,312 level since the start of July, but has been pulling back to this support level as hawkish Fed commentary has picked up in the past two weeks. Of course, should Yellen fail to follow through on her expectedly hawkish comments about an imminent September rate hike, gold could well be set for a rally.

US durable goods and capital goods orders both performed well overnight. Durable goods ex-transport gained 1.5% month-on-month (MoM) and capital goods nondefense ex-aircraft gained 1.6% MoM. If you saw these sorts of figures replicated throughout 3Q in the US that would be very positive for GDP and could help remove the major drag that we saw from inventories in 2Q, which could provide the basis for a December rate hike. But there are a lot of ifs yet before that happens.

EpiPen scandal hits healthcare

The scandal over Mylan’s pricing of its EpiPen has spilled over into the broader healthcare sector in the S&P 500 overnight with the sector losing 0.8%. This is not the first time that Hillary Clinton has emphasised her concerns over seemingly egregious price hikes for healthcare products, and with her dramatically leading in the polls, a number of investors began to pile out of other high-pricing biotechs. Alexion Pharmaceuticals has dropped 5.9% in two days as the Mylan saga blew up because it mostly relies on the revenue from one of the most expensive drugs in the world – Soliris – a treatment for rare blood disorders that costs US$500,000 a year. These parts of the market may continue to struggle in the lead up to the US election if Clinton’s likely success continues to firm.

Unexciting Asian session ahead

Asian markets are set to open relatively flat. It is likely to be a fairly low volume and unexciting Asian session as many investors looks set to sit on the sidelines ahead of Janet Yellen’s speech. Oil saw a nice bounce overnight as Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh confirmed he would attend the OPEC meeting in September, which should be a positive for energy stocks. Materials stocks were the best performer in the S&P 500 overnight, and BHP’s ADR rallied 1.2% boding well for the ASX session today.

What happened yesterday

The Australian sharemarket ended weaker on Thursday despite a valiant lift from Woolworths and Amcor, surging despite booking hefty profit losses.

Taking its weak lead from Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 spend most of the day trading lower ending down 0.4 per cent or 20 points to 5541.9. The All Ordinaries ended 0.4 per cent or 22 points lower at 5631.4.

 This column was produced in commercial partnership    between Fairfax Media and IG Markets

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07 Aug

NBN expects $5 billion of annual revenue by 2020, corporate plan shows

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Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the total cost of the project was now an estimated $54 billion, about $2 billion lower than forecast in last year’s corporate plan. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The NBN hopes to gain 7m customers over the next four years. Photo: Rob Homer
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NBN Co expects to be earning $5 billion annually within four years, with average monthly revenue from each user at $52, according to a corporate plan released on Friday morning. It also expects to have 8.1 million households using the network within four years, up from 1.1 million today.

However, payments to Telstra and Optus to compensate the telcos for losing fixed-line customers will leave NBN with negative earnings until 2020, and it won’t be profitable until about 2022 due to high capital expenditure and operating costs.

And the forecasts released by NBN Co on Friday show it is tracking predictions made last year, but has run out of money much quicker than the Coalition expected when it was campaigning for office in 2013. This is due to annual capital expenditure costs in 2017 and 2018 being nearly twice what it estimated.

The Coalition expected funding to last a lot longer and reach only $28.8 billion by 2019. Instead, NBN Co will use up the last of its $29.5 billion in the next ten months and the Department of Finance has to find an additional $10 billion by July next year and $20 billion by 2020. NBN Co will have spent $48.6 billion by 2020 on current projections.

The government is still working out future funding options.

“The Government has not yet determined what form this support would take if it were required and continues to assess a number of options to ensure the best possible value for taxpayers is achieved,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said on Friday.

However, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the total cost of the project was now an estimated $54 billion, about $2 billion lower than forecast in last year’s corporate plan.

“The network is ahead of schedule and ahead of its financial targets,” the Minister said on Friday morning.

Earlier this week the Australian Federal Police raided Senator Stephen Conroy’s office in Parliament House searching for the source of documents leaked by someone at NBN Co to the opposition. Senator Conroy is claiming parliamentary privilege on the documents.

“Matters of privilege are determined by the Senate itself…All I really can do is outline for you roughly what the process will be,” the Minister said.

The number of households connected by fibre-to-the-node technology, which partly uses the copper network, has increased from an estimated 4.5 million to up to 6.5 million households. And there may be 500,000 more fibre-to-the-premises connections than previously expected, for a total of 2.5 million. Nearly half of these will be houses built in coming years.

However, NBN Co still thinks it can get speeds of 100 megabits per second [Mbps] to 70 per cent of Australians, and 1 gigabit per second [Gbps] to 40 per cent of the population.

“It is with pleasure that we can actually produce such a plan that we believe advances the nation into the digital era,” NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said.

And the number of households expected to be connected by a hybrid fibre coaxial [HFC] cable connection has dropped from 4 million to between 2.5 million and 3.2 million households. NBN found the cost of connecting houses to HFC was about $2,300, not $1,800. Mr Morrow said this change demonstrates the benefit of a flexible technology mix.

NBN Co has discovered the cost of modems, equipment, construction, and cables for HFC was higher than it expected, which led to a “higher cost per premise than what we had estimated last year”, Mr Morrow told BusinessDay.

“The reduction of the number of premises [getting HFC] is because not all premises are equal to the average of $2,300. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive. For those that were way more expensive, it was the cross-over point to say ‘those homes will be better served with our remit of as-soon-as-we-can-with-the-least-possible-cost to move over to an alternative technology.”

Examination of the old copper telephone network has found it to be “in line with expectations”. This is important, because of a potential blow out in repair and maintenance costs.

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07 Aug

As EpiPen outrage mounts, Mylan offers some patients discounts

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Responding to a growing outrage from consumers and politicians, US pharma giant Mylan said on Thursday that it would lower the out-of-pocket costs to some patients who need EpiPens, which are used to treat life-threatening allergy attacks.
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The company said it would immediately offer more financial assistance with co-payments for patients with commercial insurance and expand the number of uninsured patients eligible for free EpiPens.

But the moves did not mollify critics of Mylan because the company did not lower the list price of the EpiPen, which has risen to $US600 for a pack of two from about $US100 in 2007.

So the total cost to the health system, a cost borne largely by insurers, the federal government and school districts, will remain the same.

“Mylan should not offer after-the-fact discounts only for a select few – it should reverse its massive price increases across the board immediately,” Maryland’s Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, who has been investigating rising drug prices, said in a statement. Blaming the insurers

In its announcement of the new measures, Mylan put much of the blame for the problem not on its price increases but on insurance companies for placing a higher burden on patients for out-of-pocket costs.

“We have been a long-term, committed partner to the allergy community and are taking immediate action to help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one,” Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch said in a statement.

“We recognise the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter.”

The EpiPen is an auto-injector containing the hormone epinephrine that can be used to counter or stave off anaphylactic shock caused by an insect bite, bee sting or food allergy. It is pressed against the thigh and automatically injects the drug.

Mylan said that out of the $US608 list price for EpiPen, it gets only $US274. The rest goes to pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, wholesalers and retail pharmacies.

Offering co-payment assistance and free product is part of the standard playbook for makers of expensive drugs. Making sure patients do not go without medicines reduces any political furor. Also, providing financial assistance only to those who need it reduces a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s revenue much less than cutting prices across the board.

The discounts call attention to how the out-of-pocket costs for drugs vary widely for consumers, depending on their insurance coverage.

The New York Times

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07 Jul

For Star Entertainment Group, sometimes the house doesn’t win enough

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Casino numbers are up in Sydney and the Gold Coast, recovering from softness during the federal election, Star Entertainment Group says Photo: Peter MorrisThe iron-clad rule of gambling is that the house always wins. But for Star Entertainment Group, sometimes the house doesn’t win enough.
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Its win rate historically averages 1.35 per cent on its international VIP business, with anything better than 1 per cent leaving the house ahead.

Since 2014, the win rate on this business, which comes mostly from Asia, has been below 1.35 per cent, falling to 0.88 in the second half of 2015 before rebounding to 1.5 per cent this year.

“In the first half, we were exceptionally unlucky,” the chief executive Matt Bekier​ said. “It was a less than 1 per cent probability to end up at that rate. And 1.5 per cent is above the expectation but it didn’t compensate” for the full extent of the losses.

The renewed strength of the international VIP business saw the debts of gamblers who leave its tables owing the house money rise to $33 million by the end of June from $17 million a year earlier, prompting it to double the level of impaired debt to $11.5 million, although much of this was incurred late in the year and has since been recouped, Mr Bekier said.

Earlier this decade, wealth creation in Asia was so strong that the number of millionaires being created was running at 40 per cent a year, the Star Group boss said. That has slowed to around 5-10 per cent, which means it is unlikely that the group will need to expand its Bombardier aircraft fleet to bring in the ‘big whales’, as big time gamblers are called within the industry.

“We’re seeing more players but with smaller amounts, not the super-whales, so they could come in flying first class especially as flights into China improve,” he said.

The international VIP business involves paying rebates to junket operators who introduce these players to the casino. To help remove the volatility of this business, Star is establishing its own direct sales presence in South-East Asia, which could also help lower costs.

“The challenge is loading up with creditworthy visitors,” Mr Bekier​, said on Friday.

Another target is to encourage more Chinese tourists to visit its casinos.

“Only around 3 per cent of revenue comes from tourists,” Mr Bekier said. “A surprisingly large number of Chinese tourists – around 25 per cent – find their way into our properties. But we can’t get them to stay on our properties. Therefore we need  more rooms to get them to stay.

“We’re just a side trip. Therefore we need to work with the relevant tour operator on how to maximise that.”

The group is finalising around a $3 billion spending program on additional hotel and apartment room capacity in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane, along with upgrades to its gaming floors, in part to also prepare for tougher competition from James Packer’s Barangaroo casino, which will be competing particularly at the premium end of the market in Sydney.

“The main rooms bring people in – you then want to tier people up,” Mr Bekier said, by developing more differentiated offerings for gamblers. “We can’t do that in Queensland.”

“Sydney has more tables/VIPs, which are lower margins than slots,” he said, which has meant that the underlying profitability of its Queensland casinos is higher. The upgrades there should help it to bring in more international VIP gamblers to those casinos.

The strength of its international VIP business saw revenues rise 7.2 per cent in the year to June, eclipsing the 6.8 per cent growth in domestic gaming revenues to leave group revenue ahead 6 per cent at $2.4 billion.

Revenue growth, with cost control, saw the group lift the net profit in the year to June 30 by 15 per cent to $194.4 million. Earnings per share reached 23.6¢, up from 20.5¢, running well ahead of the 4.4 per cent rise in revenue to $2.4 billion for the year.

The final dividend has been raised to 7.5¢ from 6¢, as part of the earnings uplift has been shared with shareholders.

The margin performance of the group’s Brisbane and Gold Coast casinos outstripped the Star City casino, but th Sydney casino drives group earnings. However weak consumer confidence late in the year hurt group operations.

“May-June was relatively soft due to macro factors – Brexit and the long election campaign, which impacted consumer confidence. That trend has not continued – we’re back into pretty solid growth,” Mr Bekier said.

In Sydney, Star Casino held its share of the market steady, it said, amid a sharper offering from rivals for the gambling dollar.

“Reflecting more strenuous competition – clubs and pubs upped their business, there are more pokies management businesses out there,” he said, with the focus now on a relaunch of its loyalty program later this year.

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07 Jul

It’s a crime spree as Emma Viskic snaffles four writing awards

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Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic. Photo: Supplied Crime writer Emma Viskic will be awarded two Davitt awards and a Ned Kelly award over this coming weekend. 26th August 2016. Photo by Jason South
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Emma Viskic has been on a weekend spree, a crime spree. Her debut novel, Resurrection Bay, not only won three “Davitts” at the Sisters in Crime’s awards on Saturday, but followed that up with a “Ned Kelly” on Sunday from the Australian Crime Writers Association.

Viskic won the Davitt (named after Ellen Davitt, writer of Australia’s first murder novel) for best novel, the best debut award (shared with Fleur Ferris’ Risk), and the readers’ choice award, while she won the Ned for best debut novel.

The awards represented multiple endorsements for a crucial creative decision she made after she had finished the first draft of the book that begins with her hero, Caleb Zelic, cradling the dead body of his best friend.

She figured something wasn’t working with Zelic. He seemed the sort of character who had appeared in several earlier stories and she recognised him as something of an outsider. The question was why. Then she recognised some of his traits and quirks from a profoundly deaf girl she had known. That was it; her hero was deaf.

But writing a deaf character did not appeal. “I am a classical musician [Viskic has played the clarinet for the likes of Melbourne Opera and the Australian Pops Orchestra] so sound is the way I approach writing. A lot of people do the visual first, but I do dialogue and my early drafts are like a script. Also for the technical reason of how do I make this work, and the third reason was that I was really nervous about writing a caricature, a tokenistic character.”

So Viskic had to retrospectively research her character’s deafness and that involved learning Auslan. “He had to use Auslan with the people he loves because it’s a way of him being comfortable and showing his relationships. That was a huge boon to me as a writer and wonderful to be introduced to this whole other world I barely knew existed.”

She’s not exactly fluent: “One of the characters, his ex-cop friend Frankie, probably has the same level of Auslan as me. She is unintentionally funny at times. I can hold a conversation – like a child.”

If Viskic’s success at the Davitts represents the emergence of a significant new Australian crime-writing talent, winning the Ned for best novel for Before it Breaks represents a return to the fold for Dave Warner. The last of his six previous crime novels, eXXXpresso,  appeared in 2000 since when the writer and musician has been working for the big and small screens.

“If you’re doing feature films you can still find time to do novel writing, but with TV it was not possible; it’s such an all-consuming beast. I had three years when I plotted virtually every episode of Rescue Special Ops and it’s really draining.”

But for one reason or another the television work dried up and Warner could return to crime fiction and making music – his band the Suburbs is recording its first album in 35 years – the two thing he loves most.

He said going back to fiction was as if he’d been playing badminton and someone had called him in to play tennis on a grass court.

“Three years on with no money changes the idea somewhat about what is a great idea or not. But it has freed me up again to pursue things much more creatively.”

Gideon Haigh, better known for his many books about cricket, won the non-fiction Ned for his true-crime book, Certain Admissions. Alecia Simmonds won the non-fiction Davitt for Wildman.

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07 Jul

Bledisloe Cup 2016: Wallabies have legitimate grievances but plenty of problems

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Balancing act: Michael Cheika. Photo: Jason McCawley Owen Franks appears to gouge Kane Douglas.
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The Wallabies had 12 hours after the second Bledisloe Cup Test to refer to the citing commissioner Owen Franks’ apparent eye gouge on Kane Douglas.

That they did not is the irony of Saturday’s nasty post-match sideshow.

Behind the scenes Michael Cheika cultivates a no-blame culture. He wants his team to take responsibility for their performances. He leads the way by taking responsibility for his own, commenting two weeks in a row that he let the team down with elements of his preparation and coaching.

So team management did not refer the Franks incident to the citing commissioner, trusting that an act as deliberate as Franks’ scrape over Douglas’ eyes would be picked up and acted upon. It was not, presumably because the commissioner did not deem it serious enough to meet the required red card threshold.

On that issue, Cheika paid the price for his silence, while on the issue of Romain Poite’s refereeing, he paid the price for speaking out.

It appears the Australian coach went off half-cocked on a supposed meeting between Poite and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen last week, as Hansen denies such a meeting took place. Hansen did, however, admit he had a chat with assistant referee Jaco Peyper, convened at Peyper’s request, to “review some of the stuff that he had seen in our game”.

The relevant World Rugby regulation refers only to “the referee” in its stipulation that both teams should be given the opportunity to meet with a match official before a Test match. Peyper was the head honcho in the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney but an assistant in Wellington, so Hansen did not contravene the letter of the regulations. The spirit of them, however, which is surely to guard against bias or its perception, has taken a hit.

If New Zealand are given the benefit of the doubt and their on-field superiority, Poite’s persistent shooing away of Australian captain Stephen Moore and his parallel willingness to hear complaints from New Zealand captain Kieran Read and a selection of other players suggest the Wallabies have a huge perception problem among match officials. That is for them to turn around.

Now to the real issue. The big, deep, dark hole in which the Wallabies find themselves.

Six losses on the trot and two Bledisloe Cup blow-outs are hard to take for fans, players and coaches alike. It is difficult to watch your team be monstered by a far better opponent. It must be harder still to put your body and your pride on the line week after week and get no reward, which is what life as a Wallaby is at the moment.

But this is not an irretrievable situation. Australia are blessed with skilled, tenacious rugby players and a suite of very good coaches.

That group orchestrated one of the most impressive World Cup campaigns in recent memory. Latterly that campaign has been characterised as an over-achievement relative to the Wallabies’ capacities. There is some truth in that and Hansen reminded everyone on Sunday that the Wallabies, too, have benefited at key times – try a World Cup quarter final against Scotland – from the rub of the green. But there is truth, too, in the Wallabies’ blood, sweat and tears, which also propelled them to the final.

Things are not going right for them 10 months later, but there is no evidence to suggest they are blind to their problems or avoiding tough decisions, with the possible exception of the lineout malaise.

The Wallabies should not sulk or complain about negativity. Their fans, former players and the media piled on the praise when it was warranted and earned.

As Australians are wont to do, the Wallabies must pick themselves up and keep going. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, they will turn things around.

Twitter:@geerob

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07 Jul

Melbourne Cup 2016: Andreas Wohler bringing Articus and Red Cardinal for spring, with Protectionist still a chance

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Return?: Jockey Craig Williams with Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist. Photo: Vince CaligiuriThe spring team of Australian Bloodstock’s Jamie Lovett may yet include Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, as Andreas Wohler begins to prepare Articus and Red Cardinal for Australian campaigns.
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The Melbourne Cup-winning trainer will target the Caulfield Cup and Mackinnon Stakes with Articus, a group 2 winner in Germany, while Red Cardinal will come out to Australia attempting to earn a spot in the Melbourne Cup.

Australian Bloodstock completed purchasing the pair in recent times and Wohler, who is their main European trainer, is confident they will adapt to Australian racing and has booked them on the first shipment of horses to come for the spring.

“Articus ran fifth in a group 1 in Germany last start and we bought him after that and he has moved to Andreas’ stable,” Lovett said. “He believes that Articus will be the perfect Caulfield Cup horse and would love the pressure of the race and the circuit.

“With the Mackinnon being three weeks after it, he will target it as well, being a group 2 winner at 2100m.

“He will go into quarantine with Red Cardinal, which we bought before his third in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. He is a lightweight Melbourne Cup chance. He would probably have to win a race like the Moonee Valley Cup or Geelong Cup to get a run in the Cup.

“They will both be on the first shipment of horses. We would have liked to run Red Cardinal in the Herbert Power Handicap but the way it is structured this year they don’t get out of quarantine until Caulfield Cup eve.”

Lovett also hinted that 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist could return to Australia if he doesn’t look like being a leading contender in the Arc de Triomphe.

“He is going to have another run next month in France in an Arc lead-up, our intention is to run in the Arc but if he doesn’t live up to expectations, the Melbourne Cup is still an option,” Lovett said.

“He has shown us enough by winning that group 1 in Germany he is worth a crack at an Arc and it would be a dream for us to have a runner in the biggest race in Europe.”

The first shipment of horses for the spring will include Royal Ascot winner Kinema, Scottish and Tryster, Godolphin’s Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate contenders, and several from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard.

Racing Victoria’s international recruiter Leigh Jordon is hopeful Highland Reel, which was third to Winx in the Cox Plate last year and has since won the Hong Kong International Vase and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth might return.

O’Brien has the early Melbourne Cup favourite in Order Of St George, in which Lloyd Williams shares in the ownership, but a decision on whether he will head down to Australia will be made after the Irish St Leger.

“Aidan is still working out what he will be bringing but we expect him to have at least three on the first plane,” Jordon said. “He has plenty of options. There is a French stayer called Erupt, which could come out for the Caulfield and Melbourne cups.”

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07 Jul

Rio Olympics 2016: Nathan Hart says Games were ‘awesome’ despite heartbreaking medal miss

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Nathan Hart, right, says Rio was not as disastrous as reported. Photo: David RamosCanberra track cyclist and Rio Olympian Nathan Hart says the Games were “awesome to me” and not the disaster that has been portrayed in the media.
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The Olympic hangover has started after the well-documented failings in attendance, security and facilities, but Hart argues differently.

He went agonisingly close to claiming a bronze medal but the sprint team of Hart, Patrick Constable and Matthew Glaetzer missed by just 0.15 seconds against France.

“In my experience I don’t think it was as bad as the media made it out to be. I thought it was pretty good,” the 23-year-old said.

“Especially safety concerns, that was probably the biggest thing people in Australia were concerned about but I thought it was fine.”

Hart’s experience is a refreshing perspective that has been muffled by stories of chaos before, during and after the Games.

In particular, the venue construction received plenty of criticism but the cycling velodrome was of international standard despite being one of the last venues to be completed.

“The track I was really impressed with,” Hart said. “I think that was the last venue to be finished, the velodrome.

“We [the sprint team] got there early, just under two weeks before racing and it was a bit dusty, they were still doing a little bit of work.

“But the next time we were on the track it had been all sorted and especially when race day came around it was really good.”

Hart is back in Canberra and already back in the saddle after buying a mountain bike.

When asked if the 0.15 second margin between the Australian sprint team and a medal hurts, Hart laughed.

“A little bit actually. I’ve watched the race since coming back to Canberra and it’s disappointing but I know for a fact that three of us did everything in our power to be in the best position to win.

“That’s part of it, it keeps me hungry to train hard and try to get results later on down the track.”

Despite missing a medal, Hart walked away with a new personal best in the qualification races with a time of 17.15 seconds.

“It’s about a tenth [of a second] quicker than I’ve ever gone before which I was pretty happy with,” Hart said.

“It was good to know I turned up to Rio in the best form I’ve ever been in.”

Great Britain won gold in the event with New Zealand taking silver, France bronze and Australia fourth.

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