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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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07 Apr

IOOF pays $20.75m for slice of ex-GMH factory, Dandenong South

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IOOF’s latest purchase in Dandenong South. Photo: Supplied Map Coffee founder Pitzy Folk is relocating his central office to Windsor. Photo: Eddie Jim EJZ
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An artist’s impression of the controversial Marvella Heights apartment project in Ballarat. Photo: Supplied

IOOF Investment Management is paying $20.75 million for a high-profile building within Cbus Property’s Estate One – an office and industrial park replacing Dandenong South’s iconic General Motors Holden plant, which operated at the address for some 40 years until the 1990s.

In an off-market deal struck on a 7 per cent yield, the asset manager is acquiring 45 Assembly Drive – a four-level, 4432-square-metre office completed by the Hacer Group in 2014.

Three major tenants, including the Country Fire Authority, with lease naming rights, occupy more than 90 per cent of the building which also includes a 213-bay basement car park.

IOOF senior portfolio manager Simon Gross told BusinessDay it will build another commercial asset on a vacant part of the super-sized, 9548-square-metre block.

“We were attracted by the significant lot size, the long eight-year WALE [Weighted Average Lease Expiry], the stunning presentation … and the high quality of three flagship tenants,” Mr Gross said of the asset, earmarked for IOOF’s direct property portfolio.

Colliers International director Peter Bremner was the marketing agent.

Cbus Property CEO Adrian Pozzo said the sale is part of an ongoing strategy to divest parts of Estate One once value was maximised.

Cbus paid Phileo Australia $136.5 million for the 46-hectare former car plant, at 81-125 Princes Highway, in 2007.

Phileo, which paid GMH $22.5 million 10 years earlier, repurposed the factory as an exclusive industrial park, but sold out of the development opportunity after constructing only a handful of new buildings. Its sale to Cbus included 12 hectares of undeveloped land and about 90,000 square metres of ageing GMH-related factories.

After producing more than 4 million vehicles, GMH closed the factory 25 years ago – the last model it produced being the Nova, and Toyota Corolla-badged twin. The General Motors railway station, which the car company paid to construct in 1956, closed in 2004.

Modern Bendigo office sells

A near new Bendigo office leased to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, with options, until 2029, has sold to an investor for just over $10 million.

The three-storey, 1957-square-metre asset at 7-15 McLaren Street offers depreciation benefits as well as an annual rental return of more than $710,000, next year, from the next lease period, starting in December.

The NABERS 5.5-star energy rated building sits on a 1924-square-metre block with 44 on-site car parks.

Burgess Rawson’s Jamie Perlinger and Shaun Venables, with Tweed Sutherland First National’s Craig Tweed and Tom Harrop, closed an expressions of interest campaign in mid-July.

Investor flipping in Ballarat

An investor is flipping a Ballarat site after obtaining a controversial permit to build flats – a practice which has recently proven profitable for Melbourne land dealers.

The opportunity to build Marvella Heights on a long-vacant central site for years owned by the state education department, is asking about $3.5 million.

At 29 St Pauls Way, Bakery Hill, the 9608-square-metre block was recently permitted to make way for 102 dwellings – 77 of these apartments within three buildings, the tallest rising four levels.

To the surprise of locals, the land fell into private hands nearly two years ago, after the state government sold it to BEST Employment, which on-sold it to the current owner. Gross Waddell’s Andrew Waddell and Andrew Thorburn have the listing.

Spotswood activity centre proposed

Spotswood may soon be hard to miss to commuters taking the West Gate Bridge, with the owner of a large industrial site near the train station advertising plans to build a neighbourhood activity centre with 346 dwellings in buildings rising between five and nine storeys.

The plan for 31-69 McLister Street also includes a medical centre, bottle shop and supermarket with a cafe, chemist and specialty retail. The permit request seeks for a reduction in the statutory car parking requirements for the land, seven kilometres west of town.

Tick for city’s first Skypark

The divide between the south-west edge of the CBD and Lang Walker’s multibillion Collins Square project, in Docklands, is set to be filled after planning minister Richard Wynne approved Lendlease’s proposed Melbourne Quarter village this week.

The $2 billion plan includes about 1690 dwellings in three skyscrapers, set to rise over six years in and around where the Bunjil sculpture was erected in 2002.

Half of the 2.5-hectare site is earmarked to become public space, and will include Melbourne’s first Skypark opposite the Southern Cross train station west of The Age office, Media House.

Lendlease secured developments rights over the Batman Hill airspace between Collins and Flinders streets, in 2013. The precinct is where John Batman, one of Melbourne’s founders, built the home he lived until his death in 1839.

In 1998, the Grollo Tower – a landmark 560-metre super-scraper (which replaced an earlier 678-metre concept) was rejected for development in this pocket. Bruno Grollo, who proposed that controversial structure, went on to build the 297-metre Eureka Tower in Southbank, currently Melbourne’s tallest building.

Folk buys in Windsor with taxpayer funds

Fresh from banking $19 million of taxpayer dollars selling his Fishermans Bend headquarters to the government, businessman Pitzy Folk will relocate his central office a few kilometres south, to Windsor, after buying a historic building for years owner-occupied by Telstra as part of an exchange.

The former hotelier and restaurateur turned coffee roaster and director of boutique soft drink chain, CAPI, is paying about $6.5 million for 168 Peel Street, a red-brick building opposite the Windsor train station, five kilometres south of the CBD.

On an 817-square-metre block, the vacant 1387-square-metre structure was marketed by CBRE’s Tom Tuxworth, David Minty and Josh Rutman, with Colliers International’s Peter Bremner and Jeremy Gruzewski.

The pre-emptive rezoning of Fishermans Bend by the former Liberal planning minister Matthew Guy prompted a huge spike in land values and caused major planning headaches later when the government was forced to buy-back sites at inflated values to use as public open space.

Mr Folk’s CAPI warehouse at 2-4 Buckhurst Street, South Melbourne, was one of those parcels.

The government delivered a windfall to Mr Folk, who paid $4.4 million for the 4000-square-metre block in 2008, when it purchased the site for $19 million last year to use as a park.

Mr Folk had previously lodged plans to replace the CAPI site with a much more profitable mixed-use village containing two apartment buildings.

The Napthine government’s botched rezoning increased the buy-back costs of public open space by as much as $340 million, some estimates suggest.

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07 Apr

NBN needs another $20 billion of public money to finish rollout

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In the pipeline: NBN won’t be profitable until 2022. Photo: Glenn Hunt NBN chief executive Bill Morrow. Photo: Supplied
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The federal government will have to plow another $20 billion into the national broadband network as it battles higher than expected costs next year.

And NBN Co has been forced to change plans for 1.5 million households to avoid a potential cost blowout.

Originally designed as 93 per cent fibre network, NBN was changed by the Coalition government to incorporate existing infrastructure to save time and money. However, it now appears fewer people are signing up to the NBN than expected and that the Coalition under-estimated the costs of connecting old cables.

While there should be 8.1 million active customers each providing about $52 of monthly revenues by 2020, the government-owned business won’t be profitable until 2022.

The Finance and Communications Ministers have released a new Statement of Expectations on Friday removing a requirement NBN Co build the network “within the constraints of a public equity capital limit of $29.5 billion”.

This limit will be reached next year and the government will have to provide a further $20 billion for total contribution of $48.6 billion by 2020 as NBN Co is unlikely to be able to borrow money on its own.

However, the government is committed to funding the project.

“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.

A new corporate plan on Friday revealed 55 per cent of premises would now get fibre to the node, 27 per cent cable, and 21 per cent fibre (of which nearly half are yet-to-be-built new housing).

The company is meeting rollout forecasts it set itself last year.

“The NBN rollout is on track and on budget, having now built more than a quarter of the network,” a Communications Minister Mitch Fifield spokeswoman said on Friday.

However, NBN Co underestimated the cost of using existing hybrid-fibre coaxial [HFC] cables laid by Telstra and Optus in the 1990s. Last year it calculated an average cost of $1800 per house. But detailed field work discovered the cost was actually $2300.

“In April we signed a delivery agreement with Telstra utilising their vast knowledge and experience in hybrid fibre coaxial [HFC]. We have learned more about the complexity and costs of the HFC rollout,” a spokeswoman said on Friday.

NBN also discovered it was completely uneconomical to connect 1.5 million of the 4 million premises within the HFC footprint. Those premises will now be connected using fibre-to-the-node technology [FTTN], which may have slower download speeds.

In 2013 the Coalition estimated FTTN connections would cost about $900 per premise and this was raised to $1997 in a 2014 strategic review, and raised again in 2015 to about $2300.

The Coalition also estimated $29.5 billion of public money would last until NBN could borrow on its own, but the faster FTTN roll out means NBN Co is running out of money quicker than expected.

Earlier this week Australian Federal Police raided offices of Labor Senator Stephen Conroy looking for the source of leaks from NBN Co.

A spokeswoman for Senator Fifield said: “The Australian Federal Police operates independently from government”.

Meanwhile Labor’s Communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the Coalition had “grossly underestimated the cost of having different technologies”.

She expects the operating costs for a network with FTTN and HFC to have much higher operating costs than the majority-fibre network planned by Labor.

She also claims a Labor-run NBN Co would have been able to borrow money already, saying the “internal rate of return would have been sufficient for us to be able to finance any shortfall”.

In 2010 Labor predicted NBN Co would start borrowing money in 2015. In fact, Labor expected NBN Co to get 33 per cent of its funding from debt markets by 2021 with an internal return of return of up to 8.8 per cent. On Friday NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow revealed the current rate of return was 3.7 per cent.

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07 Apr

Hotel investment welcomes higher visitations

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The Radisson Sydney hotel has been upgraded under the Blu brand. Photo: Mark HeriotHotel investment is tipped to escalate in the coming year as investors seek to take advantage of the growth in overseas and domestic tourism in a market that is deemed under-supplied.
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Development will also increase as operators look to introduce new brands to the sector as well as upgrade existing sites to cater for the up-and-coming traveller that expects technology to be part of the standard room rate.

The owners of the Radisson chain, Carlson Rezidor​ has recently completed an upgrade of its Radisson Blu brand in its Sydney, O’Connell Street property and is looking for new sites for the more “agile” Radisson RED brand.

Carlson Rezidor has been in takeover talks with conglomerate HNA Group, which consists of six core areas of business, aviation, holdings, tourism, capital, logistics and eco-technology, with annual revenue of US$25.6 billion.

The HNA Group is expected to acquire the hotel group by the end of 2016.

Thorsten Kirschke​, president of Carlson Rezidor Asia Pacific said the group has significant growth ambitions for Australia and New Zealand and the deal will ensure new levels of investment across the region. Also, significant plans are being formulated to make the group’s hotel brands more contemporary and relevant to better meet changing consumer tastes.

He said the Radisson RED brand is proving an interesting investment proposition for wealthy Chinese families who want to pass on some of the wealth to the next generation through hotel ownership.

The brand offers a range of communal areas with wifi connectivity and a bar/lounge where guests can interact as opposed to a quieter, more traditional hotel bar/lobby area.

On a recent trip to Sydney Mr Thorsten said he believes Australia remains a highly compelling hospitality market given the record occupancy rates and significant shortage in room supply.

“In addition, hotel companies can no longer look at just the hub and spoke structure in the ‘Big 5’ Australian anchor markets,” he said.

“Carlson Rezidor has noticed 80 per cent of Australian hotel inventory is small to mid-scale hotels.

This positive outlook has been reinforced by the latest Deloitte Access Economics Tourism and Hotel Market Outlook, which has identified that growth in leisure travel to Australia has seen international visitor numbers surge 10 per cent in the year ended June 2016.

That was the fastest rate of growth since the mid-1990s. Australians’ desire for “staycation” has also increased considerably.

According to the report, in the past year, international visitor expenditure has grown by 17.6 per cent, more than double the 7.9 per cent average of the past five years. At the same time, the number of Australians travelling domestically is growing at its fastest pace since formal records began in 1998 (7.6 per cent).

Lachlan Smirl​, Deloitte Access Economics partner, said the growth tourism is posting – and the impact that’s having on activity across the economy – is a very clear sign the transition that needs to take place and its contribution to the Australian economy is occurring. A three-fold out-pacing of growth across the economy is no mean feat, Mr Smirl said.

“What is remarkable about the tourism growth we are observing is that it is being achieved against a relatively soft economic backdrop – both internationally and here in Australia. Yes, the Australian dollar remains relatively favourable, and the sustained growth of the middle class in Asia continues to buoy international travel. But as income growth in China slows, travel to Australia is in fact accelerating. And this pattern is observable across a number of markets.”

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07 Apr

Sydney fringe office markets in high demand

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An artist’s impression of the new Commonwealth Bank building at the Australian Technology Park, where Centuria has an interest. Photo: SuppliedMetropolitan office markets are moving in on their city counterparts as the hot ticket in town for investment dollars.
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This has been emphasised by the hotly contended battle for the listed GPT Metro Office Fund by Growthpoint Properties, which has now crossed the 50.1 per cent threshold and declared the offer unconditional.

Once completed it will increase Growthpoint’s presence in the suburban office market by a further six, high-quality office towers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Growthpoint reported a strong full-year net profit of $224.2 million, which was down 20.8 per cent but included a range of one-off property valuations.

The more accurate distributable income was 21.9¢ per security, which was a 3.3 per cent gain on the 2016 year, and the annual distribution was 20.5¢ per security, payable on August 31.

Growthpoint chief executive Tim  Collyer said the group had enjoyed office leasing success, namely the lease to Country Road/David Jones for new headquarters over 23,000 square metres at Buildings 1 and 2, 572 Swan Street, Richmond, Melbourne, for an average lease term of 14.5 years.

The rival bidder for the GPT Metro Fund, Centuria Capital, which still has a 16 per cent stake in the fund, has also focused on the metropolitan markets and also unveiled solid results for the year of $10.4 million in net profit, a rise of 65 per cent. It was at the upper end of guidance provided to the market in December and the 2016 fully franked dividend was 5.25¢ per share.

John McBain, Centuria’s chief executive said funds under management increased 21 per cent from $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion and unlisted property fund acquisitions totalled $265 million. The listed Centuria Metropolitan REIT portfolio book increased 9.3 per cent to $400 million with distributions on forecast.

Mr McBain said during the past year the group has boosted its suburban office portfolio with the acquisitions of interest in the Australian Technology Park for $104 million, a 50 per cent interest in 203 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, for $43 million and a 50 per cent interest in 8 Central Avenue, Redfern, for $109 million and the acquisition of The Zenith complex at Chatswood for $280 million.

According to Savills, Sydney’s fringe office markets have recorded their strongest vacancy rates in more than a decade as the nation’s key capital city markets continue their climb out of double-digit vacancy and inflated incentives.

The falling vacancy is driving growth in net effective rents and with the NSW government’s announcement of registered projects totalling $390 million in Parramatta and Winten Property Group’s acquisition of a development site at 1 Denison St, North Sydney, developers are taking notice.

According to Savills senior analyst research & consultancy Houssam Yakzan​, average prime net face rents have increased by around 8 per cent in north shore markets and 7 per cent in Parramatta, with corresponding falls in incentives.

The combined north shore vacancy, including North Sydney, Crows Nest/St Leonards, Chatswood and Macquarie Park-North Ryde stands at 7.2 per cent, the lowest since the 5.3 per cent figure recorded in 2001.

Savills director office leasing, Simon Van Grootel​, said while there was no doubt the Sydney non-CBD office markets had picked up over the past 12 to 18 months, withdrawals for the compulsory metro rail acquisitions, residential and hotel conversion, and the lack of new supply, were key contributors to the lower vacancy rates.

“That has seen rental growth and incentives decline and those factors along with continued withdrawals and continued falls in vacancy are going to drive new construction but in the current market, that is likely to require pre-commitment,” Mr Van Grootel said.

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07 Apr

Stock shortage fires up off-market deals

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128-130 Rothschild Ave, Rosebery. Photo: supplied Three adjacent commercial terraces at 247, 249 & 251 Bronte Road, Waverley, are being sold in stock-starved east Sydney. Photo: supplied
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The lack of supply for investment-grade properties has led to more vendors going off-market to achieve strong results.

Unsolicited advances, where owners get a knock on the door, are now becoming prevalent and also allowing agents to tap into their databases to match a buyer with a seller.

While savvy investors are not willing to pay over the odds, they are nonetheless keen to look for off-market deals to get a foothold into the safe haven bricks and mortar sector.

One of the latest examples involves 128-130 Rothschild Ave, Rosebery, a four-level commercial building that  is being offered through CBRE’s Sydney capital markets  associate director Tony Braham​ and Property Partnership Australia’s director sales & leasing Stephen Bowrey​.

Mr Braham said the off-market expressions of interest campaign has already attracted significant buyer interest.

“In an extremely stock-starved market, we’re finding that we can achieve great results for our clients without the need for on-market campaigns,” Mr Braham said.

According to the agents, the Rosebery building has development potential, subject to relevant planning approvals.

Mr Bowrey said the ongoing regeneration of the Rosebery area and the property’s development potential had underpinned strong interest from developers and land bankers.

Mr Braham added that Sydney’s east is also underpinned by the falling interest rates, record low yields and limited stock on the market, which is contributing to increased buyer competition and rising property values.

Demonstrating this trend, Mr Braham has recently been appointed to sell a long-term family holding of three adjacent commercial terraces at 247, 249 & 251 Bronte Road, Waverley.

“With a historically low level of listings currently on market, this retail/commercial offering in the trendy but tightly held Charing Cross/Queens Park shopping strip represents a major generational change in property ownership in Sydney, with many families now considering the sale of their long-term property holdings,” Mr Braham said.

The 500 sq m amalgamated site has been held by the same family since the 1950s, previously housing the retail and manufacturing arm of the family’s children’s wear clothing manufacturing business Ista Fashions.

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