ASX appoints first female CEO, Woodside and BHP Petroleum complete merger and NAB confirms $1.2bn acquisition

Helen Lofthouse ASX CEO Chief Executive Officer
Newly appointed boss Helen Lofthouse will be the first woman to run the ASX since its founding.

ASX Limited (ASX: ASX) has announced an internal candidate, Helen Lofthouse, is set to take over as the new chief executive officer following a four-month international search.

Ms Lofthouse will be the first woman to run the ASX since it was founded in 1987, being promoted to the top job from group executive, a position she has held since July last year.

In taking over, she insists on reviewing the status of the $250 million CHESS clearing and settlement replacement project, which was started in 2016 and has been delayed four times since.

Through replacing the ageing CHESS system with a blockchain-based distributed ledger technology (DLT), it’s designed to protect the smooth operation of the $2.7 trillion Australian equity capital market and open up growth options for the ASX.

The appointment followed the demands of shareholders.

A shareholder, who vowed to remain anonymous, said the last thing he wanted to see was the appointment of a chief executive officer with just an information technology (IT) background.

“We want a CEO who truly understands the operations of the ASX and what this new platform is going to provide to the ASX,” the shareholder said.

“That is very much a business orientation including an understanding of the linkages in the markets and the synergies between various players that can be achieved through the blockchain technology.”

Woodside Energy

Woodside Energy (ASX: WDS) will receive a boost of an estimated US$1 billion (A$1.4 billion) in cash as part of its A$63 billion merger with BHP Group’s (ASX: BHP) oil and gas business BHP Petroleum following its completion on Wednesday.

Contributing to the total is US$1.8 billion (A$2.5 billion) net cash flows generated by BHP Petroleum since the merger was deemed effective on 1 July last year, minus US$800 million (A$1.1 billion) due in cash dividends to BHP during that time.

The deal will see Woodside become a top 10 global independent oil and gas company.

Financial services company Standard & Poor said the merger will benefit Woodside in managing its sizeable capital investment commitments within its current rating of BBB+ with a negative outlook.

“The negative outlook reflects the limited buffer at the BBB+ rating level for Woodside to pursue significant capital investment plans, absorb project development delays and cost overruns, or accommodate material oil price declines,” it said.

Woodside remains liable for roughly US$8.4 billion (A$11.6 billion) of the US$12.5 billion (A$17.2 billion) funding needed to build the Scarborough and Pluto-2 gas projects in Western Australia.

Commenting on the merger, BHP chief executive officer Mike Henry said it will create an opportunity for shareholders to “have exposure to assets in two organisations, BHP and Woodside, each with a very clear focus, strategy and value proposition.”

“The merger of our petroleum assets with Woodside creates a global energy company with the scale and opportunity to help supply the energy needed for global growth and development in a rapidly decarbonising world,” he said.

“BHP’s world-class portfolio is weighted towards commodities which support economic growth and have decarbonisation upside and combined with our operational excellence, will underpin attractive returns and long-term value growth.”

NAB

National Australia Bank (ASX: NAB) has announced the completion of a $1.2 billion acquisition of Citigroup’s Australian consumer business.

This acquisition includes a home lending portfolio, an unsecured lending business, a retail deposits business, and a private wealth management business.

NAB chief executive officer Ross McEwan said the company is pleased and encouraged by the completion of the deal.

“The acquisition of the Citigroup Consumer Business supports our ambition to build a leading personal bank. We have good momentum in our personal banking division, driven by our aim to be simpler and more digital for customers and colleagues,” he said.

“The purchase of the Citigroup Consumer Business gives us greater scale in unsecured lending and supports investment in new technology. This will enable us to create more innovative, simple and digital products and services for customers, particularly in unsecured lending and supporting business partners with white label products.”

“We welcome our new colleagues to NAB. They bring deep banking expertise and insights into how customers’ needs continue to change,” Mr McEwan added.

Roughly 800 employees will join NAB as part of the deal.

Healius

Healthcare company Healius (ASX: HLS) has reported more difficult market conditions in the second half of the financial year following on from strong first half trading.

The company announced its unaudited underlying earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) for the year-to-date to May 2022 is $473 million.

This is an increase of over 100% on the unaudited underlying EBIT of $234 million for the same period in FY21.

Healius said COVID-19 testing remained at about 15,000 per working day in May but has been affected due to experiencing the effects of high levels of COVID-19 infections in its workforce and in patient and clinician cohorts.

The company completed the sale of the Adora Fertility business this week in a bid to further simplify its portfolio moving forward.

Healius management confirmed it remains focused on growing its core pathology and imaging businesses, where it is well-positioned as an essential operator with operating leverage.

The company aims to grow its emerging diagnostic positions, thanks to its market-leading digital program.

IGO

IGO (ASX: IGO) has confirmed it has finally snared nickel producer Western Areas after shareholders approved the $1.3 billion deal.

On Wednesday, Western Areas shareholders approved IGO’s $3.87 cash per share bid, despite the offer being below the range deemed fair by independent expert KPMG.

The board unanimously backed the bid.

Western Areas non-executive chairman Ian Macliver said KPMG’s assessment was “not fair but is reasonable and therefore is, on balance, in the best interests” of shareholders absent a better bid.

“The Western Areas board have had regard to an extensive range of factors … and have assessed the scheme consideration against a range of valuation models for each part of the Western Areas business, and with regard to our overarching responsibility to act in the best interests of all shareholders,” he said.

Western Areas later revealed 94.2% of votes had backed the bid.

Wesfarmers

Wesfarmers’ (ASX: WES) boss has announced customers at its key retail brands Bunnings and Kmart have not yet changed their shopping habits, despite growing concerns over the cost of living and rising interest rates, warning spending could slow in the year ahead.

Chief executive officer Rob Scott said although rates were going up, they remained close to what he dubbed “emergency levels” while the savings rate of households remained high.

“I think there are reasons why we should be confident that we can withstand a few bumps along the way, but the risks that we need to be mindful of are inflation getting too far ahead of us,” he said.

Mr Scott has urged the new Labor government to get immigration moving again, in order to combat labour shortages, citing opportunities around enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) reform as another way to allow for more sustainable real wage growth.

As for Wesfarmers, it is in a suitable position to adjust to inflationary pressures given the essential and diverse nature of its products.

“While it’s important to be conscious of what the risks are with inflation, supply chain disruption and interest rates, there’s not any need to panic,” he said.

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