Double whammy: Gerry Harvey takes a $125m hit despite record earnings

AFR BUSINESS NEWS 
Nine Entertainment Co. CEO, David Gyngell, (left) with Simon Kelly, COO/CFO at Studio 22, Channel Nine, Willoughby, after releasing the company's Interim FY15 results. 26th February 2015. Photograph by Dallas Kilponen
AFR BUSINESS NEWS Nine Entertainment Co. CEO, David Gyngell, (left) with Simon Kelly, COO/CFO at Studio 22, Channel Nine, Willoughby, after releasing the company's Interim FY15 results. 26th February 2015. Photograph by Dallas Kilponen
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 23:  Dick Smith chairman Rob Murray poses for a portrait on June 23, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Fairfax Media) *** Local Caption *** Rob Murray

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 23: Dick Smith chairman Rob Murray poses for a portrait on June 23, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Fairfax Media) *** Local Caption *** Rob Murray

Gerry Harvey during the Harvey Norman AGM at the ASX. AFR Photo by Peter Morris. SPECIAL 10835 Sydney 011119

Gerry Harvey during the Harvey Norman AGM at the ASX. AFR Photo by Peter Morris. SPECIAL 10835 Sydney 011119

Retail billionaire Gerry Harvey could sell ice to the eskimos, but spruiking the prospects of his homewares giant, Harvey Norman, was not so easy after Thursday's financial results.

Record earnings were not enough to save the stock from another slide as Harvey Norman surprised investors with a cut to its dividend.

It means that Harvey got hit with a double-whammy.

The dividend cut hit his hip pocket to the tune of $16.6 million in cash, while the share rout shaved $109 million from the value of his stake in the retailer soon after its earnings announcement was released.

Harvey Norman shares had just started to recover from a slide earlier this year triggered by the twin storms of the Amazon threat, and reports in March that raised fresh questions about the byzantine structure that governs the retailer's franchisee business.

Harvey rebutted the naysayers with his usual panache: "This is a couple of interested individuals stirring shit, and then it follows to a journalist that wants more information."

Kelly's Nine

Ardent Leisure endured a media storm last year after the tragic deaths at Dreamworld, but its new CEO - former Nine Entertainment executive Simon Kelly - was still happy to speak up for media reform after the company's results release on Thursday.

"The media laws in Australia are a bit of mess at the moment. It has become a political football, and it needs to be sorted out," Kelly said.

"We have got great diversity in the Australian media by world standards ... but it needs a level playing field. It would be a shame if it becomes substandard given that Google, Twitter etc can produce news anywhere and at any time."

Kelly still knew where to draw the line, though. There was no comment on next week's shareholder meeting, where his board will attempt to repel the invasion of corporate raider Gary Weiss.

PAC man

We're not saying that former AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but is it a coincidence that the boutique fund manager he chairs, Pacific Current Group (PAC), has been on a tear since he hung up his footy boots?

The stock has doubled since November last year, adding $10 million to the value of Fitzpatrick's PAC shares.

And it needs to only double again to return to the high-flying prices it fetched back in 2015.

PAC reported a big lift in revenue and earnings for the financial year just ended, with more good times ahead as it reaps the benefits of the cost cutting and restructuring it was forced to undergo this year.

"The change from 12 months ago has been significant and the market is appreciating the efforts of the changes undertaken," Fitzpatrick said in the dispatch to the ASX.

If the company keeps up this performance, Fitzpatrick might be able to avoid a boardroom purge at the next AGM. This assumes investors do not repeat last year's 84 per cent vote against the remuneration report.

Cash n Carry

Your columnist was off feature writing on Wednesday, which means we missed the Metcash AGM and the performance of its understandably twitchy chairman, Rob Murray.

CBD was a bit puzzled this week when Murray topped up his shareholding in Southern Cross Media - where he holds a board seat - boosting his stake by more than 70 per cent.

A big move from a guy who, at one stage, only bought shares in companies where he was the chairman.

Interestingly, Murray also topped up his stake in the grocery wholesaler by 50 per cent last week ahead of the AGM.

Why the sudden share-buying frenzy?

Glad you asked.

Murray faced re-election at the Metcash AGM on Wednesday, and the Australian Shareholders Association took a dim view of his credentials for the job and recommended a vote against his re-election.

It was not just the fact that he was chairman when Dick Smith Electronics collapsed, and faces all sorts of calls on his time as the reverberations from the retailer's demise play out.

Murray's miserly attitude to his stock portfolio also caught the ASA's eye.

The investor advocacy group pointed out he takes home $390,000 a year, has been on the board for two years, and at that time owned just $110,000 of Metcash shares.

"Definitely not a vote of confidence in the company," the ASA said.

It was not the only issue, but you get the gist of it.

We don't know if Murray's late share buying helped to get Metcash shareholders onside, but when push came to shove, he was re-elected with 99.73 per cent of the vote.

Follow CBD on Twitter. Got a tip? ckruger@fairfaxmedia.com.au

This story Double whammy: Gerry Harvey takes a $125m hit despite record earnings first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.