Resolute eyes acquisitions and exploration

Resolute Mining is looking at acquisition opportunities as it expands its key African and Australian gold assets.

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Chief executive John Welborn said the company was confident of establishing an underground gold mine over the long-term at its ex-BHP operations in Mali.

“We’ve got strong support from our bankers, Investec, Barclays and Citibank, and we see a lot of opportunities to use cash flows to build more robust projects and use all forms of financing to invest in new projects,” Mr Welborn told reporters on the sidelines of the Africa Downunder mining conference in Perth on Wednesday.

The company is focused on exploration around its Syama operations in Mali and Ravenswood in Queensland but it is keeping an eye on merger and acquisition opportunities.

“It’s a good time to look at other opportunities,” he said.

“We’ve got a number of drilling programs planned.

“It’s a great time to be exploring, preparing for higher prices.”

Still, he conceded capital was harder to find for mining projects.

“I’m completely aware of the discipline that needs to be equity providers and debt providers, particularly to mining projects.”

Resolute recently made a $569 million full year loss and it is reducing full year 2016 output guidance as it prepares to build an underground mine in Mali.

Low commodities prices had made funding difficult for miners but there was capital for good projects, he said.

“We’ve found ore bodies, we’ve developed mines, we’ve also bought mines and recommissioned them so we’ve got a broad spectrum of opportunity.”

He added that the company would look at exploration opportunities in Cote d’Ivoire.

Arson suspected in Adelaide fire

Arson is now suspected in a major fire which gutted a martial arts academy in Adelaide, bringing parts of the CBD to a standstill.

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Police have taken over investigation of the blaze from the Metropolitan Fire Service amid suspicions it was deliberately lit.

Tuesday’s fire gutted the three-storey building off Hindley Street with four people treated in hospital for smoke inhalation.

The MFS said the fire appeared to have started in unwanted furniture and mattresses that were left in a back lane.

“They have caught fire somehow and spread quite rapidly to a car and then into the roof of the premises,” MFS operations commander David Goreham told ABC radio.

The Adelaide City Council said it did not have any knowledge of squatters using the laneway behind the building or the building itself.

“It is private property secured by a gate and inaccessible to the general public,” the council said in a statement.

As well as destroying the Wing Chun Academy, the blaze also threatened the neighbouring Hotel Grand Chancellor.

It took more than 80 firefighters about two hours to contain and forced the evacuation of a number of city buildings as authorities urged hundreds of workers, shoppers and hotel guests to leave the area.

No damage bill has been provided but the cost is likely to run into millions of dollars.

Engineers will make an assessment of whether any of the building can be saved or need to be demolished.

Some businesses in the area remained closed on Wednesday with limited traffic restrictions also in place.

The council said it would work with the owner of the fire-affected building to see what help could be provided to businesses impacted by the blaze.

SBW to put frustrating year behind him

Sonny Bill Williams is thankful to be injury-free at the right time and ready to play his best rugby of a fluctuating year at the World Cup.

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Niggles have dogged the powerhouse All Blacks inside centre in 2015, leaving him firmly behind veteran Ma’a Nonu in the pecking order heading into their opening game against Argentina in London on September 20.

Williams hasn’t played more than three games in a row all year.

The first half of his Chiefs Super Rugby campaign was dotted by absences for injuries to his calf, knee and head. He missed four successive games near the end of the competition with a back niggle.

Modest Test performances against Samoa in Apia and Australia in Sydney blended with an exceptional performance against the Pumas in Christchurch, where the trademark linebreaks and offloads were on show.

The 30-year-old admits it has been a frustrating season but says the World Cup is providing some light at the end of the tunnel.

“I feel like I’ve played pretty good considering the few injuries I’ve seemed to pick up,” he told AAP.

“That’s been disappointing but now I’m not just physically but mentally feeling the best I’ve felt all year so I’m really ready to get out there and take my shot if I get it.”

Williams played five games at the 2011 World Cup but three of them were off the reserve bench, including late cameos in the semi-final and final.

The cross-code international admits Nonu’s consistently high standards this year hands him another battle to earn starting side status.

“But I’m confident that if I get that 12 jersey, I’ll be able to handle it, just like every other player in the squad.

Williams says the selection of raw but electric wingers Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder suggests the All Blacks coaches are planning an expansive approach to the tournament.

He says he wants to be part of that style and says the entire squad have spoken about their chance to make Cup history in England.

“The big thing about this World Cup is that no New Zealand side has gone to Europe and won.

“We’ve got a big job on our hands but we can’t look too far ahead.”

24 years of growth end in a whimper

Australia has completed 24 years of sustained economic growth, but only just.

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It may be a glowing achievement since the recession of the early 1990s – standing only second to 26 and half years record previously set by the Netherlands – but the final three months of the 2014/15 financial year ended in a whimper.

The latest national accounts show the economy grew by a feeble 0.2 per cent in the June quarter, around half the rate economists were expecting.

It left the annual rate at a meagre two per cent, well below the long-term average of three to 3.25 per cent.

Treasurer Joe Hockey – coming from a government that has been promoting a renewed focus on “jobs and growth” – talked up the result, saying Australia is still doing better than many other commodity-based countries.

“Despite having the biggest fall in our terms of trade in 50 years … the diversity and flexibility of the modern Australian economy is continuing to get us through the recent massive falls in commodity prices,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Sydney.

But shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said there was nothing in the figures to boast about, and that two per cent annual economic growth isn’t enough to get the jobless rate down.

He said when the economy grew 0.9 per cent in the March quarter, the treasurer labelled anyone warning of weakening growth “a clown.

“Well Joe Hockey is a ringmaster in economic decline,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Hockey cited a number of one-off factors, including a seven per cent fall in mining exports because of port closures forced by bad weather, for the worse-than-expected growth figure.

Canada has not been so lucky, overnight reporting it had officially fallen into recession, while New Zealand and Brazil were facing headwinds, he said.

“I tell you what, the Australian economy is showing a deep resilience that people in Canada and elsewhere would die for,” Mr Hockey said.

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is gravely concerned about the latest growth result and the impact on jobs.

“Every quarter since (Prime Minister Tony) Abbott and his Liberals got elected two years ago, economic growth has come in below trend and this explains why we have the highest number of unemployed people in Australia in 20 years, 800,000 people,” he told reporters in Sydney.

India coach calls on bosses to tackle TV companies’ demands

Constantine, preparing for India’s World Cup qualifier against Iran in Bangalore on Tuesday, has seen friendly matches scrapped and domestic league matches moved to hotter afternoon times by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to accommodate demands from television companies.

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The English coach, in his second spell in charge, called on the AIFF to synchronise its calendar with world governing body FIFA and the television companies to give the country, ranked 156th in the world, a chance of competing internationally.

“Is it that difficult to sync your calendar? It’s not when you’ve the development of the game (as target). It is when you’re thinking about TV ratings,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express on Wednesday.

“It’s not possible that a TV station can tell us when we can start our season. But that seems to be one of the problems.”

The much-travelled London-born coach returned to take charge of India in January, having ended his first spell in 2005 and then going on to manage Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda among others.

He helped India advance through the first round of World Cup qualifiers thanks to a 2-0 success over another of his former sides, Nepal, but the second phase has started with 2-1 losses at home to Oman and away to Guam.

After the Guam defeat, Constantine hoped to be taking part in the South Asian Football Championships but his scheduling requests fell on deaf ears.

“I had asked it to be held after the Guam game in June when I had the players together for a couple of weeks. For reasons unknown to me, it’s December,” said Constantine, who was worried about player availability with the tournament coming on the back of the Indian Super League.

“The ISL final is on December 20. And then on 23rd you start the SAFF. So I would not be able to take players from four teams who are in the semi-final.

“I have to decide when I can start the camp. For me, it defies logic — from our point of view.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore)

Long, drawn-out Vic fire season predicted

It’s been a cold and miserable winter, but summer is coming and could last for up to five months – a prediction that has Victorian fire authorities worried.

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The extra-long summer combined with below-average rainfall that has left most parts of the state with dry soil and vegetation could be a recipe for disaster, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley says.

Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world, and while everyone should be on alert, Mr Lapsley said central and western Victoria are already the driest parts of the state.

“We expect between 4500 and 5000 bushfires and grassfires across the state,” Mr Lapsley told reporters on Wednesday.

“You could draw very generic lines from Sunbury to Ballarat to Horsham and then from Horsham to Bendigo to show the areas of concern.”

He said Victorians should prepare their properties for the fire season now because leaving it until November or December could be too late.

Firefighting efforts will be bolstered by a $23 million fleet of 47 specialist aircraft including two large air tankers and 24 helicopters.

Emergency Services minister Jane Garrett said some of the aircraft also use infra-red scanners to pick up hot spots within fires that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

“We’re bracing for a long, hot and dry summer fire season and these aircraft will help protect communities which may come under threat of bushfires,” she told reporters.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Dr Karl Braganza said a series of weather events including a Pacific Ocean El Nino are more likely to bring a long period of hot, dry weather over the warmer months.

AREAS MOST AT RISK OF BUSHFIRE THIS SUMMER

* Sunbury

* Ballarat

* Horsham

* Bendigo

* Yarra Valley

* Dandenong Ranges

* Outskirts of Melbourne in growth corridors.

TIPS FOR THE FIRE SEASON

* Prepare your property in spring by clearing any vegetation

* Have your fire plan ready

* Avoid visiting high risk areas such as the 1000 steps in the Dandenong Ranges on Code Red days.

Aust, India hold first naval exercise

Australia and India have talked for years about improving defence ties and the first joint naval exercise is finally about to happen.

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Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said this first bilateral naval exercise, called Exercise AUSINDEX, would be held off India later this month.

Australia will contribute an Anzac frigate, oil tanker, Collins submarines and a Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, with some 400 personnel.

Mr Andrews, in India for talks with ministers and officials, told India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi that both nations bordered the Indian Ocean and had a shared interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and trade.

He said Australia viewed India as a key strategic partner and there was scope to co-operate further on broader global issues.

Despite close historic, cultural and sporting ties, the Australia-India security relationship has been marked by talk but not that much action. An Indian defence minister visited Australia for the first time in 2013.

That appears to be changing.

Mr Andrews said Exercise AUSINDEX marked a new and important stage in the defence relationship.

Potential for greater defence co-operation wasn’t confined to navies, with both air forces working towards a joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.

The RAAF has invited India to attend air combat Exercise Pitch Black next year.

“We see enormous potential in our bilateral defence relationship so we look forward to working with India towards that goal,” Mr Andrews said.

While boosting the defence relationship is important, he said the government’s top bilateral priority was concluding a free trade deal, termed the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement.

Australia wants that finalised by the end of this year.

“Australia and India are natural economic partners and a mutually beneficial, high quality agreement will help unlock the potential of the already strong Australia-India relationship,” he said.

Barnett calls end of mining downturn

Australia’s mining downturn has bottomed out despite ongoing global markets volatility, West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says.

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Mr Barnett said the Australian mining industry had successfully cut construction and operation costs in the face of lower commodities prices and added that the industry was at its lowest point in terms of world competitiveness.

“I’m either brave enough or silly enough to suggest that we’ve hit the bottom,” Mr Barnett told the Africa Downunder mining conference in Perth on Wednesday.

“Global markets are fragile but the fact that we’re seeing some greater stability in commodities, oil prices, gas prices, iron ore prices – I think we have probably hit the bottom.”

He said the next 12 months would be a period of some risk for mining companies but the industry would come through the current difficult period stronger and more robust.

Resolute Mining chief executive John Welborn was also upbeat about the future of Australian and African-focused miners.

“We heard from the premier that apparently commodity markets have bottomed so take that to the bank and move forward,” Mr Welborn told reporters on the sideline of the conference.

Mr Welborn, a former investment banker and Australian rugby union player, said now was a good time to look at exploration and merger and acquisition opportunities but the company’s number one focus would be its Syama operations in Mali and Ravenswood in Queensland.

“We’re always looking at opportunities and that’s why I find the mining space really exciting because there’s a never ending world of opportunity out there, particularly in Africa.”

I’m staying put in Redfern: Maguire

South Sydney coach Michael Maguire has declared he isn’t going anywhere.

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Maguire publicly addressed rumours linking him to a move to the Knights next season for the first time on Wednesday, to deny them emphatically.

The premiership winning mentor said he will be seeing out his current contract with the Rabbitohs which runs through until the end of the 2017 season.

“This is the club that I really love and enjoy and that is where it is at, I’m staying,” Maguire said.

“I plan to stay here as long as I can, it is a rumour, you address it and move on.

“We have to focus around this week, the boys have been training well, there is a lot of excitement around the club.

“All those sorts of things have come out of rumour and talk and chat and for me we are only focused around this Friday (against the Sydney Roosters).”

However Maguire didn’t deny there had been contact between Knights powerbrokers and his own management.

“I am not going to delve any more into it,” he said.

“I have had people talk about many different stories that are out there and there are people that chat around coaches going to one place or another and that is part of what goes on in rugby league, that’s business.

“I love this club and I’m staying. I want to be able to build a legacy in what I am doing.”

The Rabbitohs meet arch-rivals the Roosters Allianz Stadium in the NRL’s final round.

Souths can still sneak into the top four if they beat the Roosters and other results go their way, after disappointing back-to-back losses to Canterbury and Brisbane.

“We get to find out this week how we are going,” Maguire said.

“The Roosters have been setting a bit of a benchmark, it is up to us where we go.”

Maguire confirmed Greg Inglis won’t play against the Tri-colours. Alex Johnston has been named at fullback.

Economic growth weakest in two years

Plummeting prices for Australia’s mining exports have dragged economic growth down to its slowest pace in more than two years.

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Australia’s economy grew by a weaker-than-expected 0.2 per cent in the June quarter, down from 0.9 per cent in the previous three months.

While the economy has now notched up its 24th year of growth, the last time it expanded at such a slow pace on a quarterly basis was in the first three months of 2013.

Annual growth came in at two per cent, or about two thirds of Australia’s long-run average of 3.0 to 3.25 per cent.

The biggest drag on growth were falls in exports and weakness in business investment, offsetting rises in consumer and government spending.

Macquarie senior economist James McIntyre said falling commodity prices, particularly for iron ore, were a blow to economic growth.

“The world is giving us a pay cut and it means the amount of income the economy is getting is declining,” he said.

“That reflects that hit from commodity prices and that hit has been translating all the way through the economy.”

Mr McIntyre is sticking to his forecast for a November interest rate cut from the Reserve Bank.

“What we’re seeing across the economy from the income side means that we’ll just get enough to see a (growth forecast) downgrade that would give the RBA the case to cut,” he said.

Australia is not the only country that is suffering from the heavy falls in commodity prices, with data showing that Canada has gone into recession.

Canada, a major mining exporter and one of the top five oil producers has been particularly hurt by the falling oil price, which has halved in the past year.

Other commodity exporters such as Brazil and Russia have also recorded falls in GDP recently.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said it is quite a feat that the Australian economy is still managing to grow, despite falling commodity prices and a sluggish manufacturing sector.

“The key point is that Australia has completed 24 consecutive years of growth. It is an achievement to be celebrated,” he said.

“It is pretty clear that the economy is in reasonable shape certainly in better shape than most other so-called advanced economies.”

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said June quarter GDP might have shrunk were it not for a surge in government spending and a rise in investment in Western Australia.

However he added that the detraction from growth from weaker exports and flat inventories is not likely to be repeated, which should allow growth to bounce back to around 0.5 per cent in the September quarter.

“What is concerning is that the outlook for non-mining investment remains weak,” Dr Oliver said.

“Ongoing sub-par growth is likely to drive the RBA to cut rates again and the Australian dollar is on its way to around 60 US cents.”