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When Death takes a holiday

When Death takes a holiday

Andrew Smith, the chief executive of funeral business InvoCare, seems to have come down with a bad dose of Auric Goldfinger syndrome.

Spy flick fans may recall Goldfinger as the villain who uttered the immortal line "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die," as a laser beam inches its way towards the groin of James Bond (played on this occasion by Sean Connery).

Despite Goldfinger's expectations, death did not claim secret agent 007 and it looks like a whole bunch of Australians have also succeeded in evading the Grim Reaper's scythe.

On Tuesday InvoCare said a lower than expected number of deaths, "particularly in Sydney and New Zealand", was partly responsible for a fall in profit.

In its slide pack, under "operational highlights", the company even provided a couple of handy graphs showing movements in the death rate. The stubborn resilience of the human spirit cost InvoCare $600,000 (after tax), with "increased costs" driving the rest of the fall in operating earnings, which fell from $19 million to $17.2 million.

End of discussion

Nothing like an elephant in a room to keep the discussion - or lack or it - lively. Taking their turn in front of analysts on Tuesday as part of the annual results show-and-tell were the managers of two Commonwealth Bank property funds, CFS Retail and Commonwealth Property Office Fund (CPA), that are the subject of an internalisation proposal. To try to pre-empt questions, Angus McNaughton of fund manager Colonial stated upfront that the subject was not going to be discussed.

Cue cranky analysts who tried their best to squeeze some information from the CBA stone. Simon Garing from Bank of America Merrill Lynch led the charge, saying that surely it (the internalisation) was the more pressing issue that should be given oxygen. John Kim of CLSA and Rob Stanton from JP Morgan backed him up - to no avail.

Garing conceded that CPA did have a lot of transparency in its annual results release, saying "it smacks of being a DD [due diligence] room in public".

"It is too early to talk about a preliminary, incomplete and indicative proposal" was the boilerplate response from fund management.

Hawk ruffles Pies

Feathers have been ruffled in the stoush between competition regulator Rod Sims and Eddie "Everywhere" McGuire, the president of AFL powerhouse Collingwood.

Sims turned McGuire even more puce than usual on Tuesday when the ACCC stung the Pies with a $20,400 infringement notice over a misleading membership offer.

The ad offered a three-game membership and a Collingwood guernsey for $20 - but on closer inspection fine print revealed the price was actually $120.

While McGuire is such a Magpie diehard he bleeds black and white, it's also true that Sims is a dedicated fan of the Hawthorn Hawks.

Although McGuire declined to comment about the Pies membership when BusinessDay's reporter called on Tuesday, he was rather more voluble about Hawthorn's members back in the day.

Referring to a recurring jibe that Hawthorn's membership figures were inflated by signing up pets, McGuire suggested that "maybe they should shut the zoo".

That was in 2000 and Sims yesterday poured cold water on any suggestion he was taking long-delayed revenge.

"Yes, I do admit I have been a Hawthorn supporter since 1957, but I cannot even remember Eddie's zoo comment, so there is no conspiracy here," he said. "This was a blatant breach of the act and we feel very strongly that consumers are making a purchase that they would not have otherwise made if they knew the full costs."

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bbutler@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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