THE DISTILLERY: Scoopon snare

Scribes weigh in on the ACCC's pursuit of the group-buying site, with one noting the case may be the first of many.

As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission prepares to go up against group-buying site Scoopon, which is accused of ripping off customers and vendors, scribes are lining up to declare war on the coupon sector. 

There is also a call for the Australian Securities and Investment Commission keep out of analyst briefings, a glowing endorsement of a transformed Brambles, and a ‘buy’ sign on commodities markets.

But first, Fairfax's Elizabeth Knight thinks the Scoopon suit could be the first of many in the relatively new daily deals sector, which she compares to an online Wild West.

"The challenge for the ACCC is striking the right regulatory balance in an industry that has grown from nowhere five years ago to a sizeable business with plenty of small operators, many of which have few proper processes in place … Scoopon may be the only one facing court action but it is not the only one people are talking about. There were 1065 complaints to the ACCC in the year to June 2013 – a huge number, according to chairman Rod Sims … There is no suggestion that all operators are engaging in questionable or allegedly illegal practices. However, Sims says there are potentially other legal actions in the pipeline."

At The Australian, John Durie notes the Scoopon case is also a big one for the ACCC because the coupon site is alleged to have engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct towards both businesses and consumers.

"That is a rare double act. Normally it is just the consumer getting ripped off. The case is in stark contrast to most complaints to the ACCC; it relates directly to breaches of the law rather than just allegations the consumer was charged too much."

Durie also scolds the corporate regulator over its plan to monitor analyst briefings, following allegations of meetings between analysts and management at Newcrest Mining before its profit downgrade.

"This smacks of gross regulatory overreach and a corporate cop looking for ways to avoid taking decisive action, and should be condemned accordingly. There can never be too much education, but at some point ASIC should trust the system and take action if it's not working, rather than yet more case studies."

The Australian Financial Review's Chanticleer columnist, Michael Smith, declares that Brambles is finally out of its briar patch.

"With its main com­petitor fil­ing for bank­ruptcy and investors cheering a decision to spin off its unloved document management business, Brambles is on a stable footing after years of upheaval. Chief executive Tom Gorman has defied the company’s recent history as a place that churns through senior executives, as he nears four years in the top job. At 52, the former Ford Australia boss is planning to stick around for a while as he executes a long-term plan to build logistics operations in most of the world’s major economies."

In market commentary, The Australian's Robin Bromby says it might be time investors get back into beaten-down commodity markets, while his colleague David Uren warns the Australian economy has a ‘sell’ sign hanging over it as US and Japanese investors redirect their portfolios to their home markets.

At Fairfax, Michael Pascoe warns many small businesses are paying too much for insurance and Clancy Yeates, filling in for Ross Gittins, explains why "competitiveness" means very different things in business and economics.

Terry McCrann, writing in The Australian, reveals his weekend reads included Fairfax: The Rise and Fall, and the climate-sceptic tome, Taxing Air. The common theme: "stupidity".

"… how else does one describe the extraordinary and seemingly never-ending saga of the fall and fall of the house of Fairfax, spread so astonishingly over a quarter of a century and still counting. The same applies to the great global warming hysteria which has swept over modern society, like a mass psychogenic illness, afflicting not just the usual 'right-thinking people' suspects: those easy prey to any green scare or imbued with a self-loathing of humanity's fouling of an otherwise pure planet."

Finally, The Australian Financial Review's Alan Mitchell finds lessons for Australia in Portugal's economic woes, and Fairfax's Ben Butler warns James Packer's smoker-friendly Sydney casino megaplex might give you cancer.

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