Yellowtail of woe a kick in the gut for Clean Seas

The US President Herbert Hoover was a keen fisherman and even gave a speech on the joy of fishing, or what he liked to call "the chance to wash one's soul with pure air".

The US President Herbert Hoover was a keen fisherman and even gave a speech on the joy of fishing, or what he liked to call "the chance to wash one's soul with pure air".

Hoover, who was president at the outset of the Great Depression, also knew a thing or two about the business aspects of fisheries and wisely cautioned to an audience in 1951 that fish can make "a mockery of profits and egos."

More than 60 years later, the advice still stands and should be heeded by former Santos chief executive John Ellice-Flint as he works to turn around commercial fisheries business Clean Seas Tuna, of which he is the chairman.

Clean Seas Tuna has a major problem. They can propagate their fish, in this case yellowtail kingfish, but they just can't get the little buggers to grow properly and 35 per cent of the stock have died from gut enteritis. An update provided by the company yesterday advised the mortality rate had risen to 3 per cent a week of its kingfish juveniles.

Selling kingfish on the open market, where it can fetch $15.50 a kilogram and as much as $20 in Europe, provides the company's main income, its southern bluefin tuna operation being still on trial.

Chief executive Dr Craig Foster has a battle on his hands and the board has brought in experts to discover the cause of the gut problem, which causes diarrhoea. To date no other grower of kingfish that the company is aware of has encountered gut enteritis to the extent, variability and mortality rate it has, and Clean Seas Tuna might have the awful honour of having a world first at its South Australian ponds.

Harvesting of the 2011 stocks continues but the harvest size is less than hoped for by the company although, on the upside, the prices it is getting for the yellowtail are the best it has ever seen.

A review has now begun at Clean Seas Tuna that will include investigating other ways of containing the kingfish stock as they grow from birth to ready for a dinner plate.

For shareholders expecting to land a winner from Clean Seas Tuna it has been a painful ride. Shares in Clean Seas Tuna hit the market in 2005 with an issue price of 50? reaching a high of $2.10 in April that year. The stock has lost 36 per cent of its value this year to date and is now trading at just over 4.6? a share.

President Hoover believed fishing "soothes our troubles". Clean Seas Tuna investors might not agree.


Veteran stock pickers Australian Foundation Investment Co - they have been around since the 1920s - raised $222.7 million via a convertible note issue in December, and just how they are spending that money on behalf of investors is starting to emerge.

It was revealed at a shareholder presentation in Tasmania that more than $140 million of the new funds had already been invested. New stocks added to its $4 billion-plus equities portfolio include Ansell, QR National and Sydney Airport, while AFIC has also ploughed money into a range of healthcare stocks such as CSL and Ramsay Healthcare, funeral company Invocare and mining waste management business Tox Free Solutions.


The planned listing of the Australian arm of mortgage insurer Genworth Financial has been shelved until early next near, after the insurer's profits were crunched by a jump in housing defaults.

Genworth's US parent was previously targeting the June quarter for the listing of a stake of up to a 40 per cent in the mortgage insurer.

Bullish estimates had put the value of a listing at as much $850 million, although many institutions questioned whether the market could support such a valuation.

The Australian business was likely to report a modest first quarter loss, Genworth said.

Rather than a systemic downturn in the nation's housing market, the company blamed banks and other lenders for accelerating some long-term mortgage delinquencies. A jump in natural catastrophes and downturn in some parts of the economy also caused a surge in mortgage losses.

Genworth ranks as Australia's largest mortgage insurer ahead of QBE Lenders Mortgage Insurance. Combined, the two hold a 75 per cent market share of the market.

Genworth says its liquidity and risk buffer plans were not dependent on the Australian initial public offer, with the holding company having approximately $US1.4 billion in cash and liquid securities. The delay is likely to represent a blow for Genworth's lead managers Goldman Sachs, Macquarie, UBS and CommSec.


Shareholders in UXC reacted with equanimity to the news late on Tuesday that it is exposed to a $22 million law suit relating to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, with its shares closing down just 0.5c at 57c yesterday, maintaining its gains following its recent stellar run on its reorganisation last year.

UXC sold its Field Solutions unit in 2011 for more than $60 million. This unit had previously provided inspection services to SP Ausnet, the operator of the high voltage grid in Victoria.

It says it has insurance cover in place that provides bushfire protection, but given the propensity for insurers to challenge large payouts, it is perhaps surprising UXC shareholders aren't on the back foot about the latest news - at least until there is some clarity on the prospects of the legal action succeeding.

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