Australian car manufacturing ends as GM Holden closes plant

The last mass-produced car designed and built in Australia rolled off General Motors’s production line in the industrial city of Adelaide on Friday, October 20. Above, the company’s Adelaide plant. (General Motors Holden via AP)
Updated 20 October 2017
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Australian car manufacturing ends as GM Holden closes plant

SYDNEY: Australia’s near 100-year automotive industry ended on Friday as GM Holden, a unit of US carmaker General Motors, closed its plant in South Australia to move manufacturing to cheaper locations.
The closure comes a year after Toyota and Ford similarly moved out, eliminating thousands of manufacturing jobs. It adds pressure on the government to help those made redundant find work in a battleground state ahead of a federal election in 18 months.
“The end of Holden making cars in Australia is a very sad day for the workers and for every Australian. It is the end of an era,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at a regular briefing on Friday. “Everyone has a Holden story.”
Turnbull has sought to soften the impact of a declining automotive industry in a state which historically determines who forms government by making South Australia a defense industry hub.
The government plans to increase defense spending by nearly A$30 billion by 2022, with the manufacture of a fleet of frigates, armored personnel carriers and submarines to be concentrated in South Australia.
But John Camillo, ‎state secretary at Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union in South Australia, said nearly 2,500 newly unemployed will need government help finding work.
“They need to be retrained to be able to work in defense, mining, aerospace, because we are going to be building ships,” Camillo told reporters outside the GM Holden plant in Elizabeth, 26 kilometers north of state capital Adelaide.
Camillo was joined outside the factory by hundreds of workers and car enthusiasts who had gathered to greet the last car off the production line.
Rising discretionary income and record-low interest rates have encouraged consumers to buy new cars, but many turned against the large passenger cars for which GM Holden is known.
“Consumers want fuel-efficient small cars and sports utility vehicles (SUVs), and overseas manufacturers have been able to profit from changing tastes,” William McGregor, industry analyst at ‎IBISWorld, told Reuters.
Monthly SUV sales hit a record in June, surpassing 40,000 cars, Bureau of Statistics data showed.
GM Holden, whose SUV range proved unpopular with Australians, will shift production to Germany where advanced automation will help keep costs low as it revamps its lineup.
GM Holden began auto production in 1948 with then-Prime Minister Ben Chifley driving the first car off the production line, declaring it “a beauty.”
“I have bought four of them,” said Shane Oliver, an AMP Capital economist who described the closure as a “sad day.”
“But it’s clear that not enough Australians’ agreed, opting for foreign-made SUVs instead.”


Gulf companies challenged by debt and rising interest rates

Updated 22 April 2018
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Gulf companies challenged by debt and rising interest rates

  • Debt restructurings on the rise, but below crisis levels
  • Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since last March

There has been an uptick in recent months in heavily-borrowed companies in the Gulf seeking to restructure their debts with lenders. Although the pressure on companies is not comparable to levels witnessed in the region following the 2008 global financial crisis, rising interest rates will eventually begin to have a greater impact, say experts.
Speaking exclusively to Arab news, Matthew Wilde, a partner at consultancy PwC in Dubai, said: “We do expect that interest rate increases will gradually start to impact companies over the next 12 months, but to date the impact of hedging and the runoff of older fixed rate deals has meant the impact is fairly muted so far.”
The Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since the start of last year, in line with action taken by the US Federal Reserve. The Fed has signalled that it will raise interest rates at least twice more before the end of the year.
Wilde added that there had been a little more pressure on company balance sheets of late, although “this shouldn’t be overplayed”.
Nevertheless, just last week, Stanford Marine Group — majority owned by a fund managed by private equity firm Abraaj Group — was reported by the New York Times to be in talks with banks to restructure a $325 million Islamic loan. The newspaper cited a Reuters report that relied on “banking sources”.
The Dubai-based oil and gas services firm, which has struggled as a result of the downturn in the hydrocarbons market since 2014, has reportedly asked banks to consider extending the maturity of its debt and restructuring repayments, after it breached certain loan covenants.
A fund managed by Abraaj owns 51 percent of Stanford Marine, with the remaining stake held by Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Waha Capital. Abraaj declined to comment.
Dubai-based theme parks operator DXB Entertainments struck a deal last month with creditors to restructure 4.2 billion dirhams ($1.1 billion) of borrowings, with visitor numbers to attractions such as Legoland Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai struggling to meet visitor targets.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Sharjah-based Gulf General Investment Company was in talks with banks to restructure loan and credit facilities after defaulting on a payment linked to 2.1 billion dirhams of debt at the end of last year.
Dubai International Capital, according to a Bloomberg report from December, has restructured its debt for the second time, reaching an agreement with banks to roll over a loan of about $1 billion. At the height of the emirate’s boom years, DIC amassed assets worth about $13 billion, including the owner of London’s Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, as well as stakes in Sony and Daimler. The firm was later forced to sell most of these assets and reschedule $2.5 billion of debt after the global financial crisis.
Wilde told Arab News: “We have seen an increasing number of listed companies restructuring or planning to restructure their capital recently — including using tools such as capital reductions and raising capital by using quasi equity instruments such as perpetual bonds.”
This has happened across the region and PwC expected this to accelerate a little as companies “respond to legislative pressures and become more familiar with the options available to fix their problems,” said Wilde.
He added that the trend was being driven by oil prices remaining below historical highs, soft economic conditions, and continued caution in the UAE’s banking sector.
On the debt restructuring side, Wilde said there had been a “reasonably steady flow of cases of debts being restructured”.
However, the volume of firms seeking to renegotiate debt remains small compared to the level of restructurings witnessed in the aftermath of Dubai’s debt crisis.
Several big name firms in the emirate were caught out by the onset of the global financial crisis, which saw the emirate’s booming economy and real estate market go into reverse.
State-owned conglomerate Dubai World, whose companies included real-estate firm Nakheel and ports operator DP World, stunned global markets in November 2009 when it asked creditors for a six-month standstill on its obligations. Dubai World restructured around $25 billion of debt in 2011, followed by a $15 billion restructuring deal in 2015.
“We would not expect it to become (comparable to 2008-9) so barring some form of sharp external impetus such as global political instability or a protectionist trade war,” said Wilde.
Nor did he see the introduction of VAT as particularly driving this trend, but rather as just one more factor impacting some already strained sectors (e.g. some sub sectors of retail) “which were already pressured by other macro factors.”