As with any ranking that depends on the whims of the market, timing is everything at the pointy end of the Melbourne Top Companies list.
If this list were published when the gold price was trading at staggering heights in August, miners St Barbara and OceanaGold certainly would not have dropped off.
And if it weren't for an injection of newfound travel optimism from vaccine approvals, online travel company Webjet (ASX: WEB) would not be featuring today.
Companies in the $1.5-2.5 billion range are also much closer in size to one another than the giants at the top of the list, meaning they tend to reshuffle almost daily. If circumstances were even slightly different, some true pandemic wunderkinds could have made it including Kogan, Lovisa, Redbubble or Accent Group to name a few.
The final 10 is more a case of companies hanging on than soaring through the ranks, but there are a couple of bright spots with Liberty Financial Group entering the fold within months of an IPO, and fresh produce company Costa Group coming back after a year of good harvests and strong demand for healthy food.
41. Growthpoint Properties Australia (GOZ)
2020 rank: 41
Market Cap: $2.49b
FY20 revenue: $292.7m
FY20 profit: $272.1m
MD: Timothy Collyer
MD salary: $2.11m
As a specialist industrial and office building investor, Growthpoint Properties Australia (ASX: GOZ) is not a classic diversified REIT.
Its portfolio comprises 57 properties with a book value of $4.3 billion, but the weighing of that portfolio is heavily skewed to the office sector comprising 69 per cent by value.
That mix naturally had a big impact on the trust in FY20 as it offered tenants significant rent concessions to see them through.
However, Growthpoint's investment in high quality metropolitan offices assets is supported by large corporate and government tenants giving the group a stable platform for recovery in earnings.
Managing director Tim Collyer says demand from tenants and investors in these assets remains strong despite the COVID disruptions still in play.
The value of the group's portfolio actually managed to increase by 3.2 per cent in the latest half-year.
Some of that growth has been attributed to hardware chain Bunnings which added $19.5 million, or 14 per cent, to the value of Botanica 3, a newly completed A-grade office building at Richmond, in Melbourne's inner east. Bunnings has secured a 10-year lease for 13,886sqm, or 71 per cent of the office space available in the building.
Growthpoint's focus remains on new acquisitions as well as a move into the funds management space although those plans have yet to be firmed up.
An unconfirmed report late last year suggested merger prospects for Growthpoint and the John Bond-led Primewest Group (ASX: PWG).
The imbalance of market capitalisation would likely mean a Primewest buyout by Growthpoint, although the market chatter in relation to this is little more than that at the moment - chatter.
What it does highlight is the dwindling opportunities for a player of Growthpoint's scale to find quality assets that fit with its investment strategy. However, the speculation does lend weight to the potential for mergers and acquisitions in this space.
42. Bapcor (BAP)
2020 rank: 33
Market Cap: $2.53b
FY20 revenue: $1.46b
FY20 profit: $78.71m
CEO: Darryl Abotomey
CEO salary: $2.5m
Latching onto the renewed strength of the auto market in Australia, Bapcor (ASX: BAP) is among the many retailers that have accelerated over the past year.
The company, owner of the Autobarn, Autopro, Burson and Sprint chains, is an aftermarket auto retailer and wholesaler with a footprint of 1100 outlets in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.
Bapcor continues to pursue acquisitions and to grow its retail base, which comprises a mix of company stores and franchises. The group strategy is to extend its company-owned Autobarn network.
In late 2019 Bapcor added Australasian group Truckline to its stable of brands, giving it exposure to heavy commercial vehicles spare parts for the first time.
More recently, BAP announced its expansion into Asia via acquiring 25 per cent of Singapore Securities Exchange-listed Tye Soon a prominent automotive parts distributor in the region for SG$12.5 million.
Managing distribution to its expanding base of outlets has been a challenge, prompting the company to consolidate 12 existing warehouses into a 50,000sqm state-of-the-art warehouse facility at Tullamarine in Melbourne's west.
Bapcor has secured a long-term lease on the facility from Melbourne Airport Corporation which is close to completion. The company has mooted a similar facility for Brisbane once the benefits of the Melbourne warehouse have been assessed.
Bapcor is confident of the year ahead as more Australians continue to shun public transport and hit the road for domestic holidays, driving sales of new and used cars and campers.
CEO Darryl Abotomey has driven the success of Bapcor since 2011. Shareholders would have been pleased with the announcement in February that he had renewed his contract until October 2023.
The company is targeting a full-year net profit of $122 million in FY21.
43. IOOF (ASX: IFL)
2020 rank: 38
Market Cap: $2.31b
FY20 revenue: $1.17b
FY20 profit: 146.96m
CEO: Renato Mota
CEO salary: $1.36m
If IOOF's 2019 was defined by the earthquake that was the damning report from the Royal Commission into the finance sector, 2020 saw new CEO Renato Mota dealing with the aftershocks.
The company was singled out by Kenneth Hayne's report for the part it played in the industry-plaguing fees for no service scandal, resulting in a series of board shuffles and leadership spills.
It also led to a class action filed against it by Quinn Emanuel Urqhart & Sullivan, alleging IOOF breached disclosure obligations and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct that led to shareholders paying an inflated price for shares.
But that was just the beginning for IOOF. In 2020 it would face two more class action lawsuits brought by Shine and Slater and Gordon (ASX: SHJ).
Shine alleged shareholders suffered losses as a result of non-disclosure as well as potentially misleading and deceptive conduct, while the second saw SHJ alleging IOOF had charged super fund members excessive fees.
While those were trundling along IOOF managed to shake off Quinn Emanuel, settling the class action without having to pay any legal fees or penalties to the allegedly affected shareholders.
Unrelated to the Royal Commission fallout was another legal challenge for IOOF to face down, this time brought by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), alleging the group's subsidiaries had inadequate cyber security services.
ASIC is seeking declarations IOOF's financial advice service provider subsidiary RI Advice Group contravened the Corporations Act, that it pays a civil penalty, and compliance orders that its systems can adequately stand up to cyber-attacks.
Though the group's woes are certainly not in the rear-view quite yet, the financial services group has been making some big moves over the last 12 months.
Of note is the company's $1.4 billion acquisition of MLC from NAB (ASX: NAB).
Described as "transformational" by IOOF, the deal will see the company acquire the entirety of the wealth management business, and is expected to deliver in excess of 20 per cent earnings per share accretion, including $150 million of targeted pre-tax synergies.
To make the purchase, IOOF rattled the tin for a whopping $1.04 billion.
"As the financial services industry reshapes, a much bigger and better IOOF will position it at the forefront of the industry transformation," Mota said on the announcement.
"In this new era, and in response to changing societal and technological needs, the new IOOF will have the ability to offer unmatched choice and accessibility of quality financial advisory and wealth management services to Australia."
That deal has since been backed by shareholders at the group's last AGM, and was given the blessing from the ACCC after the watchdog conducted a review into the merger.
As part of IOOF's 1H FY21 results, which included a 96 per cent increase in NPAT to $54.4 million, Mota said the merger was proceeding well and on track for completion prior to 30 June 2021.
44. Liberty Financial Group (ASX: LFG)
2020 rank: NEW
Market Cap: $2.26b
FY20 revenue: $852.1m
FY20 profit: $130.3m
CEO: James Boyle
One of the latest entrants into Melbourne's Top Companies list is Liberty Financial Group (ASX: LFG) - a non-bank lender that debuted on the ASX in December 2020.
After 23 years as a private entity, LFG made the move to list following a $321 million initial public offering (IPO) at an offer price of $6 per security.
At the time of listing, the company launched with a market capitalisation of $1.8 billion.
The company has steadily risen in the months since, with shares up more than 12 per cent at the time of publication since its debut.
Clearly investors are taking some interest in LFG, a company that has established a balanced loan portfolio of more than $12 billion across home loans, motor vehicle, commercial, personal, business loans and general insurance.
That portfolio has grown at an average compound annual growth rate of 19.6 per cent from 2010 to 2020.
"As a listed group we'll continue seeking new and differentiated ways to help customers with their financial needs," CEO James Boyle said when the company debuted.
"Access to equity capital means we have even more ways that we can think about that going forward. I'm excited about our prospects for the future and pleased to welcome our new investors on this journey."
Those new investors joined investment vehicle Vesta Funding B.V, which holds a controlling 77.38 per cent interest in the company. As part of the listing, Vesta diluted its shareholding in LFG in order to raise capital.
In its first financial report to the ASX since listing, the company reported 1H FY21 profits of $83 million - up 12 per cent on the prior corresponding period.
At the time, Boyle said the strong result was achieved in a period that had continued to be unsettling for customers and the economy.
"Liberty's customers have shown tremendous resilience during the pandemic," said Boyle, noting LFG reported a reduction in customers impacted by COVID to just 2 per cent of the portfolio at 31 December.
"Notwithstanding the improved financial position of our customers, economic and social uncertainty continues which means we remain cautious about our FY21 results."
45. Webjet (WEB)
2020 rank: 46
Market Cap: $2.01b
FY20 revenue: $266.1m
FY20 loss: $143.5m
CEO: John Guscic
CEO salary: $1.5m
With global online travel group Webjet's (ASX: WEB) profitability taking a dive in FY20 and again in the latest half-year, the company remains surprisingly chipper.
The one bright spot is the return to profitability for the Webjet Online Travel Agency (OTA) business which was buoyed by a rebound in domestic air travel.
Like Flight Centre Travel Group (ASX: FLT), Webjet has focused on cost cutting while awaiting a recovery in the travel market.
Webjet is so comfortable with the cuts to expenses that the company is confident it can maintain a 20 per cent lower cost base across the group once conditions return to normal.
The current priority for the company is to reduce its cash burn rate as it works to bolster its other divisions. A review of operations has been under way for some time, with a focus on improving the company's digital platforms and lifting brand awareness for WebBeds, its hotel booking service.
WebBeds has recovered, although uncertainty over lockdowns continues to cloud the way ahead. Bookings in this division are down 82 per cent, partially offset by a 42 per cent reduction in costs.
The Webjet OTA business is currently back to 40 per cent of its pre-COVID bookings, while the Online Republic division for car and motorhome is at 25 per cent, so it has some way yet to go.
The positive sentiment from CEO John Guscic stems from what he sees as an underlying desire by consumers to start travelling again.
"We are doing everything we can to ensure Webjet is there to capture demand when it happens," he says.
Webjet's shares were buoyed this month by the federal government subsidy that slashed airfares in half for 800,000 tickets in April. It's part of a plan to boost tourism to Australia's regional destinations.
46. Polynovo (PNV)
HEALTH CARE EQUIPMENT & SERVICES
2020 rank: 42
Market Cap: $1.87b
FY20 revenue: $22.15m
FY20 loss: $4.19m
MD: Paul Brennan
MD salary: $2.13m
It's been a rollercoaster ride for the share price of skin graft technology group PolyNovo (ASX: PNV) with a convergence of positive news supporting a spike to a record high of $4.08 in December.
However, unlike many medical technology ventures that have attracted positive speculation over their potential opportunities during the pandemic, COVID-19 hasn't done PolyNovo any favours.
PolyNovo is the developer of a biodegradable medical product to assist skin tissue repair from burns or serious wounds.
Sales of its key NovoSorb product have been growing with the company expanding its reach in the US and this year announced a continued push into Europe, adding Poland, Italy and Turkey to its territories.
Revenue in the latest half may be up, but a weakening in the second quarter, mainly October and November, impacted sentiment. The shares pulled back below $2.30 this month.
PolyNovo blames COVID-19 for "lumpy" sales in the second quarter even though it had secured 22 new customers in the US. The new contacts give Polynovo confidence that it will benefit once surgical capacity increases in the US and more elective surgery is allowed.
The same applies in the UK where lockdowns and congestion in the National Health Service have crimped the usage of PolyNovo products.
PolyNovo recently brought into line its manufacturing facility at Port of Melbourne to produce its new hernia device.
The company is planning to have some news on the path to market for this technology by the end of FY21. In the meantime, it is looking at partnership opportunities to accelerate market penetration for the hernia device.
On the high end of the rollercoaster is managing director Paul Brennan. FY20 saw a big lift in his remuneration, buoyed by $1.63 million in performance rights to a total package of $2.13 million. That compares with a $315,871 pay packet in FY19.
47. Nufarm (NUF)
2020 rank: 39
Market Cap: $1.87b
FY20 revenue: $2.8b
FY20 loss: $456m
CEO: Greg Hunt
CEO salary: $1.9m
Crop protection and seed company Nufarm (ASX: NUF) is attempting to sow itself a fresh start after a shocking financial result in 2020, which included a $215 million asset write-down in Europe as well as seasonal problems in the northern hemisphere stunting revenue.
Nufarm could have been celebrating after selling its South American business to Sumitomo for $1.119 billion, but instead it used the net proceeds to pay down debt and had to grapple with a difficult market despite its inputs being essential goods.
As a result, the company ceased manufacturing insecticides and fungicides at its Laverton facility.
But renewal appears to be underway, starting with new chairman John Gillam in July last year and new chief financial officer Paul Townsend - who had formerly held the same role at Monash University and Asaleo Care - since December.
At the December AGM, Gillam noted the South American crop protection business sale was a significant milestone for Nufarm, allowing the group to refocus resources on regions and businesses where it can generate better long-term growth.
"Our Nuseed business is entering an exciting phase driving its core seeds business and commercialising the innovation investments in the omega 3 canola and Carinata seed platforms through the value Beyond Yield strategy," Gillam said.
"Management is very conscious of the unacceptable result this year and we are taking action to improve performance," added CEO Greg Hunt.
"We are also working to reduce our cost base to improve margins and provide a buffer against unforeseen headwinds. We are targeting $20 million to $25 million of improvement by the end of financial year 2022," he said, with around half of those savings to come from Europe.
Nufarm has shifted to a financial year ending 30 September, and in the four months to 31 January it demonstrated a rebound with 17 per cent revenue growth to $845 million, with the APAC region showing the sharpest growth of 44 per cent followed by Europe at 21 per cent.
"The positive momentum we saw in the second half of last financial year has continued with revenue growth in all regions and our Seed Technologies business," Hunt said in February.
"While our major trading months are still ahead of us and uncertainties including currency translation and supply chain impacts of COVID-19 remain, improved seasonal and market conditions in Australia and Europe are driving a recovery in sales and these regions are expected to make a meaningful contribution to earnings growth in FY21."
48. Costa Group (CGC)
FOOD, BEVERAGE & TOBACCO
2020 rank: RETURNING
Market Cap: $1.82b
CY20 revenue: $1.16b
CY20 profit: $59.4m
Incoming CEO: Sean Hallahan
Incoming CEO salary: $850,000 (fixed salary)
After a drought-induced absence that taught fickle investors how volatile agriculture can be, Australia's largest fruit and vegetable company Costa Group (ASX: CGC) is back amongst Melbourne's Top 50 Listed Companies.
Costa's avocados absolutely smashed it in 2020, its blueberries flourished thanks to strong pricing and a doubling of volume for its premium IP variety Arana, while worldwide the pandemic spurred greater consumption of citrus as a virus-wary public aimed to boost their Vitamin C intake.
A good year for the citrus market tends to be a good year for Costa, and the board doesn't appear to see consumption trends changing anytime soon as they continue to snap up citrus properties in the Sunraysia region.
In September the group purchased citrus and grape farms and land from Murray River Organics (ASX: MRG), and in March 2021 Costa acquired a citrus farm and packing operation from KW Orchards.
"This quality acquisition will bring Costa's total citrus hectares in the Sunraysia region to circa 700 hectares, with further acquisitions in this region planned over CY21," said outgoing CEO Harry Debney, who has been at the company for more than a decade and presided over its 2015 market listing.
Debney announced his retirement in May last year, and at the end of this month he will be replaced in the CEO role by current COO Sean Hallahan.
And it won't just be a fast-growing citrus strategy that Debney leaves behind.
Since taking the plunge in 2016 to make itself a major player in avocados, the company has expanded rapidly in the category and has seen early success in an innovative program to grow high-density avocados in substrate pots with trellising, with at least 1,000 trees per hectare.
A commercialisation program has been approved for 40 hectares of avocados grown using this method, with plans to use this as a springboard to further expansion in 2023-24.
"This decision is a result of the success of our protected high density substrate avocado trial results from original small plantings undertaken in late 2017," the company said in its 2020 results.
"This has delivered global leading results, including faster tree maturity, higher yield, better fruit quality and greater efficiency of water use versus conventional plantings."
Costa is no stranger to taking on new frontiers and challenges. It has an $85 million tomato greenhouse and nursery project due for completion in August, and the group continues to push the boundaries of traditional berry growing regions with expanding production in China and Morocco, while it is also marketing blueberries from variety grower partners in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Fruit picker shortages and the effects ofa strengthening Australian dollar on overseas returns loom large as difficulties for Costa Group, but in its February update the company highlighted favourable conditions in the citrus-growing Riverland region and positive early-season performance in international markets.
49. Iress (IRE)
SOFTWARE & SERVICES
2020 rank: 37
Market Cap: $1.79b
FY20 revenue: $542.63m
FY20 profit: $59.06m
CEO: Andrew Walsh
CEO salary: $3.07m
Growth by acquisition was on the agenda for global software group Iress (ASX: IRE) last year, but it wasn't without its controversy.
In the opinion of billionaire investor Alex Waislitz, Iress bagged a bargain in its $114 million takeover offer for listed fintech OneVue which provides unit registry services.
Waislitz slammed Grant Thornton's assessment that the price being paid for OneVue was fair value and despite his vote against the proposal, shareholders rubber-stamped the deal last October.
The billionaire walked away with about $22 million from the sale through his 19.27 per cent stake in OneVue held through his private Thorney vehicles and the Listed Thorney Opportunities (ASX: TOP).
To appease Waislitz and get the deal over the line, Iress lifted the offer to the upper end of Thornton's valuation at 43c a share.
For Iress, the acquisition of OneVue, which settled in November, brought together its own services as Australia's largest provider of advisor and trading software with the country's largest unlisted fund registry.
The deal has laid the groundwork for Iress to provide a new wholesale "investment infrastructure-as-a-service" subscription offering to service a market worth more than $3 billion in the administration of retail investments.
Iress has performed well over the past year with the company forecasting a solid FY21. OneVue is expected to contribute between $6 million and $7 million to the bottom line.
That's probably not what Waislitz would want to hear. His argument to shareholders against the takeover by Iress was that OneVue was on the "cusp of further success" and ready to reward its patient investors.
50. Mesoblast (ASX MSB)
PHARMACEUTICALS, BIOTECHNOLOGY & LIFE SCIENCES
2020 rank: 49
Market Cap: $1.6b
FY20 revenue: US$32.2m
FY20 loss: US$77.9m
CEO: Silviu Itescu
CEO salary: $2.65m
Shares in biotechnology group Mesoblast (ASX: MSB) rose and fell remarkably last year, shooting up spectacularly on positive news about the company's proposed COVID-19 treatment, and crashing back to earth when those plans were snuffed by US regulators.
The rollercoaster ride began back in April 2020, just as most nations were imposing strict restrictions to combat the highly contagious COVID-19.
At the time, Mesoblast stuck its hand up, announcing it had secured approval to commence a clinical trial that would assess whether its stem cell treatment remestemcel-L could be repurposed to treat COVID-19.
The aim of the game was to see whether remestemcel-L, marketed as "Ryoncil", could treat acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) - a common complication arising from COVID-19 infection.
It would see MSB's proprietary technology, currently being used to treat a condition called graft versus host disease (GvHD), deployed in patients to decrease inflammation.
Shareholders pounced on the stock, and rejoiced as MSB published "remarkable" results from a trial that found remestemcel-L drastically increased survival rates for ventilator-dependent COVID-19 patients.
Throughout the year the trial continued, with MSB raising $138 million to bolster its manufacturing capacity for the potential treatment.
At one point in September 2020 the group's stocks hit a 12-month peak of $5.50 per share.
However, just days later, the stock plunged by 42 per cent when the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) ordered the company to conduct at least one additional study on remestemcel-L to see whether it was effective at treating GvHD. Meanwhile the COVID-19 studies were ticking along.
Shareholders were hanging on as the company signed a commercialisation agreement with Switzerland-based Novartis for the potential COVID-19 treatment and rallied again in December when a trial was fast tracked by the FDA.
But two weeks later, those hopeful MSB would come through were left disappointed as the trials failed to live up to expectations.
Shares almost halved in value after the company announced remestemcel-L failed to show a lower mortality rate for patients in the prescribed 30-day timeframe of treatment.
Ever since, MSB has been trading at around $2.50 per share, which is below pre-pandemic levels.
Come 2021, and Mesoblast received the support it needed in the form of a $138 million investment from US-based SurgCentre Development.
It arrived at just at the right time, with the biotech's auditor PwC warning one day prior the group would be unable to continue as a "going concern" if the placement failed to eventuate.
Based on the placement, pro-forma cash-on-hand at December 31, 2020, would be approximately $241 million.
It also followed some positive results from a trial of the company's chronic back pain treatment rexlemestrocel-L, showing its stem cell treatment is "safe, durable, and effective".
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Market caps based on close of trade, 23 March, 2021
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