Earlier in the year there were already signs of significant weakness in the sector with various cryptocurrency exposed groups in the US – including Voyager Digital, Celsius, BlockFi – going bankrupt and the value of various digital assets including Bitcoin plunging.
Whether crypto can pick up the pieces in 2023 remains to be seen, but with interest rates on their way up and the bad apples of the industry getting their comeuppance the mystique of crypto may be gone for good.
The champions: Mike Cannon-Brookes
The woolly billionaire founder of Atlassian and green energy proponent chalked up an epic victory over AGL in November installing four new directors to the group following a year-long stoush with the company over the timing of its plans to divest its fossil fuels assets.
Cannon-Brookes’ private investment vehicle, Grok Ventures, and Brookfield surprised AGL with $8 billion bid for the group in February with plans to transition the company away from fossil fuels by shuttering its coal-fired stations earlier than the company had planned.
AGL rebuffed the consortium’s two offers. It instead pushed ahead with a plan to demerge its generating arm from its retailing business and bring forward its planned closure dates for its NSW and Victorian coal plants.
It wasn’t enough to satisfy Grok, which built an 11.9 per cent stake in AGL in May to force change at the energy group. Later that month, AGL scrapped its demerger plans and in November Grok led the board putsch at AGL’s annual meeting that installed the new directors.
All in all, a year to remember for Cannon-Brookes, who has now cemented himself as a major player in guiding the Australian energy sector’s belated transition from dirty coal to renewables.
Most improved/needs improvement: Qantas chief Alan Joyce
The head of the national carrier capped off 2022 as a first class flyer compared to his global peers and the nation’s least favourite executive during school holidays.
So strong was the public reaction to the airline’s litany of delays, cancellations, call centre waits and lost luggage, the longstanding airline chief’s surname became a new word to describe having your holiday beset with travel problems – “Joyced”. (Used in a sentence: Our holiday was Joyced when our flights were cancelled, and we spent 12 hours on hold to a call centre.)
Joyce added to the opprobrium with his off-the-cuff comments in April that some of the airline’s problems were due to customers lacking “match fitness”.
Yet despite the social media backlash, Qantas’ shareholders and his chairman Richard Goyder are grateful to have him on deck, with the pent-up consumer demand from two years of lockdowns and careful capacity management producing a stellar set of results and positive outlook. The group has also been ahead of rival Virgin both in terms of sales and service.
The deflated: Disruption retailers, BNPL
The economic headwinds of 2022 took a scythe to businesses that had boomed during lockdown. Retailers, particularly those selling highly discretionary products or with online only channels, were the most impacted.
Online beauty products seller Adore Beauty and skin care brand owner BWX fell out of favour with investors, suffering huge share price falls as they pared back their growth forecasts.
Booktopia, which listed in late 2020 on the back of strong pandemic-inspired growth, was also savaged for its downgrades. The online bookseller’s year got worse after an investigation by this masthead caused the board to suddenly sack founder Tony Nash, only for him to return to the role a few months later after forcing a board spill that reinstalled him as head.
Buy now, pay later (BNPL) as a craze copped a major reality check in 2022, with operators like Zip and others suffering as interest rate increases flipped the switch on groups offering ‘no interest’ products, which were built on near-zero interest rates.
The hapless: The hacked
Two major corporations – Medibank and Optus – fell victim to hackers who stole customer data and demanded ransom payments in return for not selling the information to fraudsters. When the ransoms were not paid the ramifications of both hacks were severe.
Many Optus customers – both current and former – were forced to order new drivers licences and passports putting huge pressure on state and federal services while Medibank’s hackers released sensitive health information of policyholders in dribs and drabs dragging the whole affair out for weeks.
Optus, which revealed its hack weeks before the Medibank breach, and its local boss Kelly Bayer Rosmarin copped a bigger serve for its handling of the hack from Cybersecurity Minister Clare O’Neil who lambasted the group over its weak defences.
Meanwhile, Medibank, and its boss David Koczkar, received a much softer touch as it became clear that robust dressing downs from government could only lead to fewer groups reporting such incidents. The high-profile breaches were accompanied by a string of cybersecurity incidents across corporate Australia, from food grower Costa Group and pathology services provider Medlab Pathology to children’s charity The Smith Family. Having dominated the headlines, expect cybersecurity to remain a top priority for boards in the new year.
The history maker: BHP ditches London
Mining giant BHP completed a significant reset this year, ditching its dual listing structure for a single trading entity on the Australian stock exchange.
While the change was announced back in August 2021, it wasn’t until an investor vote in January this year that BHP had the green light from its shareholders to progress with the change.
June also saw the formal completion of BHP’s merger of its oil and gas business with Woodside Energy after shareholders voted in the deal. That transaction allowed the world’s top mining company to speed up its transition away from fossil fuels and become a leaner and greener group.
BHP’s frolic with its complex dual listing structure may have only been formed in 2001, but its preference for a solo registry on the ASX over a dual home here and in London marked an historic day for the group and the ASX.