Woodside shelves plans, wipes billions from budget as oil crash bites

Australian oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum has put billions of dollars of major projects on hold and slashed its investment spending by 60 per cent amid the global coronavirus crisis and sudden oil price crash.

Woodside on Friday told the market its final decisions on highly anticipated liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion projects off the coast of Western Australia, including its $17 billion Scarborough venture with BHP, and the Pluto and Browse expansion projects, would be deferred as uncertainty grips the energy market.

Woodside’s proposed Pluto LNG expansion using gas from the Scarborough field has been shelved due to the oil price crash.Credit:Woodside Petroleum

"The unprecedented circumstances that have unfolded globally over recent weeks are impacting our people, our business and our industry," Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said.

"We are also responding to the lower, more volatile oil price environment by taking difficult but prudent decisions to reduce our expenditure for this year and to delay targeted final investment decisions on our growth projects."

Producers in Australia and worldwide have wiped billions of dollars from investment budgets in the past week in order to survive a flood of oil coming onto the market due to Saudi Arabia and Russia ramping up output at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic causes a downturn in oil demand.

Suffering the sharpest price falls since the Gulf War in 1991, the benchmark Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate oil prices have halved since the start of the year, falling below $US30 a barrel and triggering a savage sell-off in oil and gas stocks. In response, producers have been detailing deep cuts to discretionary spending, new project delays and withdrawals from merger and acquisition talks as they seek to weather the storm and moderate market concerns about their profitability.

The deep cuts announced at Woodside will scale back capital expenditure this year to $US1.7 billion from $US4.5 billion. Woodside's total spending for 2020 is being axed by 50 per cent to about $US2.4 billion, including about $US100 million in operating cost cuts.

Rival Australian gas producer Santos slashed investment spending by 38 per cent to $550 million this week and delayed a new project off the coast of Darwin. Australian-listed Oil Search shelved major gas projects all around the world and halted negotiations to sell a stake in assets in Alaska as it lowered its expected spending by up to $675 million, or 40 per cent.

"These are extraordinary times that no one could have foreseen," Mr Coleman said. "But Woodside enters this period of significant uncertainty with one of the stronger balance sheets in our industry and world-class, low-cost producing assets, which are resilient to commodity price fluctuations."

Woodside boss Peter Coleman says the industry is experiencing unprecedented upheaval.Credit:Jessica Hromas

Mr Coleman said Woodside's disciplined approach to cash flow and debt management had positioned it to be able to respond "quickly and decisively".

"The measures we are implementing will preserve cash during these challenging months and
ensure that in the longer term we can successfully execute the growth strategy we have in place."

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Walmart has plans to compete with Amazon Prime

Walmart expanding grocery delivery program nationwide

Walmart plans to roll out their new grocery subscription service to more than half of the country by the end of 2019.

Walmart has been quietly working on developing its own paid membership program to go up against Amazon Prime,

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The program would reportedly have perks that Amazon can't match and could be launched as soon as next month called Walmart+.

The work has been going on for the last 18 months, according to Recode.

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The program is seen as rebranding of Walmart's existing Delivery Unlimited service which charges $98 a year for unlimited, same-day delivery of fresh groceries from the Walmart stores where the program is available.

Among the possible perks in the new service could be discounts at Walmart pharmacies or fuel at walmart gas stations.

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WMT WALMART INC. 106.77 -3.63 -3.29%
AMZN AMAZON.COM INC. 1,839.77 -44.53 -2.36%

A Walmart spokesperson confirmed to Recode the membership program and Walmart+ name were in development, but declined to provide any further details.

WALMART ROLLS OUT UNLIMITED GROCERY DELIVERY SUBSCRIPTION

Amazon's Prime service has more than 150 million members worldwide, costing $119 per year. Amazon accounts for nearly 40 percent of all online sales in the U.S., according to eMarketer,

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The goal for Walmart's program is to save customers time and money and keep them loyal to the Walmart brand either online or at brick-and-mortar locations.

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Student loan repayment plans: How to pick the best one for you

There are certain elements to consider when picking a student loan repayment plan. (iStock)

Many graduates struggle under the burden of student loan repayments, although some graduates face more debt than others.

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If you're one of the millions of Americans with federal student loans, private student loans, or both, it's important to understand all your repayment options. While they vary for federal versus private loans, the best student loan repayment plan is always one that's affordable on a monthly basis while keeping total borrowing costs as low as possible.

What are your student loan repayment options?

Repayment options for federal student loans are determined by the type of loan; the total balance; and whether the loans have been consolidated with the Department of Education. You are allowed to change your repayment plan and can pick from the following options:

Standard repayment plan. This offers fixed monthly payments and is designed to ensure your loan is repaid within 10 years — or 10 to 30 years if you have a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Graduated repayment plan. Payments slowly increase with this plan — usually every two years — and it's also designed to ensure you'll repay your loan within 10 years or 10-30 years for consolidated loans.

WHICH STUDENT LOANS SHOULD YOU PAY OFF FIRST?

Extended repayment plan. This is open to borrowers with at least $30,000 in outstanding loans and designed so loans are repaid over 25 years with either fixed or graduated payments.

Income-driven plans. These options — including Pay as You Earn, Revised Pay as You Earn, Income-Based Repayment, and Income-Contingent Repayment — are open only to borrowers with Direct Loans, student PLUS Loans, and certain Direct Consolidation Loans. They cap payments at a percent of income and allow loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years of payments, depending on the plan chosen and amount borrowed.

If you have private student loans, you have less flexibility. You must repay them based on terms agreed upon when you borrowed. Your loans may have a fixed rate, which means payments won't change, or a variable rate so payments move with a financial index. Regardless, to change your repayment timeline or monthly payment amount, you'll have to refinance, taking out a new loan with a different private lender offering the desired repayment terms.

How to pick the best student loan repayment plan

Because you have so many options for federal student loan repayment, it can be overwhelming to determine the right one. But there are a few key factors to consider, including the following:

Whether you qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you work for the government or a nonprofit, you can have some of your loans forgiven after making 10 years of qualifying payments on an eligible repayment plan. These include Income-Based Repayment; Pay As You Earn Repayment, and Income Contingent Repayment. If you don't choose one of these plans, you'll lose out on this benefit of public service work.

Unfortunately, private student loans are not eligible for loan forgiveness so this won't be a factor in determining the right repayment approach for them.

WHAT IS A STUDENT LOAN INCOME-DRIVEN REPAYMENT PLAN?

The amount you can afford to pay each month. Missing student loan payments can have serious consequences, including damaged credit, so you need to choose a payment plan that fits your budget.

If you're struggling to pay federal loans, an income-driven, extended, or graduated repayment plan might be the right option. These provide breathing room by keeping payments low. And in the case of an income-driven plan, you could even end up with part of your loan balance being forgiven if you pay over a long enough period.

If you're worried about making payments on private loans, you may want to explore refinancing to see if you could lower your interest rate or make your repayment time longer; both would lower your monthly payment.

While you can also refinance federal loans to change their terms, doing so usually isn't advisable because this would mean giving up important borrower protections.

The total costs of borrowing. An affordable monthly payment is only part of the picture. If you lower your monthly payments on federal or private loans by extending your repayment timeline, the total cost of borrowing goes up because you pay interest over a longer time.

WHAT QUALIFIES YOU FOR STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS?

If you have a $10,000 private loan at a 7 percent interest rate that you were scheduled to repay in five years and you refinance to a new loan at the same rate but with a 10-year repayment timeline, your monthly payment would drop from $198 to $116. But the total loan cost rises from $11,881 to $13,993. Your loan would cost over $2,000 more, depriving you of funds for other purposes.

To keep costs down, it's a good idea to pay as much as you can afford each month without compromising other important financial goals.

The level of risk you're willing to accept. With federal student loans, your interest rate never changes during repayment, even if you consolidate your debt with a Direct Consolidation loan. But if you have private student loans and opt for a variable rate loan — either when borrowing initially or if you refinance — your interest rate can change over time.

Variable-rate loans often have lower initial interest costs and monthly payments than fixed-rate loans. But they're riskier because your payment could rise. If you're willing to take that risk — or think interest rates will fall — a variable rate loan may be right for you. If you don't currently have one, you could refinance into one — perhaps lowering your monthly payment for the time being.

Always research your student loan repayment options. With so many repayment options, every borrower should research carefully to avoid falling victim to student loan repayment scam calls or bad advice. Remember, there are always trade-offs and a loan with lower monthly payments will almost always mean higher total costs over time.

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‘A fair go’: Huawei plans town hall meetings to win over public

China's Huawei will host a series of "town hall meetings" across the country as it seeks to capitalise on the UK's decision to approve the use of the company's telecommunications equipment in its 5G networks and have its Australia ban overturned.

Next month's forums come amid tensions between Australia and Britain over UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei into its 5G network, which resulted in the cancellation of a planned trip by the Australian government's intelligence and security committee late last week.

Huawei will host a series of public forums to let Australians form their own view on the company.Credit:AP

Huawei's chief security officer in the US, Andy Purdy, will fly to Australia for the forums, which are set to take place in mid-March across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. Each session will include a presentation and an open on-the-record discussion between invited guests and members of the public with staff and non-Huawei speakers from businesses or charities who work directly with the company.

The forums, titled "Let's Talk Huawei", will eventually expand to regional areas and will be supplemented with podcasts available on the Huawei Hub website. The telecoms giant will also use its sponsorship of rugby league team Canberra Raiders to publicise the events.

In 2018 Australia became the first country to bar the telecoms giant from providing 5G technology, warning it would pose a threat to national security. The prohibition on equipment vendors preceded a similar move by the US.

China has since complained about Australia's 5G ban, describing it as discriminatory.

On Monday, China's ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, labelled the ban politically motivated discrimination, warning it was a "thorny issue" in relations between Beijing and Australia.

Jeremy Mitchell, director of corporate and public affairs at Huawei Australia, said the company had seen its name "dragged through the mud" and wanted a "fair go".

"When most companies stage these kinds of events they are normally asking for something, but we
are most certainly not asking for anything from the Australian public other than a fair go – that's all we have ever wanted," Mr Mitchell said.

"Huawei Australia has a spotless record in Australia, we have employed thousands of people both
directly and indirectly and pumped several billion dollars into the Australian economy – yet we are
being portrayed as untrustworthy and that's simply not fair," he said.

"Through no fault of our own, our company has been caught right in the middle of the US-China trade war and we have seen our name dragged through the mud here.

"We want to have a conversation about who we are, what we do and answer any questions people
may have about our company."

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