press digest-australian business news - feb 10

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Feb 10
    06:39, Thursday, 10 February 2005

    (Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors)
    THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (www.afr.com)

    Southcorp managing director, John Ballard, yesterday
    said he felt let down by former major shareholder, Bob Oatley,
    over the sale of his 18.8 per cent stake in the winemaker to
    Foster's Group . Page 15.

    --

    WMC Resources will deliver its initial findings on
    the proposed A$5 billion expansion of its Olympic Dam
    copper-uranium mine next month. The development of Olympic Dam,
    which holds the world's largest uranium reserves, is central to
    the national-interest debate spurred by Swiss-based Xstrata's
    A$8.4 billion hostile takeover bid for WMC. Page 15.

    --

    Ansell chief executive, Doug Tough, yesterday said
    the condom and glove maker's board was pleased with its maiden
    report on China, with senior managers recently listing potential
    investments that the company could make in the country. Mr Tough
    said China accounted for 'only one per cent' of Ansell's
    business, but made up 21 per cent of the world's population,
    leaving many opportunities for expansion. Page 16.

    --

    Fletcher Building is set to acquire the A$550
    million Amatek group in a move that will increase the
    trans-Tasman building products company's exposure to the
    Australian housing cycle. Amatek's vendor, CVC Capital Partners,
    is rumoured to be under pressure to complete a sale as the fund
    holding Amatek is scheduled to close soon and return funds to
    investors. Page 16.

    --

    THE AUSTRALIAN (www.theaustralian.news.com.au)

    WMC Resources has announced a A$1.32 billion profit
    for the 12 months to December 31, 2004. Nickel earnings rose
    A$358 million and the Olympic Dam contributed an extra A$304
    million. WMC Resources chief executive, Andrew Michelmore, said
    he expected uranium prices to tighten in 2005 as stockpiles were
    exhausted. The company is in discussion on new uranium contracts
    that would be priced in the 'mid-twenties' compared to the
    previous 'low teens' contracts. Page 21.

    --

    Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief executive,
    David Murray, said yesterday that the bank's 50 per cent rise in
    half-year net profits to A$1.859 billion, vindicated the 'Which
    New Bank" program. Mr Murray said the 'Which New Bank" program,
    based on spending A$1.5 billion over three years to generate
    annual savings of A$900 million, had produced better than
    expected results. Full-time staff numbers fell by 800 in calendar
    in 2004 with a further 2000 jobs marked to go. Page 21.

    --

    Wine producer Southcorp has announced a 50 per cent
    increase in net profits to A$60.6 million. Southcorp chief
    executive, John Ballard, said the company was in 'far better
    shape than it was 18 months ago, and expected 'modest earnings
    growth in 2005.' Page 23.

    --

    Shares in Ansell rose A35c to A$9.65 after the
    rubber glove and condom manufacturer announced a 26 per
    cent rise in half-year profits to A$43.2 million. Chief executive Doug
    Tough said the company was looking at expanding its range of
    medical products: 'We're looking at the whole operating theatre;
    the high-end technical equipment.' Page 24.

    --

    Virgin Atlantic [VA.UL] head of Asia-Pacific
    marketing, Mackenzie Grant, said yesterday that the Australian
    Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) approval of a
    price-fixing arrangement between Qantas Airways and British
    Airways (BA) was 'giving Qantas and BA immunity from prosecution
    for doing something that would be illegal in other aviation
    markets.' 'Certainly in Europe and United States this would not
    be allowed - two carriers who have a dominant position being able
    to fix prices,' Mr Grant said. The ACCC approved a five-year
    extension to the joint-service agreement between Qantas and BA on
    Tuesday. Page 24.

    --

    THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (www.smh.com.au)

    Westpac yesterday approached the Federal Court to
    resolve loose ends stemming from an international casino fraud in
    which a high-rolling gambler used the bank to launder stolen
    money. The bank has made an application before Justice Margaret
    Stone seeking a hearing to transfer an action begun in the
    Supreme Court of Victoria to the Federal Court. The action
    arises from a gambling spree by Singaporean, Chia Teck Leng, two
    years ago. The former executive banked up to A$190 million
    before being caught and sentenced last year to a 42-year jail
    term. Page 25.

    --

    The Federal Government's push to make it harder for
    shareholders to call extraordinary company meetings was stalled
    yesterday, with the Opposition granted a parliamentary inquiry
    into the proposed changes. Page 26.

    --

    The Seven Network's share price rose 2.9 per cent to
    close up 19 cents at A$7.72 yesterday as the television
    broadcaster gained from optimism that it would reverse last
    year's fall in audience levels. Page 26.

    --

    Telstra yesterday announced that it had acquired
    318,000 new mobile phone subscribers during the December quarter,
    taking its customer numbers to eight million and fuelling
    expectations of a strong interim result. Telstra consumer
    division head, David Moffatt, said it had taken seven years to
    establish the telecommunications company's first million mobile
    phone customers and just 12 months to establish the last million.
    Telstra's mobile phone division accounted for 80 per cent of the
    company's revenue growth last year. Page 26.

    --

    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    WMC Resources chief executive, Andrew Michelmore,
    yesterday said that he still expected Xstrata's A$8.4
    billion hostile takeover bid to strike competition. Mr
    Michelmore said WMC had given access to its key asset, the
    Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine, to a number of potential rival
    bidders and 'there are a number of parties who are extremely
    interested in our assets.' BHP Billiton , Rio Tinto
    and Anglo American are tipped to make
    counter-bids, with a number of Russian and Chinese mining groups
    also rumoured to be interested. Page B1.

    --

    Online media buyer, emitch , yesterday reported that
    Australia's largest advertisers last year allocated seven per
    cent of their marketing budgets to online advertising, up from
    four per cent in 2003. Online spending is expected to reach nine
    per cent for the 2005 calendar year, with the maturing directories
    and research segment and general banner advertising
    expected to lead the way. Page B2.

    --

    BIS Shrapnel has predicted that government spending on
    infrastructure will lead to a boom in engineering construction
    over the next few years, but will also lead to a downturn by the
    end of the decade. The economic forecaster's latest report,
    Engineering Construction in Australia, 2004 to 2019, released
    yesterday, says infrastructure projects in 2004-05 reached a
    near-record A$30 billion, with the total expected to grow 23 per
    cent in 2006-07. Page B2.

    --

    Standard & Poor's (S&P) yesterday announced it was acquiring
    the managed fund data and research business of Assirt from St
    George Bank . S&P said the acquisition would strengthen
    its ability to serve the growing need for wealth management
    services. Page B3.

    --

    Looking for more information from local sources? Factiva.com
    has 112 Australian sources including the Australian Financial
    Review.

    ((Reuters Sydney Newsroom, 61-2 9373 1800,
    [email protected]))

    (c) Reuters Limited 2005
    REUTER NEWS SERVICE
 
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