press digest-australian business news - feb 22

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Feb 22
    07:06, Tuesday, 22 February 2005

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

    BlueScope Steel chief executive, Kirby Adams, said
    yesterday that steel companies could be forced to move into the
    iron-ore industry if ore producers continued to seek significant
    price increases. Mr Adams said the prices being sought by
    iron-ore producers were, relative to their costs, 'inexcusable'
    and inflationary. He said the steel industry 'will certainly
    respond.' BlueScope reported a doubling of its interim half-year
    profit to A$485 million for the December half-year. Page 12.

    --

    Publisher, John Fairfax Holdings , yesterday
    announced the appointment of veteran television industry
    executive, David Evans, as a director. However, chief executive,
    Fred Hilmer, warned: 'You shouldn't read too much into it.' Mr
    Hilmer said the inevitable speculation that Fairfax was pushing
    ahead with a rumoured merger with the Ten Network was wrong. Mr
    Evans will commute between Melbourne and Los Angeles, where he is
    chief executive and president of Crown Media Holdings. Page 12.

    --

    Billabong International , producer of surfer and
    skate-boarder clothing, beat even the highest analyst forecasts
    yesterday, reporting a 73 per cent increase in interim profit to
    A$70.1 million for the six months to December 31. Billabong said
    it now expected a 40 per cent increase in full-year profit rather
    than the 30 per cent it forecast at the annual meeting in
    October. The price of Billabong shares rose 13 per cent to give
    it a market capitalisation of A$2.8 billion. Page 13.

    --

    Trade in Origin Energy shares was suspended
    yesterday as the company sought to raise A$640 million to
    complete the funding of its A$1.5 billion acquisition of New
    Zealand's Contact Energy . The capital raising will be
    by way of a one-for-six renounceable rights issue. At the same
    time, Origin announced a net profit of A$152 million for the six
    months to December 31, including A$6.6 million from Contact and a
    A$9 million profit from the sale of the Carpentaria pipeline.
    Page 13.

    --

    Beneficiaries of the estate that owns the Tattersall's gaming
    empire have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed A$2
    billion float. Tattersall's general manager corporate, Simon
    Doyle, said yesterday that 96 per cent of the primary
    beneficiaries had voted in this month's ballot on restructuring
    and 99.5 per cent of votes cast were in favour of the float. Mr
    Doyle said Tattersall's was still discussing the tax treatment of
    the float with the Australian Taxation Office. Page 14.

    --



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

    BlueScope Steel, Australia's largest steel producer,
    yesterday announced a record first-half net profit of A$485.1
    million, more than double last year's A$227 million. Chief
    executive officer, Kirby Adams, forecast an equally strong second
    half, indicating a full-year profit of close to A$1 billion,
    compared with last year's A$584 million. However, he warned that
    soaring raw material prices could feed world inflation and said
    the company was considering imposing a surcharge to compensate
    for rising iron ore and coking coal prices. Page 19.

    --

    Newspaper publisher, John Fairfax Holdings, increased
    earnings before interest and tax by 17.7 per cent to A$212.9
    million in the six months to December, despite lower circulation
    of its main titles and a 30 per cent decline in real estate
    advertising. However, it said second-half growth would not match
    the first half and 'will depend on the vitality of overall
    trading conditions.' Fairfax also announced that David Evans,
    chief executive of Crown Media Holdings, of the United States,
    was joining the board. Page 19.

    --

    Western Australian winemaker, Evans & Tate ,
    yesterday posted a net profit after tax of A$2.1 million for the
    December half-year, up from A$2.06 million in the previous first half.
    However, executive chairman, Franklin Tate, said that
    after taking account of some one-off factors, underlying profit
    was 19 per cent higher at a record A$3.7 million. Mr Tate said
    the company could find new sales opportunities if the
    Southcorp/Foster's merger goes ahead. Page 21.

    --

    Insurer, Axa Australia Asia Pacific Holdings (AXA.AX>,
    increased overall operating earnings by 18 per cent in the year
    to December, and by 31 per cent in Australia. Chief executive,
    Les Owen, said the result was 'very pleasing,' given that some
    commentators thought the strong 2003 result 'was a bit of a
    fluke.' Before non-recurring items, Axa APH net earnings rose
    only two per cent to A$547.2 million, and on a headline basis,
    profit fell 42 per cent to A$539.7 million. However, the
    previous figure included the proceeds of the sale of the
    company's health insurance business. Page 21.

    --



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

    Telstra gave the Australian Competition and Consumer
    Commission (ACCC) an undertaking yesterday that it would rebate
    A$6.5 million to wholesale broadband customers who 'may have'
    been disadvantaged by its action last year in under-cutting them
    in the retail market. The agreement terminated the threat of
    fines that could have totalled A$350 million under a competition
    notice lodged against Telstra by the ACCC in March last year.
    Page 21.

    --

    Centennial Coal was reported yesterday to be
    discussing a A$1 billion merger with Austral Coal , which
    operates the Tahmoor Colliery near Picton, south of Sydney.
    Trading in the shares of both companies was suspended but
    neither side would comment on the merger reports. Centennial was
    scheduled to report its interim profit yesterday but cancelled
    the announcement and a briefing for analysts. Page 21.

    --

    Australian airport revenues rose by 49 per cent to A$582
    million between 2001-02 and 2003-04, according to an analysis
    published yesterday by the Australian Competition and Consumer
    Commission (ACCC). Increases ranged from 24 per cent at Sydney
    Airport to 133 per cent at Adelaide Airport, the report said.
    The ACCC said that in 2003-04, the operating margin per
    passenger on aeronautical charges rose by 21 per cent. Page 23.

    --



    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
    chairman, Graeme Samuel, said yesterday he was now confident that
    retail broadband providers would be able to compete on a level
    playing field. The comment followed a series of undertakings
    given by Telstra following its action last year in offering
    retail customers a broadband price less than the wholesale price
    it charged competitors. The undertakings included A$6.5 million
    compensation to Telstra wholesale customers. Page B1.

    --

    Victorian Energy Minister, Theo Theophanus, yesterday
    announced a review of the State's restrictions on cross-ownership
    in the energy supply industry. He said the review would
    'determine whether current state-specific cross-ownership laws
    are serving the interests of Victorian energy users.' Industry
    experts forecast that the review would lead to more rapid
    movement towards large, vertically-integrated supply companies.
    Page B2.

    --

    In Melbourne yesterday, Federal Trade Minister, Mark Vaile,
    opened the first round of negotiations for a free trade agreement
    between Australia-New Zealand and the 10 countries of the
    Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN. The negotiations
    are expected to take two years, leading to an agreement taking
    effect from 2017. Mr Vaile said he wanted the agreement to cover
    everything, and he was prepared to be flexible about time frames.
    Page B2.

    --

    Traffic camera manufacturer, Redflex Holdings ,
    announced yesterday that it increased earnings in the December
    half-year by 413 per cent to A$4 million. Chief executive,
    Graham Davie, said the number of cameras installed in the United
    States (US) increased from 301 to 401 in the half-year and should
    reach 500 by June 30. Mr Davie said Redflex could have 1000
    cameras installed in the US within two to four years. Redflex
    shares closed A15 cents higher at A$3.82. 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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