press digest-australian business news - feb 23

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Feb 23
    07:03, Wednesday, 23 February 2005

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

    Poker machine maker, Aristocrat Leisure , yesterday
    reported a full-year profit of A$174.7 million for 2004,
    bettering even the most optimistic broker forecasts. In the
    previous year, the company lost A$106 million. Aristocrat's
    revenues increased 12.5 per cent to A$1.149 billion and chief
    executive, Paul Oneile, said all the group's businesses 'met or
    exceeded expectations.' He said Aristocrat expected another year
    of solid growth in 2005. Page 16.

    --

    Margins of wine producer, Southcorp , contracted and
    its trading performance declined in the first half of the
    financial year, according to an analysis by Deloitte Corporate Finance
    released yesterday. The analysis was commissioned by
    beverages company, Foster's Group , which is offering
    A$3.1 billion to take over Southcorp. However, Southcorp's share
    price rose A4 cents yesterday to A$4.39. Foster's dropped its
    bid price to A$4.14 a share on Monday to compensate for
    Southcorp's interim dividend of A3 cents a share. Page 16.

    --

    Logistics company, Toll Holdings , is set for a ninth
    consecutive record annual profit on the basis of its half-year
    results, released yesterday. The company had a net profit of
    A$109.2 million in the six months to December 31, a 20 per cent
    increase on the previous first-half. Pacific National, its rail
    freight joint venture with Patrick Corp, had a record after-tax
    profit of A$55.9 million. Toll said it was looking at
    acquisitions in markets such as Thailand, Malaysia and China.
    Page 49.

    --

    Engineering services group, Downer EDI , reported
    yesterday that it was operating in an 'increasingly favourable
    environment,' but managing director, Stephen Gillies, said he
    would wait until the end of the March quarter before
    reconsidering his profit forecast for the full year. First-half
    net profit was up 41.3 per cent to A$35.6 million and the interim
    dividend was raised to A6 cents a share from last year's A4
    cents. Page 49.

    --

    Department store group, David Jones , announced
    yesterday that it now expected annual net profit growth to be at
    the top end of its forecast range of five per cent to 10 per
    cent. David Jones reported that, on a like-for-like basis,
    second quarter sales revenue was up 4.7 per cent to A$559.6
    million, and first-half sales were up 5.5 per cent. The group
    will release first-half earnings on March 22. Page 49.

    --



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

    Brazilian iron-ore producer, CVRD , has
    secured a record 71.5 per cent price increase from Nippon Steel,
    and Australian producers, Rio Tinto and BHP
    Billiton , are expected to be close behind.
    Between them, the three companies account for more than
    three-quarters of global iron-ore trade. On the basis of the
    price rise, brokers UBS yesterday upgraded their 2005 profit
    forecast for Rio Tinto by 12.5 per cent and their 2005-06
    forecast for BHP Billiton by seven per cent. Page 21.

    --

    Michael Wilkins, chief executive of Promina ,
    Australia's second largest general insurer, warned yesterday that
    current low pricing in some areas of the industry was not
    sustainable. However, he reported that Promina had a record
    full-year profit of A$458 million for 2004, a rise of 54 per cent
    after tax, with premium income up 3.5 per cent to A$3.08 billion.
    Promina declared a A12 cents final dividend and said it would
    return between A$200 million and A$250 million to shareholders in
    the first half of 2005. Page 21.

    --

    Higher prices and reduced costs helped steel products
    company, OneSteel , to increase profit 27 per cent to
    A$57.9 million in the six months to December 31. Chief
    executive, Bob Every, said yesterday he expected the strong
    construction market to be sustained over the next 18 months,
    offsetting 'some softening' in residential activity. Dr Every
    forecast a full-year profit of A$110-125 million compared with
    last year's A$108.1 million. Page 23.

    --

    Trans-Tasman media group, APN News & Media ,
    announced yesterday that it increased net profit in 2004 by 26
    per cent to A$130.2 million, but warned that such a growth rate
    could not continue. APN said current trading was in line with
    expectations and estimates of a 2005 profit around A$140 million
    'appear likely to be met.' APN said that, unlike other media
    companies, it was not focused on acquisitions and continued to
    look for organic growth. Page 23.

    --



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

    Telstra's head of regulatory affairs, Bill Scales,
    announced his resignation yesterday from the telecommunications
    provider. Mr Scales joins four other senior executives who have
    left Telstra recently, and there are question marks over whether
    several other executives will stay. Mr Scales was a close ally
    of outgoing Telstra chief executive, Ziggy Switkowski, who
    released a statement to the stock exchange saying Mr Scales was
    responsible for Telstra's excellent human relations efforts, and
    for guiding the group's regulatory strategies. Page 24.

    --

    Oil Search yesterday reported a sharply higher
    profit for 2004 on the back of strong oil prices. Operating
    profit after tax was up 64 per cent on the 2003 result, with
    production at a record 11.05 million barrels of oil equivalent.
    Much of the group's surge in earnings will be passed on to
    shareholders with increased dividends, with an unfranked dividend
    of US3 cents a share payable on March 24. Analysts said there
    was uncertainty over Oil Search's production outlook, and the
    group's Papua New Guinea export facility was facing equipment
    problems. Page 25.

    --



    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    Investor nervousness about the effect of asbestos claims on
    insurance companies caused a fall in the share price of general
    insurer, Promina, yesterday despite its announcement of a 54 per
    cent increase in full-year net profit to A$458 million. Promina
    chief executive, Michael Wilkins, described the performance for
    the 2004 calendar year as 'spectacular,' but warned that
    provisions for asbestos claims had been increased by A$76 million
    to A$204 million because of the rising number of asbestos-related
    claims. Page B1.

    --

    International Power Australasia (IPA) chief executive, Tony
    Concannon, said yesterday that low prices in the national
    electricity market indicated that Victoria would not need new
    baseload or intermediate-level power generation until after 2011.
    He said the present market was 'saturated,' but IPA would consider
    building new coal-fired generation if the market and
    technological conditions were right, and there was clarity on
    emissions policy. Page B2.

    --

    Completion of the Basslink seabed power cable between
    Tasmania and Victoria could be delayed by problems with
    transformers imported for the project from Siemens, the German
    manufacturer. Victorian Energy Minister, Theo Theophanus,
    confirmed yesterday that he is awaiting a report on the
    situation. If hydro electricity from Tasmania cannot be imported
    into Victoria via Basslink next summer, peak supplies could be
    threatened. Page B2.

    --

    Recent acquisitions by pathology and radiology group, Sonic
    Healthcare , helped it to increase first-half net profit
    by 37 per cent to A$35.3 million. Managing director, Colin
    Goldschmidt, said the result demonstrated that 'Sonic is now a
    very strong and stable company with tremendous growth prospects.'
    Dr Goldschmidt said Sonic would continue to seek opportunities,
    particularly in the United Kingdom and Germany. Page B4.

    --

    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]))
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    (c) Reuters Limited 2005
    REUTER NEWS SERVICE
 
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