press digest-australian business news - feb 24

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Feb 24
    07:02, Thursday, 24 February 2005

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

    Business services group, Brambles Industries ,
    reported yesterday that first-half profit had increased 70 per
    cent to A$234.8 million. However, chief executive, David Turner,
    said the pallet business, Chep, would deliver slower earnings
    growth in the second half of the financial year, surprising most
    analysts. Brambles said its free cash flow, once a problem, had
    increased by A$177 million to $305 million in the six months to
    December. Page 16.

    --

    Blood plasma group, CSL , has increased its forecast
    of full-year earnings and announced a buyback of five per cent of
    its issued capital. CSL managing director, Brian McNamee, said
    yesterday that a net profit of A$270 million to A$295 million for
    2004-05 was achievable as the industry benefited from
    consolidation and inventory levels returned to normal. He
    reported CSL had a net profit of A$160.11 million for the six
    months to December 31, A$25.38 million higher than the previous
    first-half. Page 16.

    --

    Smorgon Steel yesterday reported a 27.9 per cent
    increase in net profit, to A$31.6 million, for the December
    half-year, but excluding one-off items the underlying profit was
    A$37.3 million compared with the previous A$23.4 million.
    Managing director, Ray Horsburgh, said second-half profit would
    be 'slightly higher,' suggesting a full-year result around A$75
    million. Smorgon declared a fully franked dividend of A4 cents a
    share, up from A2.5 cents in the previous first half. Page 16.

    --

    Pacific Brands' share price fell sharply yesterday
    after the company reported that sales had fallen 1.6 per cent to
    A$798.4 million in the first half of 2004-05. The shares fell
    A25 cents to A$2.80. However, Pacific Brands had a net profit of
    A$33.3 million for the half-year and declared a full franked
    dividend of A7.5 cents, payable on April 1. Chief executive,
    Paul Moore, said the company would 'sharpen its focus' on finding
    acquisitions in the next 12 months. Page 17.

    --

    Macquarie Airports , which owns 55.5 per cent of
    Sydney Airport Corporation (SAC), has called for a quick
    resolution of the stand-off between SAC and the major airlines
    over fees and charges. MAp is concerned that, without an
    agreement, regulators could introduce price caps, limiting
    profitability. MAp yesterday reported a record profit of A$864.6
    million for the six months to December and reiterated its
    forecast of a full-year distribution of A17 cents. Page 17.

    --



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

    Shares in Perpetual Trustees lost ground in the
    sharemarket yesterday, despite the company reporting a 58 per
    cent increase in first-half profit to A$54 million. Perpetual
    said full-year profits would increase by 25 per cent, but
    analysts had expected a rise of 36 per cent and the share price
    fell A$2.63 to A$59.40. 'It is a good result and we are very
    confident about the outlook,' said managing director, David
    Deverall. Page 27.

    --

    Industrial services group, Transfield , sought A$100
    million in fresh equity yesterday to reduce the debt incurred in
    last year's acquisitions. At the same time, it announced a 26.1
    per cent increase in first-half net profit to A$18.9 million.
    Transfield managing director, Peter Watson, said the company had
    also won a contract with Sydney Water worth A$125 million over
    four years and had bought 30 per cent of the Kwinana power
    station in Western Australia. Page 27.

    --

    Car parts company, Pacifica Group , reported
    yesterday that net profit in the year to December 31 was down 30.2
    per cent to A$33.68 million and repeated a warning that
    business would be difficult in 2005. However, before significant
    items the profit figure was only four per cent lower at A$45
    million and Pacifica said it expected significant improvements in
    2006. The group makes brakes and clutches for Toyota, Ford,
    Holden and Mitsubishi. Page 27.

    --

    Seven Network regional affiliate, Prime Television,
    saw pre-tax earnings fall by 1.7 per cent to A$21.3 million in
    the six months to December 31, but lower taxes enabled net profit
    to rise 5.9 per cent to A$11.3 million. Directors increased
    interim dividend from A4.5 cents to A5.5 cents. The company's
    New Zealand television business, which is a joint venture with
    Nine Network, reduced its losses from A$3.06 million to
    A$954,000. Page 27.

    --

    Centennial Coal yesterday announced its
    long-predicted A$350 million takeover offer for Austral Coal. In
    anticipation of the announcement, shares in both companies had
    been suspended from trading since Monday. When trading resumed
    yesterday, Centennial's share price rose A22 cents to A$4.29 and
    Austral's price rose A12 cents to A$1.14. The merger would
    create a company worth more than A$1 billion. Page 27.

    --



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

    Japanese steel makers are to pay record prices for iron ore
    from miner, Rio Tinto , which yesterday announced
    it had achieved a higher than expected 71.5 per cent increase.
    BHP Billiton is expected to also announce large price increases
    for its iron ore in coming days. Rio's share price rose A90
    cents to A$45.30 yesterday, while BHP's share price went up A70
    cents to A$18.44. Page 23.

    --

    Hospital and pharmaceutical group, Mayne , yesterday
    announced that its net profit was down 18 per cent to A$40.2
    million in the December half-year. Chief executive, Stuart
    James, revised Mayne's earnings forecast to 'around 10 per cent'
    after intense scrutiny from health regulators forced it to
    upgrade two drug-making factories. The United States Food and
    Drug Administration reprimanded Mayne earlier this month for poor
    reporting procedures on adverse drug reactions. Page 23.

    --

    The New South Wales Supreme Court yesterday found that former
    NRMA Insurance chairman, Nick Whitlam, had a contract to receive
    nearly A$1 million in return for quitting the board. Mr Whitlam
    resigned in April 2001 following dissent within the board, and
    disagreement with the former chief executive. He received only
    A$637,800, and took legal action to recover the remainder. The
    Supreme Court ordered Insurance Australia Group , the
    revamped NRMA Insurance, to pay Mr Whitlam an additional
    A$519,776 in interest and other payments. Page 25.

    --

    Property trust, Stockland , yesterday confirmed that
    it would let its A$7.5 billion scrip offer for General Property
    Trust lapse on March 4, and would not change any terms
    and conditions. This has created pressure on rival bidder,
    construction group, Lend Lease , to come up with an
    alternative bid. GPT had earlier rejected Stockland's bid
    because of concerns about the latter's residential redevelopment
    projects and concerns about exposure to a foreign residential
    market. Page 25.

    --



    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    Australia's iron ore producers will benefit by A$3 billion
    from the latest price increase in their 2005-06 export contracts,
    confirmed yesterday by Rio Tinto. Chief executive of Rio Tinto's
    iron ore business, Sam Walsh, said the 71.5 per cent increase
    reflected 'unprecedented' demand driven by the growth in steel
    consumption, particularly in China. However, the Japanese
    Government expressed concern about the impact on its steel
    industry and the price of shares in Australian steel makers fell
    sharply. Page B1.

    --

    Toll roads company, Transurban Group , yesterday
    reported a net loss of A$40 million for the December half-year
    after spending A$9.4 million on an unsuccessful bid for the
    Mitcham-Frankston toll road contract in Victoria. However, the
    company produced 'normalised' figures showing the net loss down
    from the previous first half's A$47.1 million to A$35.1 million.
    Distributions were increased by 26 per cent to A17 cents for the
    six months. Page B2.

    --

    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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    REUTER NEWS SERVICE
 
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