press digest-australian business news - feb 8

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Feb 8
    07:11, Tuesday, 8 February 2005

    (Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors)


    Budget airline, Jetstar, is planning to expand to
    international routes within the next two years as it seeks to
    benefit from growing demand for cheap air travel. Jetstar's first
    international destinations are likely to include New Zealand,
    which is already the site of a fare battle between Jetstar owner,
    Qantas Airways , Air New Zealand and Virgin
    Blue Airlines' Pacific Blue. Page 14.

    -- Media buyers are expecting the battle for television
    ratings to be closer over the next few weeks as the major
    free-to-air networks roll out their new programs for 2005.
    Zenith Media trading director, Henry Tajer, said he expected 'a
    very tight race' over the next 'six to seven weeks,' with the
    Seven Network likely to gain market share after poor
    performances over the past three years. Mr Tajer said new United
    States programs such as Desperate Housewives and Lost meant 2005
    was likely to be 'Seven's best year since 2001.' Page 15.

    -- Metcash Trading's buyout of its South African
    parent company, Metoz , has suffered an unexpected
    complication with some Metoz shareholders pushing for Metcash
    stock, rather than accepting the wholesaler's cash offer. The
    request for stock, rather than cash, could derail the offer, but
    the combined support of Metoz's board and its two largest
    shareholders, RMB and Stanlib, means the original offer of
    A$2.92-a-share is likely to succeed. Page 15.

    -- New Zealand dairy group, Fonterra, has extended its
    takeover offer for Australia's National Foods to March
    8th, giving it additional time to consider whether to raise its
    offer by A$200 million or more. National Foods' board has
    already endorsed a rival A$5.90-a-share offer by Philippines
    conglomerate, San Miguel Corporation . Dairy Farmers of
    New Zealand chairman, Kevin Wooding, yesterday said the 12,000
    farmers represented by his organisation were getting impatient
    and wanted the issue resolved quickly. Page 16.

    -- Bridgestone Australia has announced plans to lift
    capital spending to A$18 million this year to produce more
    performance tyres and combat rising raw material prices. The
    capital expenditure investment, up from A$15 million last year,
    will involve new equipment to meet rising demand for wider,
    low-profile tyres. Page 16.


    Australian Shareholders Association executive officer, Stuart
    Wilson, yesterday expressed concern about draft Federal
    Government legislation to abolish the rule allowing 100
    shareholders of a company to call a special general meeting. Mr
    Wilson said the ASA was concerned that the legislation 'sets a
    trend for the removal of individual shareholder rights.' Page 19.

    -- Initiative Australia research and technology head, Mike
    Welling, yesterday said the 40.7 per cent growth in advertising
    in China in 2004 had pushed Australia to ninth place in the world
    advertising market. However, Mr Welling said Australia was the
    second-fastest growing advertising market in the top 10 last
    year, with expenditure in the main media up 11.2 per cent,
    well ahead of the global average of 8.1 per cent. Mr Welling said
    Australia would again outpace average global growth of 5.8 per
    cent this year, with Initiative forecasting a nine per cent
    increase in advertising spending. Page 21.

    -- Centro Properties Group yesterday announced a
    A$59.3 million net profit for the half-year to December 31. The
    result was not comparable with the previous corresponding period
    due to it reflecting a mix of the earnings of Centro and the
    former Prime Retail Group, which merged through a reverse
    takeover on October 8, 2004. Centro chief executive, Andrew
    Scott, predicted 'healthy' retail sales growth of 4-5 per cent
    for the shopping centre group in 2005. Page 21.

    -- Peptech has announced plans for an aggressive
    growth strategy to boost the biotechnology company's market
    capitalisation from A$300 million to A$1 billion in the next six
    years. Executive chairman, Mel Bridges, yesterday said the
    company is on track to meet its profit forecast of between A$18
    million and A$21 million this financial year. Page 21.

    -- Leading accounting bodies have called on the Federal
    Government to make the tax system more small business 'friendly.'
    In its pre-Budget submission, the Institute of Chartered
    Accountants in Australia (ICAA) says the eligibility criteria for
    tax concessions are too complicated and a burden on small
    business. Page 24.


    National Australia Bank (NAB) chief executive, John
    Stewart, yesterday reaffirmed the bank's commitment to its
    British operations, quashing speculation it would offload its two
    other United Kingdom (UK) banks following the sale of its
    National Irish Bank and Belfast's Northern Bank for A$2.5
    billion. Mr Stewart said the UK remained 'an attractive market'
    for NAB as it was 'three times the size of the Australian banking
    market and offers growth opportunities not available to our
    Australian competitors.' Page 19.

    -- Lion Nathan yesterday stated that its beer sales
    in Australia and New Zealand were suffering from price
    competition, a drop in demand for tap beer and poor weather. The
    trans-Tasman brewer said it had experienced a solid start to the
    year, but that challenging trading conditions at the end of the
    first quarter had seen beer volumes fall compared with the same
    period last year. The disclosure saw Lion Nathan's shareprice
    fall A58 cents, or 7.1 per cent, to A$7.57. Page 19.

    -- Southcorp's board has elected to forgo the
    services of an independent expert and asked consultancy group,
    Bain & Company, to come up with a 'strategic valuation' for the
    company as part of its defence against Foster's Group's A$3.1
    billion takeover attempt. Market sources yesterday said Bain was
    working on a 'synergistic and strategic' valuation, to be
    included in Southcorp's target's statement, that would value the
    winemaker above Foster's A$4.17-a-share offer. Page 19.

    -- Macquarie Bank is part of a consortium holding
    talks with New York State on proposals to rebuild the Tappan Zee
    Bridge, part of the New York State Thruway, and manage it under a
    long-term lease. New York State Governor, George Pataki,
    has held talks with Macquarie in recent months on a possible
    replacement for Tappan Zee Bridge and the possible privatisation
    of the Second Avenue underground rail line. Page 20.

    -- Regional pay television operator, Austar, yesterday
    reported a net profit of A$1.8 million for the year to December
    31, lower than market expectations, with a quarterly breakdown
    showing the company's aggressive marketing drive reduced its
    gross margin and slowed total revenue growth. However, chief
    executive, John Porter, said the marketing drive had put the
    company on track to meet a forecast net profit of A$10.8 million
    by June 30 this year and had increased earnings-per-subscriber
    from A$56.45 last year to A$62.02 this year. Page 21.

    -- THE AGE (

    The trial of, Rodney Adler, began yesterday, with the former
    FAI Insurance chief executive and HIH Insurance director facing
    three counts of alleged market manipulation and two counts of
    allegedly making false and misleading statements. All of the
    charges relate to the purchase of 3.25 million HIH shares in June
    2000, nine months prior to the collapse of HIH. Page B1.

    -- Telstra's shareprice rose A6 cents to close at
    A$5.16 yesterday after hitting an intra-day high of A$5.18, its
    highest level in two-and-a-half years. Analysts said the shares,
    which have appreciated six per cent in the past week, were rising
    in response to fund managers reweighting their portfolios with
    yield stocks and expectations of a good first-half result for the
    telecommunications company. Page B1.

    -- Draft Federal Government legislation released yesterday
    would enable as few as 20 shareholders to put an item on the
    agenda of a company's annual meeting, but would require five per
    cent of voting shares to call an extraordinary meeting.
    Parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer, Chris Pearce, said the
    100-shareholder rule would be scrapped as it gave undue influence
    to small groups of shareholders. Page B2.

    -- The latest Cashcard Retail Activity Index has shown that
    Australians reverted to normal spending patterns in January, with
    nationwide retail spending falling 1.2 per cent to almost A$900
    million. First Data International managing director, Greg Nash,
    said the fall in retail spending was in line with post-Christmas
    period trends, with the higher fall in average spending
    attributable to the 'higher than average level of spending around
    the country during the month of December 2004.' Page B2.

    -- Mincor Resources' shareprice rose A5 cents to A75
    cents yesterday as the Kambalda nickel miner continued its
    turnaround with another month of strong production figures.
    Managing director, David Moore, said more than 1100 tonnes of
    nickel metal had been extracted from Mincor's new Miitel and
    Redross mines in January, with the strong performance
    demonstrating the success of the company's operational
    restructure last year. Page B2.

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    ((Reuters Sydney Newsroom, 61-2 9373 1800,
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    (c) Reuters Limited 2005
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