press digest-australian business news - mar 2

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Mar 2
    06:59, Wednesday, 2 March 2005

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

    The Australian Services Union (ASU), which covers one-third
    of the Qantas Airways 30,000 workforce, says middle
    management should be the focus of the airline's latest
    cost-cutting review. Qantas confirmed yesterday that the review
    would lead to redundancies. ASU assistant national secretary,
    Linda White, said union members had already made massive work
    practices changes and accepted minimal wage rises to ensure
    Qantas' viability. 'They can't flog the people at the bottom any
    more,' she said. Page 14.

    --

    Brisbane-based gaming company, Unitab , yesterday
    announced that it will trial the new racing broadcaster,
    ThoroughVisioN (TVN), at 50 of its 230 betting outlets in
    Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. TVN,
    formed by the major racing clubs in Victoria and New South Wales,
    is seeking to wrest exclusive television rights to Sydney and
    Melbourne race meetings from Sky Channel, owned by
    Melbourne-based gaming group, Tabcorp . Sydney race
    clubs have already elected to give TVN exclusive rights. Page
    14.

    --

    HSBC Bank experienced a 40 per cent increase in
    property-related lending in 2004, but pre-tax profit in
    Australian and New Zealand operations declined by 10 per cent to
    A$110 million because of restructuring costs, according to the
    annual report of parent company, HSBC Holdings plc. The region
    HSBC calls 'Rest of Asia Pacific,' which includes Australia and
    New Zealand, was the bank's lowest contributor to profits despite
    having the strongest growth in income, at 23.4 per cent. Page
    55.

    --

    Venture capital firm, Quadrant Capital, has bought a A$20
    million stake in Choice Home Loans, marking a new stage in the
    consolidation of the mortgage-broking industry. Choice Home
    Loans estimates it is Australia's fifth-largest broker and
    aggregator, with a loan book worth A$7 billion. Managing
    director, Michael Russell, said the Quadrant deal would allow the
    company to 'expand more aggressively.' Page 55.

    --

    QBE Insurance Group announced yesterday it had
    purchased Colombian general insurer, Central de Seguros, and
    Greenhill Underwriting Group, which operates in France, Germany
    and Spain. QBE did not disclose prices, but said the two
    acquisitions would generate approximately A$150 million of
    annualised gross written premium. QBE's total gross written
    premium in 2004 was A$8.8 billion. Page 55.

    --



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

    Grocery wholesaler and retailer, Foodland Australia ,
    has begun a A$2 billion spin-off of its New Zealand operations as
    part of its defence against the hostile takeover bid by rival,
    Metcash Trading . Foodland chairman, Len Bleasel, said
    yesterday the demerger would help to 'protect and realise' the
    strategic value of shareholders' investments. Foodland formally
    rejected the complex Metcash offer, saying it fell at least A$200
    million short of an independent valuation by consultants, Grant
    Samuel. Page 31.

    --

    Investors yesterday offered a strong endorsement of the
    growth strategy of supermarket giant, Woolworths ,
    pushing the shareprice to a new record high of A$15.96. The
    shares rose A40 cents, or 2.6 per cent, following the company's
    announcement on Monday of a 13.7 per cent increase in first-half
    profit to A$440.9 million. Analysts particularly welcomed new
    cost saving measures and the strong outlook for growth in liquor
    sales. Page 31.

    --

    Fletcher Building , New Zealand's biggest building
    materials company, has bought the Australian Amatek group, made
    up of four businesses: Rocla Pipeline, Rocla Quarry, Stramit and
    Insulation Solutions. The purchase will make Fletcher the
    biggest manufacturer of fibreglass insulation in Australasia.
    Fletcher shares were suspended from trading yesterday pending a
    placement of 20 million new shares to help pay for the deal.
    Page 33.

    --

    Office products group, Corporate Express Australia ,
    announced yesterday it would buy back up to A$50 million of its
    shares, representing five per cent of issued capital, through an
    off-market tender. Shareholders may offer to sell their shares
    at one or more prices in a range from A$4.70 to A$5.90 a share,
    or at the final buyback price. The difference between the final
    buyback price and A30 cents a share will be treated as a fully
    franked dividend for taxation purposes. Page 33.

    --



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

    A A$50 million indemnity offered to construction group,
    Multiplex , by its controlling shareholders, the Roberts
    family, has sparked a strong recovery in the price of its
    securities. Multiplex securities lost more than 19 per cent of
    their value last week after a A$68 million write-off on two
    projects in London. After the indemnity offer on Monday, the
    securities recovered A11 cents, and yesterday they added a
    further A12 cents to close at A$4.73. Page 21.

    --

    National Australia Bank completed the sale of its
    Irish banks yesterday, for a net return of A$1.8 billion. The
    proceeds are expected to be used to improve NAB's capital
    position rather than be returned to shareholders. NAB could have
    a A$3.2 billion hole in its capital base under new reporting
    standards proposed last week by the Australian Prudential
    Regulation Authority (APRA). A bank spokesman said yesterday the
    new rules were still under discussion with APRA. Page 23.

    --

    An independent expert's report valuing Virgin Blue
    airline shares at between A$2.43 and A$2.90 failed to impress
    investors yesterday and the shares fell A2 cents to close at
    A$2.01. Patrick Corp , the airline's biggest
    shareholder, has made a takeover offer of A$1.90 a share. Virgin
    Blue has announced two profit downgrades in recent months and
    analysts say the full-year result will suffer from last week's
    disruption at Melbourne Airport, caused by a gas leak. Page 24.

    --



    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    Federal Court restraining orders have upset plans by the
    Gillette group to launch a A$10 million Australian promotion of
    its new vibrating razor, known as M3Power. The orders were
    obtained by United States group, Energizer, which owns Gillette's
    major competitor, Schick. In overseas promotions, Gillette says
    the M3Power generates micro-pulses that raise hair away from the
    skin for closer shaving. Energizer disputes the claim and is
    seeking a full hearing in the Federal Court. Page B1.

    --

    The value of Australian commodity exports is likely to
    increase by A$32 billion, or almost 40 per cent, in the next two
    years, according to estimates released yesterday by the
    Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. The
    Bureau said the growth would be predominantly in iron ore and
    coal. It said coking coal exports were expected to treble to
    A$18.4 billion by 2005-06 and iron ore to more than double, to
    A$12.9 billion. Page B2.

    --

    Competition for bigger shares of the mortgage market has
    resulted in lenders lowering their credit standards and
    increasing the risk of default by borrowers, Australian
    Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) chairman, John Laker,
    warned yesterday. Dr Laker said that lenders who failed to
    manage operational risk prudently could face higher capital
    costs. APRA has estimated that 15-20 per cent of mortgage
    lending is now by way of 'low-doc,' or 'self certification,'
    loans. 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]))

    (c) Reuters Limited 2005
    REUTER NEWS SERVICE
 
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