press digest-australian business news - march 3

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    PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - March 3
    06:33, Thursday, 3 March 2005

    (Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors)

    THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (www.afr.com)

    Fonterra yesterday upped its takeover bid for National Foods
    , four months after its initial bid. The new two-tiered
    bid offers NatFoods shareholders A$6 per share, with the price
    rising to A$6.20 per share if Fonterra succeeds in reaching 90
    percent of acceptances. The new bid by the New Zealand dairy
    cooperative puts pressure on rival bidder, Philippines-based San
    Miguel Corporation , which is currently offering A$5.90
    per share. Page 18.

    --

    Telstra is reportedly close to announcing its
    replacement for outgoing chief executive, Ziggy Switkowski, with
    sources indicating that the shortlist is down to six candidates.
    It is not known how many of those are internal candidates. At
    least one Australian overseas is understood to have turned down
    the role, believing that increasing revenue in Australia's
    competitive telecommunications market is unachievable. Page 19.

    --

    The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has
    rejected Pacific Brands' application to buy Joyce Corp
    , the second largest player in Australia's foam market,
    asserting that any merger between the two would lessen
    competition in the sector. ACCC chairman, Graeme Samuel, said a
    merger of the two companies could not be allowed as they 'are
    each other's most significant market constraint.' Page 20.

    --

    The heads of Australia's two main pay-television providers,
    Foxtel and Austar, have called on the Federal Government to
    provide increased support in fostering the development of the
    industry and reducing piracy. Foxtel chief executive, Kim
    Williams, said Australia's anti-siphoning rules had to be
    substantially reviewed and modified and that the Commonwealth
    must acknowledge that piracy was 'straight-out theft.' Page 21.

    --

    A dispute between Telstra and the Communication Electrical
    and Plumbing Union (CEPU) could reach the Industrial Relations
    Commission if the telecommunications company fails to clarify a
    company policy of mitigating the adverse effects of staff
    retrenchments. CEPU has expressed concern that Telstra's plan to
    make 22 people at its global operations centre (GOC) redundant
    could affect the quality of the company's network. The GOC is
    Telstra's mission-critical, 24-hour national network monitoring
    facility. Page 21.

    --

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

    Swiss-based miner, Xstrata , yesterday moved to end
    speculation about possible rivals for its A$8.4 billion bid for
    WMC Resources by declaring its bid unconditional.
    Rumours of a potential rival bid have left Xstrata with
    acceptances representing just 0.1 per cent of WMC shares four
    months after the bid was announced, despite no rival emerging.
    Xstrata is reportedly hoping that dropping its bid conditions
    will lead to a flow of new acceptances, putting pressure on any
    rival to move to pre-empt it gaining a 10 percent blocking stake.
    Page 27.

    --

    HBOS Australia's aggressive local growth strategy
    has paid off, with the British-owned bank yesterday announcing a
    17 percent rise in profits to A$506 million for the 2004 calendar
    year. The bank's deposit book rose 28 per cent to A$15.1 billion
    through its high-yield Internet offering, but interest margins
    fell 10 basis points due to pressure on wholesale funding. HBOS
    Australia chief executive, David Willis, said the profit
    reflected the British parent's sizeable investment in the local
    arm. Page 27.

    --

    Joyce Corporation chairman, Dan Smetana, yesterday criticised
    the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for
    blocking moves by Pacific Brands to acquire Joyce's foam
    business. Mr Smetana argued that the ACCC's assertion that a
    merger would reduce competition was incorrect as the foam
    industry had 12 other local competitors and faced increased
    foreign competition. 'The decision reflects the Government's
    bureaucratic malevolence to the strategic future of our nation,'
    claimed Mr Smetana. Page 27.

    --

    New Australian Pipeline Industry Association (APIA) chief
    executive, Cheryl Cartwright, yesterday said her primary aim in
    the near future would be convincing the community and governments
    of the importance of pipelines. Cartwright said she also intended
    to push the Federal Government to implement the findings of last
    year's Productivity Commission report into the gas-access regime,
    which recommended the sidelining of the Australian Competition
    and Consumer Commission in establishing gas transportation
    tariffs. Page 27.

    --

    InfoChoice general manager, Denis Orrock, yesterday said the
    Reserve Bank of Australia's decision to increase official
    interest rates by 0.25 per cent would be welcomed by retirees,
    particularly if they had cash-based investments. Macquarie Bank
    fixed interest manager, Jill Plebin, said the rise in
    official rates would make pensioners' cash deposits 'even more
    competitive against other fixed interest style investments with
    credit risks.' Page 28.

    --

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

    WMC Resources chief executive, Andrew Michelmore, yesterday
    urged shareholders not to 'rush' into accepting Xstrata's A$8.4
    billion takeover offer, despite the Swiss-based miner making its
    offer unconditional. Michelmore said shareholders should 'be
    wary about locking their shares away in Xstrata's A$7 bid,
    particularly with regard to the current share price' of A$7.51.
    Mr Michelmore has maintained that several unnamed parties are
    interested in bidding for WMC's Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine.

    Page 25.

    --

    The value of the Australian dollar fell yesterday following
    the release of gross domestic product figures showing growth of
    just 0.1 per cent in the December quarter and 1.5 per cent for
    2004. National Australia Bank economist, Richard Grace, said the
    low growth figures reduced the likelihood of additional interest
    rate rises, which would in turn soften demand for the dollar.
    Grace said a likely rise in United States interest rates later
    this month would put further downward pressure on the Australian
    dollar, which closed at US78.17 cents yesterday, down from
    Tuesday's close of US78.77 cents. Page 25.

    --

    Just Group yesterday announced that it was on track
    to meet full-year earnings forecasts after reporting a 33 per
    cent rise in interim net profit driven by improved design and
    firm sales. Managing director, Howard McDonald, said the group
    was set to deliver full year earnings before interest, tax and
    amortisation of more than A$80 million, above prospectus
    forecasts of A$73 million. The clothing retailer posted a net
    profit for the 26 weeks to January 29 of A$28.02 million, up from
    A$21.10 million in the previous corresponding period. Page 26.

    --

    Two former senior HIH Insurance managers, Charles Abbott and
    Geoffrey Trahair, yesterday had their careers in insurance
    terminated when the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority
    disqualified them from involvement in the management or
    directorship of a general insurer. Page 27.

    --

    THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

    Westpac Banking Group chief executive, David Morgan,
    yesterday said the bank was on track to deliver strong earnings,
    despite a fall in its share of the home lending market. Dr Morgan
    said Westpac had been the best-performing bank for four years and
    would continue to outperform its peers. Westpac yesterday
    announced that it would cut its two-year fixed home loan rate by
    20 basis points, a move analysts said was designed to increase its
    market share as home owners moved to fixed-rate loans
    following this week's official interest rate rise. Page B2.

    --

    Telstra chairman, Donald McGauchie, yesterday asserted that
    the telecommunications company was on track to announce a new
    chief executive by the time outgoing chief executive, Ziggy
    Switkowski, departs in June or July this year. 'We are very much
    right on the timetable we set out before Christmas,' said Mr
    McGauchie, who is promoting Telstra's rural services prior to the
    company's full privatisation. 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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