PRESS DIGEST-Australian Business News - Aug 22

by Reuters
Tuesday, 21 August 2012 21:14 GMT

Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (www.afr.com)

Mining magnate Clive Palmer yesterday publicly supported the right of Chinese corporations to renegotiate for lower prices when acquiring Australian companies, with the billionaire attempting to revive an A${esc.dollar}8 billion loan from China's Export-Import Bank to help finance a coal venture in Queensland's Galilee Basin mining district. "

They [the Chinese] are going to take advantage of all the opportunities to bring the prices down and buy more resources at this point in the cycle," Mr Palmer added. Page 17.

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Media investment group Consolidated Media Holdings yesterday reported a A${esc.dollar}16 million slump in its full-year net profit to A${esc.dollar}86 million.

Observers, however, noted that the company's operating net profit climbed by A${esc.dollar}2 million to A${esc.dollar}98 million after subtracting expenses from pay television network Foxtel's takeover of rival Austar United Communications earlier this year, including fees arising from the recent separation of conglomerate Publishing and Broadcasting Limited. Page 17.

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Qantas Airways has won back the Accenture and NBN Co corporate passenger accounts from rival Virgin Australia, after the national carrier heavily discounted its proposition. Sources added that Qantas undercut Virgin to win the tender, a move that one aviation observer described as a "scorched earth" policy.

"The market wants to see them maintain or win market share without paying for it through discounting," Matt Crowe, analyst at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said. Page 19.

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Richard Goyder, managing director of Wesfarmers, yesterday announced that the conglomerate would embark on more acquisitions after allowing for a A${esc.dollar}2 billion capital injection.

He added that the company's balance sheet was so strong that it could repay its A${esc.dollar}5 billion in net debt from its yearly operating cash flows. "We could comfortably be able to pay debt during any one year through operating cash flows, which is a great position for a business to be in, large or small," Mr Goyder noted. Page 19.

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

The Kerry Stokes and James Packer-backed Consolidated Media Holdings (ConsMedia) media investment group expects to finalise a A${esc.dollar}2 billion takeover offer from media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Limited conglomerate within the next month and a half.

The expectation comes after pay television network Fox Sports, which ConsMedia owns 50 percent of, secured rights to broadcast National Rugby League matches in a combined A${esc.dollar}1.025 billion five-year joint venture with the Nine Network. Page 19.

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Chris Bryce, chief executive of discount retail chain Reject Shop, yesterday said he was looking forward to a less stressful 12 months following the year after the company's A${esc.dollar}16.6 million automated distribution centre in Queensland was almost completely destroyed by floods.

"There were no stores unaffected by the flood - we had to service our store base out of our Melbourne distribution centres, which were unable to cope with the volume required, so all stores were short-changed on stock for the better part of 11 months," Mr Bryce added. Page 19.

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The move by telecommunications giant Telstra to streamline its business and reduce costs will see another 650 employees lose their jobs, bringing the total number of redundancies at the company to 2000 over the last 18 months.

The telco is also planning to close down its Townsville and Lismore contact centres in New South Wales under its Project New strategy, a three-year plan to make the group more forceful and competitive. Page 19.

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Iron ore and steel producer Arrium yesterday announced a full-year after tax net profit of A${esc.dollar}58 million, significantly down from A${esc.dollar}230 million the year prior due to restructuring and impairment fees.

Chief executive Geoff Plummer said that the company, formerly known as OneSteel, would embark on more cost-cutting, that may include redundancies, in its steel manufacturing division, which is on the verge of breaking even despite the impediment of the high Australian dollar and falling local demand. Page 20.

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

Fitch Ratings will today publish data showing a rise in mortgage arrears in the beachside areas of New South Wales and Queensland, with the report saying that there is "no sign of stabilisation" in Queensland's Gold Coast due to weak tourism as Australians take advantage of the high Australian dollar to holiday overseas .

"All those people that were aspiring to put their feet up at the Gold Coast and retire, a lot of them are rethinking because they've seen a halving of their share portfolio and their retirement savings aren't what they used to be," Tim Lawless, director of research at researchers RP Data, said. Page B1.

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Electricity retailer and generator ERM Power yesterday announced that it was in a strong position to acquire power assets from the New South Wales (NSW) government, after it forecast a net profit of A${esc.dollar}22 million to A${esc.dollar}26 million for the 2013 financial year.

"We see ourselves as being well positioned to become No. 4 in NSW - with friends," managing director Phillip St Baker said. The company reported a A${esc.dollar}30.3 million net profit for the 2012 financial year. Page B2.

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Shares in Sonic Healthcare yesterday fell 2.66 percent to A${esc.dollar}12.82 despite a 7.3 percent rise in profit to A${esc.dollar}316 million.

Sonic predicted growth in earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation of between 5 and 10 percent for the 2013 financial year, a forecast Sonic managing director Colin Goldschmidt said was conservative because of uncertainty in the domestic and United States markets.

Shane Storey, analyst at broker Wilson HTM, however, described the guidance as "skinny". Page B3.

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SuperRatings yesterday published a report showing that the median return for balanced superannuation funds last month was 1.1 percent, the best figure since March.

Observers say the news will be welcomed by super fund managers, with their sector under pressure as households invested more in bank deposits and bonds due to the unstable economic environment. Page B3.

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THE AGE (www.theage.com.au)

The financial accounts of steel manufacturer Arrium, formerly known as OneSteel, revealed yesterday that managing director Geoff Plummer would receive more than A${esc.dollar}3 million in remuneration for the 2012 financial year, despite the company's net profit plunging by 75 percent to A${esc.dollar}58 million.

Mr Plummer was paid A${esc.dollar}3.5 million the previous year, although observers said that figure included A${esc.dollar}1.18 million of share-based incentives, none of which were paid in 2011-12. Page B1.

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Sources yesterday revealed that the retailing sector has told the Reserve Bank of Australia that the increase in consumer spending in May and June, that was driven by the Federal Government's compensation to households for the introduction of the carbon tax, has terminated.

According to minutes of the central bank's board meetings, retailers suggested that the 0.8 percent and 1 percent retail spending increases experienced in the aforementioned months will not be replicated in the July retail figures, due for release in September. Page B3.

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Natural gas infrastructure firm APA Group has been successful in won the nine-month long auction for the Hastings Diversified Utilities Fund, after the energy infrastructure investor's parent company accepted an improved A${esc.dollar}1.4 billion offer from APA.

The cash and scrip proposal was the only remaining offer after rival suitor Pipeline Partners Australia announced it would not match APA's revised bid. Page B3.

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Mining magnate Clive Palmer yesterday declared that the Sino Iron venture being developed by Hong Kong firm CITIC Pacific, from which he will received hundreds of millions of dollars annually, will begin full production within two years despite the project's history of delays and cost overruns.

"It would be about 18 months if it were me, but CITIC will probably try and do it faster," Mr Palmer said. CITIC has previously admitted that the difficulties of adapting to the Australian environment was a challenge for its Chinese mining contractors. Page B4.

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