Press digest australian business news feb 29

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Compiled for Reuters by Media Monitors. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW (this site)Bill Boyd, resources minister for the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, yesterday said it was uncertain whether the board of global miner BHP Billiton would approve a US$10 billion-plus potash venture in the area by the end of the year. "They are certainly getting closer to making a final decision but they are not in a position in terms of disclosing that at this point," Mr Boyd said. Page 17.- - - - Shareholders in Ludowici Limited are expecting that Scottish firm Weir Group will submit a higher takeover bid for the local mineral processing equipment manufacturer, after Danish engineering firm FLSmidth's A$388 million bid received the unanimous support of Ludowici's board. FLSmidth was also ordered by the Takeovers Panel to pay compensation to shareholders who sold their shares in the last week of January, after FLSmidth's Jorgen Huno Rasmussen was quoted saying the company would not increase its offer. Page 19.- - - - Ian Campbell, chief executive of GUD Holdings, yesterday abolished plans to fully acquire kettle and coffee machine maker Breville Group after the owner of the Sunbeam brand sold its 19.3 percent holding for A$84 million. The sale brings an end to any possible takeover or merger rumours between the two appliance firms after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission prevented GUD from acquiring Breville three years ago. Page 19.- - - - Iron ore producer Atlas Iron yesterday announced that the commissioning of the South West Creek berth at Port Hedland in Western Australia would increase its exports to 22 million tonnes annually from 15 million tonnes. The news came as the junior miner revealed a 76 percent jump in underlying profit for the first half of the 2011-12 financial year to A$62.2 million thanks to a jump in exports. Page 21.- - - - THE AUSTRALIAN (this site)John Neal, the anointed replacement for Frank O'Halloran as chief executive of QBE Insurance, yesterday pledged "evolution and not revolution", with the company seeing a rise in premium rates and fewer natural disasters. The announcement came as the diversified insurer released its full-year accounts for 2011, which included a 45 percent drop in profit to US$704 million from US$1.28 billion. Page 19.- - - -

Around 80 jobs will be lost in Australia after Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) decided to outsource the majority of its local fixed-interest team operations to London and Singapore. The move is believed to be the first step in the diversified bank's move to reduce its staff numbers in Australia to 70 from 600. However, the outsourcing is separate from RBS's plan to sell off either a portion or the entirety of its equity business. Page 19.- - - - Goodman Fielder, the largest listed food group in Australia, yesterday confirmed in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange that Singaporean agribusiness Wilmar International was looking to acquire "10 percent of the issued capital" of the local firm. However, observers say the foreign firm may have to materially increase its offer price from A58 cents if it wants to acquire a larger stake, or the entirety, of Goodman. Page 19.- - - - The board of Billabong yesterday rejected an improved A$842 million takeover offer by private equity group TPG Capital, with major shareholder Gordon Merchant saying that even a 33 percent rise in TPG's bid was undervaluing the street and surf wear retailer. In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Billabong announced that "discussions between the two parties have ceased". Page 19- - - - THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (this site)

A judge in the Victorian Supreme Court yesterday warned that the credibility of Solomon Lew would be a critical part of a case where the retailing mogul is seeking a court order to reveal the beneficiaries of a Lew family trust. Mr Lew has reportedly named his three children and two of their estranged partners as defendants, but is only seeking that the court to declare the children are only beneficiaries of certain loan accounts and not the trust. Page B1.- - - - New Hope Corporation, the coal miner controlled by billionaire Robert Millner, yesterday said unnamed parties had undergone "detailed due diligence" on the company but there was no guarantee that a deal would emerge. New Hope is majority-owned by conglomerate Washington H. Soul Pattinson, and reports have hinted at a reducing level of interest for the company. Page B3.- - - - NBN Co and Telstra can finalise a historic deal to share network infrastructure after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday accepted the telecommunications group's structural separation undertaking. "There are a small number of matters left to finalise with the Government, including NBN Co shareholder approval and Telstra receiving ministerial waivers from the legislative requirements to divest our network and our share in [pay television network] Foxtel," Telstra chief executive David Thodey said. Page B4.- - - - Supermarket chain Coles has hired real estate group Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels to sell the Portadown Hotel in Queensland, Hampstead Hotel in South Australia and the Northlakes Tavern and nearby shopping centre in New South Wales. The campaign is part of the retailer's review of its hotels division, which is also exploring the possibility of forming a joint-venture agreement for the business. Page B5.

- - - - THE AGE (this site)Despite all the furore when home owners are slugged by out-of-step increases in standard variable mortgage rates, observers yesterday noted the lack of headlines dedicated towards National Australia Bank's decision to increase its "liquidity margin" on business loans by 18 basis points to 1.13 percent. The lender has come under fire from rival Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which used the announcement of NAB's increase to try to encourage customers to switch banks. Page B6.- - - - The business tax working panel created by Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan is considering rolling back tax incentives for subsidiaries of foreign corporations in a bid to assist firms in the slower sectors of the local economy. The panel will meet today to discuss methods to improve productivity before consulting with industry one last time before delivering its final report to the Treasurer next month. Page B8.- - - - The retail sector in the richer parts of Melbourne's inner east is being bolstered by a younger generation that is growing accustomed to living in apartments, observers say. Charles Emmett, executive at real estate agent Fitzroys, yesterday said many Gen Y professionals were moving into Victoria's South Yarra and Prahran areas, creating strong trade for many shopping strips such as Malvern Road, Greville Street, Toorak Road and Chapel Street. "Retailers are recognising the long-term value in these locations," Mr Emmett added. Page B12.- - - - The Railway Hotel in West Melbourne, Victoria, has been sold to a private developer for A$2.165 million through real estate group CB Richard Ellis' Scott Callow. According to Mr Callow, the hotel, which has a bar, dining room, 26 rooms and a beer garden, would benefit from being situated on the fringe of the state's capital. "West Melbourne has undergone as significant transformation in recent years, as residential developments have replaced former light industrial properties," Mr Callow added. Page B14.- - - -