Press digest australian business news feb 17

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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)The emergence of competing market operators and the burden of technology investments will force small brokers to either merge or close down operations, Australian Securities Exchange chief executive Elmer Funke Kuppe said yesterday. "The new market structure puts enormous pressure on the smaller brokers  In order to compete in this world they need to make serious investment in technology and resources and you need to be able to recover the higher compliance costs that come with added complexity," Mr Funke Kupper said. Page 39.- - - - Food manufacturer Goodman Fielder suffered a 77 percent fall in its first-half profits, leading chief executive Chris Delaney to join calls for the appointment of an industry ombudsman as the challenging Australian grocery market forced the company to cancel its interim dividend. "The proposal that's been put forward by the Australian Food and Grocery Council to make sure there are fair trading practices in our industry is a smart one and we do have to recognise there are retailers with significant concentration here," Mr Delaney said. Page 40.- - - - The resources division of diversified retailer Wesfarmers has come under pressure from softening coal prices, managing director Richard Goyder said yesterday. "Export coal prices have come off a bit and there is downward pressure of those prices at the moment," Mr Goyder said. The coal division of Wesfarmers recorded a flat earnings for the half-year of A$250 million. Page 41.- - - - Rail operator QR National could sell part of its existing operations or use its existing cash to buy some of the shares currently owned by the Queensland government. Confirming that they would be interested in the government's remaining 34 percent stake, QR National chief executive Lance Hockridge said they "would consider a wide range of options" and they were "actively engaged" in maintaining a healthy balance sheet. Page 42.- - - - THE AUSTRALIAN (this site)Westpac Banking Corporation chief executive Gail Kelly and her team of executives had already decided to raise interest rates before the Reserve Bank of Australia left rates on hold last week. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group were the first to raise their interest rates, citing higher funding costs as the rationale, but Westpac followed shortly after. "We were expecting the ANZ to make an announcement  but we were prepared on the same day to make our own decision in an environment where we thought it was necessary to take a leadership position to indicate that this was an industry issue," Ms Kelly said. Page 19.- - - -

The chief financial officer for Westpac Banking Corporation, Phil Coffey, said that dividend payouts in the banking sector would be vulnerable if the higher costs of funding were not offset by a rise in interest rates. "It goes back to what is the marginal return on a new loan  if it isn't profitable then overall profitability will decline  the banks overall have done a good job to get the balance right and maintain dividends," Mr Coffey said yesterday. Page 19.- - - - The largest private employer in Australia, diversified retailer Wesfarmers, has bucked the trend in the jobs market and revealed it would look to increase its staff levels as it expands its retail operations. "My hope would be that on a net basis we will increase employment here at Wesfarmers  to expand our retail networks, we'll employ more people," Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder said. Page 19.- - - - Plans to overhaul struggling surfwear retailer Billabong International in response to its current low share price and an impending strategic review of its capital structure are under threat from private equity. With United States-based TPG lining up a A$765 million bid for the group and reports of another interest party, believed to be Pacific Equity Partners, also circling, observers believe chief executive of Billabong, Gordon Merchant, is fighting off the attempts to acquire the company. Page 19.- - - -

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (this site)In his first speech as deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Philip Lowe yesterday said that despite the difficulty of perceiving the impact on a daily basis there was "a chain that links the investment boom in the Pilbara and in Queensland to the increase in spending at cafes and restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney". The high Australian dollar was damaging manufacturing, tourism and education but the net effect was difficult to ascertain and the RBA would be "carefully examining every piece of data that comes in for insight," Mr Lowe added. Page B1.- - - - Petroleum company Caltex wiped A$1.5 billion off the combined value of its Kurnell refinery in Sydney and Lytton refinery in Brisbane with the future of both operations uncertain. The decision could lead to the loss of 1500 jobs with Caltex looking to focus on marketing and distribution channels that have enjoyed solid growth rather than the under-pressure refining business. Page B3.- - - - Legislation on restricted no-go zones that would prevent mining on agricultural land in New South Wales and Queensland would have "unintended consequences" according to Whitehaven Coal managing director Tony Haggarty. A A$5.5 billion project between Whitehaven and Nathan Tinkler's Aston Resources at the Sienna coal prospect in Queensland could be affected by the strategic laws protecting cropping land. "It's not clear where that legislation is going to end up  we're certainly not assuming it rules out that development," Mr Haggarty said. Page B6 .- - - -

The number of people reading magazines and newspapers declined in the second half of 2011 but media conglomerate Fairfax Media attempted to highlight the broader audience reach across online and print platforms via a new audience measurement. "These are the numbers that matter  when it comes to printed newspaper product, it's readership data that genuinely count, and these latest figures show Fairfax Metro Media mastheads eclipsing our competition across our key target markets," Fairfax Metro Media chief executive Jack Matthews said. Page B8.- - - - THE AGE (this site)By saying they were to blame for their own low margins Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder restarted the verbal war with food manufacturers, defending the conglomerates continued profitability on the grounds that Coles had reinvigorated the market and therefore volumes for suppliers. A long standing lack of investment by grocery manufacturers in their own brands was to blame, Mr Goyder said, rubbishing any suggestion that an industry ombudsman was needed. "The call from the Australian Food and Grocery Council for an ombudsman is frankly a joke," Mr Goyder said. Page B1.- - - - Qantas has revealed a cost-cutting drive that will reduce spending by A$700 million by consolidating its maintenance and catering operations. The airline also confirmed it would cut 500 jobs as progress on an ultra-premium airline in south-east Asia stalls. Speaking about the joint-venture with Malaysia Airlines, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was reserved on this strategy for turning around its international operations. "There are a lot of other factors that come into it and I can guarantee that they are all being considered, along with the capital requirement on this," Mr Joyce said. Page B3.- - - - The A$14.6 billion acquisition of rival AXA Asia Pacific had not lost its sense in light of the financial crisis in Europe, chief executive of wealth management group AMP, Craig Dunn, said yesterday. "Getting an opportunity to merge with AXA - that doesn't come along very often," Mr Dunn said in assessing the bringing together of the two wealth management groups. Page B4.- - - - After a three year investigation into Kleenmaid directors Andrew and Bradley Young and co-director Gary Armstrong, the trial into the insolvent whitegoods company was going to be a "long, arduous, drawn out procedure" according to the Young's barrister John Rivett. Charged with over 20 counts of fraud relating to the A$100 million collapse of Kleenmaid, the Youngs "did everything in their power to try and save it from this situation  they are suffering too  they've both gone bankrupt  they're both having to work for a living," Mr Rivett stated outside the court. Page B6.- - - -