Housing commitments drop 3.4% in February, Takeovers hot up: Economy Roundup

The seasonally-adjusted value of housing loans, excluding loans for alterations and additions, decreased by 3.4% to $20.4 million in February, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The figures show that the value of commitments for owner-occupied housing dropped 4.4% to $14 million, with the value of fixed loans dropping 1.1% to $6.4 million.

The number of dwelling commitments for owner occupied housing fell 1.8% to 50,287, with the number of new dwelling constructions dropping by 3% to 6,446.

Purchases of new dwellings increased by 0.7% to 2,174, while the number of purchases of established dwellings fell by 1.8% to 41,667.

Meanwhile, wholesale voice and data provider Vocus Communications has announced it will be acquired by First Opportunity Fund Limited, an ASX-listed fund managed by Investec Wentworth Private Equity.

The purchase price of $20 million will be made partly through a cash payment to shareholders, while in addition the company will issue a $6 million share placement and public offer underwritten by Investec.

“This deal gives Vocus much more visibility in the marketplace and access to funds via future capital raisings. It will also allow us to grow both organically and through strategic acquisitions, improving our ability to compete for significant contracts locally and internationally,” Vocus chief executive James Spenceley said in a statement.

Investec Wentworth Private Equity executive director Jon Brett said that the “telecommunications industry, specifically internet, is growing rapidly and we expect this growth to continue as technologies converge in internet, data, voice and video media”.

“We sought an entry point that would enable FOF to benefit from this growth and the expected industry consolidation.”

Macarthur Coal has said it has not received a takeover proposal from Swiss mining group Xstrata, and announced it is seeking clarification from Noble Group regarding its voting intentions of a proposed acquisition from Gloucester Coal.

In a statement to the ASX, Macarthur has said it is looking to see whether Noble, along with its major shareholders CITIC Group, ArcelorMittal SA and POSCO, have made a decision on their voting intentions.

The company also said it would write to Peabody Energy Corporation and New Corporation, both of which are seeking to acquire Macarthur, “asking them whether they are aware of any other information which may be material to Macarthur shareholders’ decision as to whether or not to vote in favour of the resolution at the EGM”.

Shares closer to 5,000 after good results on Wall Street

The Australian sharemarket has edged closer to the 5,000-point mark after good results in the United States tipped the Dow over 11,000 points.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 29 points or 0.6% to 4977.2 at 12.05 AEST, while the Australian dollar was also given a push from news in Greece regarding a debt bailout package, with the exchange rate moving to US94c.

ANZ shares gained 0.7% to $25.33, as Commonwealth Bank shares gained 0.7% to $58.53. NAB shares rose 0.5% to $27.75 as Westpac also lifted 0.8% to $27.95.

As reported by The Australian, Telstra is expected to appoint chief financial officer John Stanhope as a director of pay-TV operator Foxtel in an effort to reduce concerns the company is under-represented on the board.

Meanwhile, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will make routine inquiries into the case of four Rio Tinto executives found guilty of bribery and stealing state secrets in China, its chairman has said.

In an interview on ABC Television’s Inside Business, chairman Ton D’Aloisio has said the regulator will examine if there are any domestic ramifications following the court case.

“As you would in any situation where you’ve got a listed company that may be involved in or there may be concerns around breaches of law… you need to look at whether it has any domestic implications for us and we’re clearly looking at whether there are any,” he said.

“…On the face of it, it doesn’t look like that appears to be the case but we’re at the moment making routine inquiries.”

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Nufarm has said the tender offered by Sumitomo Chemical Company to acquire up to 20% of the total issued shares in the company has now become unconditional.

The company said a large number of Nufarm shareholders had accepted the offer, and that it has not received any regulation notices in opposition to the move.

Euro approves Greek debt relief

Overseas, Euro zone finance ministers have approved billions in emergency aid for Greece over the weekend, but they moved to emphasise that the country has not requested the country approve the activation of the plan just yet.

“With today’s decision, Europe sends a very clear message that no one, any longer, can play with our common currency, no one can play with our common fate,” Greece’s prime minister George Papandreou said in a statement.

Additionally, International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn also said the IMF stands ready to assist the company.

“The IMF stands ready to join the effort, including through a multi-year stand-by arrangement, to the extent needed and requested by the Greek authorities,” he said in a statement.

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