Unemployment steady at 5.4%, HTC countersues Apple: Economy Roundup

The unemployment rate remained steady at a seasonally-adjusted 5.4% in April, according to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with 33,700 full-time jobs added to the economy during that month.

The ABS figures show the jobless rate remained steady in both trend estimates and seasonally-adjusted figures, and that the participation rate remained at 65.2%.

Employment increased in full-time work by 37,500 to 7,735,500, while part-time employment actually decreased by 3,900 jobs to 3,290,000.

The number of people looking for full-time work increased by 7,700 to 451,000 and the amount of people looking for part-time work fell by 1,300 to 177,000.

Aggregate monthly hours worked fell by 8.3 million hours, or 0.5%, to 1.5 billion hours.

Optus profits rise

Telco giant Optus has recorded a 16% rise in net profit to $676 million for the full financial year ending March 31, recording its strongest fourth quarter in five years for mobile growth.

The company said revenue rose by 8% to $8.95 billion, with EBITDA rising 4% to $2.15 billion. EBITDA margin was 24.1%, the company said.

“Optus’ strategy to provide innovative, value driven offers as well as exceptional customer experience is clearly reaping results with six consecutive quarters of double-digit mobile service revenue growth, the strongest quarter for new mobile customer additions in five years,” Optus chief executive Paul O’Sullivan said in a statement.

For the fourth quarter alone, revenue rose by 6% to $2.23 billion, with EBITDA rising 5% to $610 million. Net profit was up 14% to $220 million, while cashflow was $399 million.

Mobile service revenue increased by 11%, along with an EBITDA margin of 30%, the company said. About 254,000 new mobile customers signed on – the strongest quarterly growth in five years.

Sigma Pharmaceuticals chief financial officer Mark Smith has resigned from his position within the company saying he wishes to pursue other interests.

The announcement comes after Sigma chief executive Elmo De Alwis announced his own resignation last month. He had suffered criticism regarding the company’s $390 million loss.

Smith will be replaced for now by KPMG partner Mark Watson, and will act in that role until the board has found a suitable replacement.

“The Board will advise further on the outcome of its search as soon as it is completed,” Sigma said in a statement.

Shares higher as sentiment grows for Europe bailout

Meanwhile, the Australian sharemarket has opened over 1% higher today as investors continue to ride off solid results from overseas markets and the development of a financial bailout package for Greece.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 59 points or 1.29% to 4632.1 at 12.10 AEST, while the Australian dollar also opened slightly higher to US90c.

Commonwealth Bank shares rose 0.1% to $54.34, while Westpac shares increased 1.1% to $25.14. AMP rose 2.1% to $5.96 as NAB shares rose by 1.1% to $25.74.

AMP’s proposed merger with AXA Asia Pacific Holdings still remains an attractive deal, chief executive Craig Dunn has said.

Speaking at the company’s annual general meeting, Dunn said the merger would accelerate AMP’s own strategies for growth.

“We were pleased that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decided that competition in the Australian financial services sector would be best served by our proposal,” Dunn said.

“This transaction still has some way to go, and our immediate focus is to work through the relevant regulatory matters.”

AMP chairman Peter Mason said the market has changed since November, when the bid was first made, but that the benefits of the deal still remain the same.

“We strongly believe that a merger between AMP and Axa in Australia and New Zealand would create the strong, non-bank financial services competitor that consumers deserve,” Mason said at the meeting.

Property company GPT Group will soon enter talks with lawyers representing security holders in order to resolve an argument due to the crash of the company’s security value in 2008.

“As previously advised in 2008, Slater and Gordon Lawyers announced an intention to bring a representative class action against the GPT Group on behalf of certain investors who acquired GPT Securities in the period between February 28, 2008 and July 7, 2008,” GPT said in its statement.

“While no proceedings have been commenced, GPT has now been invited to enter into discussions, on a without prejudice basis, with Slater and Gordon in relation to these matters, failing which Slater and Gordon advise they have been instructed to commence proceedings.”

In Canberra, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is set to make his reply to the Federal Budget tonight, in a speech that could deliver some possible incentive for votes in the November Election.

Abbott will respond to the Government’s bare-bones plan for the 2010-11 financial year, with finance minister Lindsay Tanner egging him on to come up with “specific, costed savings”.

HTC files countersuit against Apple

Overseas, handset manufacturer HTC has filed a patent infringement case against Apple and has requested the International Trade Commission ban sales of iPhones, iPads and iPods. It comes in response to Apple’s own suit, which claims HTC has used patents for manufacturing Google Android handsets.

HTC is the fourth-largest manufacturer of smartphones currently, and has achieved solid success with the distribution of Android phones.

In the US, the Federal Government has posted a $US82.69 billion deficit in April, about four times the figure recorded last year. Economists are mixed, with some saying they expected a smaller figure, while others suggest forecasts for a $US1.5 trillion deficit this year should not go unchanged.

On Wall Street, stocks have continued to rise due to greater sentiment in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 148.65 points or 1.38% to 10,896.91.

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