Harvey Norman shares fall as profits plummet 25%: Midday roundup

Harvey Norman’s pre-tax profit for the first nine months of the financial year is down 25% as sales continued to fall in the first quarter.

The company said its profit before tax and minority interests for the nine months to March 31 was $204.8 million, down from $272.3 million in the previous corresponding period.

Harvey Norman said technology categories continued to be affected by a decline in average selling price, attributable to the high Australian dollar and intense competitor activity.

The company’s shares have fallen as much as 5% this morning, and were trading at $1.99 at 12.00 AEST.

James Hardie directors lose High Court battle

The High Court has ruled seven former non-executive directors of James Hardie misled the ASX about a compensation fund for asbestos victims.

In 2001 James Hardie announced the compensation fund had been established for victims and that it was fully funded, but two years later it was found to be underfunded by $1 billion.

The New South Wales Supreme Court in 2009 found the directors misled the exchange, although that ruling was overturned. The full bench of the High Court finally heard an appeal by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last year. It has ruled in ASIC’s favour.

The High Court also dismissed an appeal by James Hardie company secretary Peter James Shafron, and held that Shafron had broken the Corporations Act by neglecting to discharge his duties as an officer of the company.

The High Court has referred the case to the NSW Court of Appeal to deal with issues of liability, penalty and disqualification.

Little change in stock market

The Australian sharemarket opened little changed following weak leads from the US and Europe overnight.

At the official market opening, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index inched up 0.11% to 4,441.2 points and the broader All Ordinaries Index edged 0.07% higher to 4,508.3 points.

SME confidence still weak, quarterly survey shows

Confidence and conditions among SMEs have remained unchanged, and are still at low levels, according to the latest results from the NAB Quarterly SME Business Survey for the March quarter.

The survey found that confidence was slightly weaker in the March quarter, although it’s still better than the sentiment recorded in the September quarter last year.

Business conditions have also improved in the quarter, although they remain quite weak overall.

On an industry-by-industry basis, confidence improved in finance, and there was some relief for retail, accommodation, and cafes and restaurants, although it weakened in transport, property services and manufacturing.

Conditions also improved in transport, property, health and wholesale.

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