The Australian economy is expected to continue softening, with
sales and profit expectations falling to their lowest since the
1991 recession and data showing home lending is still falling. But with signs that demand for new housing is picking up,
particularly for first-home buyers, economists say that underlying
demand for housing remained firm, reports The Age.

The funds management industry is lobbying for exemptions from tough
accounting rules that may reveal the salary packages of Australia’s top
fund managers for the first time, reports the Fin Review. Disclosure rules applying to directors and executives of listed companies will this year be extended to managed funds.

The Smagereports that James Hardie shares are within a whisker of an all-time high,
indicating 21 months of uncertainty about the company’s potential
asbestos bill could soon give way to optimism about Hardie’s
growing penetration in the US. Shares in the company rose 16c to $7.76 yesterday, just short of
their 22 October 2003 high of $7.81. Also in theSmage, the number of do-it-yourself superannuation funds operating in
Australia could swell from 300,000 to half a million within two
years, says economist Don Stammer, despite fears that a recent crackdown from the Tax
Office could dampen enthusiasm for the products.

The Australian reports that the nation’s second-biggest aged care company
DCA has almost doubled the number of beds under its control after
paying private equity investors($270 million for New
Zealand’s market leader Guardian Healthcare Group.

On Wall Street, US stocks gained for a third consecutive session
overnight, as a drop in oil and optimism
about earnings combined to boost investor sentiment. The Dow Jones rose
70.58 points to 10,519 – MarketWatch has a full story here.

Peter Fray

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