National Australia Bank has vowed to get its restructuring
program right and not repeat past mistakes, even if it takes six months longer
than the three-year turnaround telegraphed to the share market, reports Richard
Gluyas
in The Australian. “I’d like to declare we have stabilised the Australian
region overall,” said the bank’s Australian chief executive Ahmed Fahour to shareholders yesterday, as the NAB
announced it will spend $1.8 billion rebuilding its Australian operations,
including a massive overhaul of its 800-plus branch network.

Fahour
and his team also got stuck into some home truths yesterday, say Helen Westerman and Rebecca Urban in The Age. In what amounted to a ritual cleansing of banking sins, executives
painted a picture of how bad things were before John Stewart flew in to
clean things up. But how telling a roomful
of hopeful investors that the bank had been “almost out of control” and in a
“nosedive” helps is unclear, says Stewart Oldfield in the Financial Review (not online). It’s time for NAB to
focus on the future.

There is, in fact, a lot of “back to the future” activity
occurring in the domestic banking system as the majors position themselves
in an ever-more competitive environment, says Stephen Bartholomeusz in the Smage. The next 18 months will
determine whether the forex scandal will leave permanent scars or be
remembered for jolting NAB from the
complacency generated by its former dominance. All in all, it’s a credible enough recovery plan, says Elizabeth Knight in
The Sydney Morning Herald. The problem now for NAB
is that it’s way behind the field and needs to play catch-up.

Also in the Fin,
Reserve Bank Governor Ian McFarlane is optimistic about the global economy –
telling last night’s gathering of the Economic Society of Australia that it was
unlikely the oil price would rise drastically and that he’s untroubled by the
US’s record current account deficit. This is an important counter to the view
of the International Monetary Fund, says the Fin‘s Alan Mitchell. MacFarlane’s thinks it’s possible for the global
imbalances to be sustained for a long time. We’ll see, says David Bassanese,
also in the Fin, but for the worriers
among us, all this creates risk.

Elsewhere, David Jones has defied high petrol prices and flagging
consumer sentiment to post a 19% rise in annual profit, says Blair Speedy in The Australian – and promises to keep up the good work. And the SMH shifts its attention from one high profile media court case to another, with news
emerging from a NSW Supreme Court hearing that PBL chairman James Packer – a
former director of failed telecom One.Tel – probably knew as early
as November 1999 that One.Tel was running short of money. That’s 18 months before the company
collapsed, at the end of May 2001.

And in The Age,
Christian Catalano reports that Communications Minister Helen Coonan has rubbished speculation she
will water down her media reform agenda by removing key commitments to open up
the digital television spectrum for consumers. While Paul Keating weighs in with a warning that a decision to close down any option for new free-to-air television
outlets or multiple channels while removing the existing cross-media laws and
foreign ownership restrictions is a “recipe for massive media concentration and
further abuses of power by the existing network owners.”

On Wall Street, US
stocks closed mixed Wednesday, as investors shrugged off new highs for natural
gas to seek out attractively priced stocks. The Dow Jones closed up 16.88 points at 10,473.09. MarketWatch has the full report here.

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