AWB chairman Brendan Stewart is “caught between a star
chamber operating outside the normal legal norms, trashing his company, and the
need to ensure his business’s long-term survival,” says John Durie in the Financial Review (not online). The
public humiliation of his chief executive Andrew Lindberg and the company after
several days of closed-door hearings makes you wonder just what agenda the Cole
commission is chasing. No-one would defend illegal payments to boost corporate
sales to dodgy regimes like Iraq,
but, as the AWB noted yesterday, let’s hear all the evidence before making

James Packer chairs the first board meeting of the year for
Publishing and Broadcasting Limited today, for the first time without his
father and former deputy chairman Kerry at his side, says Anthony Hughes in the
Fin. And one of the formalities the
board needs to consider is appointing a replacement for Big Kez from the
existing group of directors, including Chris Anderson and Ashok Jacob. The
shape and size of PBL’s board will offer crucial insight into how James
proposes to take the group forward. The other big challenge is the
appointment of the Nine Network chief – who will inherit a business that
remains under pressure.

Speaking of PBL, it must be hard being Peter Yates, says Matthew Stevens in The Australian. The
Allco Equity Partners boss and former PBL chief has $200 million burning a hole
in his pocket and nobody seems to want to take it off his hands. Yates wasted
much of last year trying to convince shareholders of debt collector Baycorp
to take his money. He failed. The worry for Yates now is that Allco’s
play for the paint maker Wattyl will give him a sense of deja vu. Yates,
who fired off an offer just before Christmas – and this time without a
launching stake – has offered $3.25 a share for Wattyl. At that price the lot
would cost Allco $275 million in cold, hard cash. Allco wants at least half of
the business so that it can assert control.

The conditions which Queensland Gas Co has attached to its
unexpected scrip bid for Sydney Gas make it clear it’s well aware of the recent
controversy over whether a group of shareholders has been acting in concert to
secretly control the company, says Bryan Frith in The Australian. Sydney Gas aroused
controversy recently when the entire board resigned en masse after encountering
shareholder resistance to their attempts to flush out the beneficial owners of
shares held by nominees.

QGC sees Sydney Gas as providing the opportunity to use the
same model at the other end of the intereconnector, and has ambitions to build
a power station in the Hunter Valley and to treat coal gas on a toll basis, says Frith. If that happens, it would
provide the combined QGC with much greater leverage and significantly increased
options to supply either the gas or electricity markets – making it “a case where one plus one equals more than two.”

Whatever the outcome, the QGC bid for its somewhat
controversial NSW counterpart is going to test the resolve, and the
relationships, of the group of “dissident shareholders” that forced
the departure of former chairman, and Sydney Olympics minister, Michael Knight
and the rest of his board late last year, says Stephen Bartholomeusz in The Smage.

From high-flying property developer
to the stars, Gavin Muir has come tumbling down, says Helen Westerman in The Age. The part owner and
managing director of electronics company TEAC Australia appeared to be the
epitome of the successful entrepreneur. But Muir has been ousted from TEAC
and his dream $123 million apartment complex, The Muir, is in the hands of
administrators, with unsecured creditors — mainly small property investors —
owed millions of dollars.

Two months after General Motors announced the closure of
nine North American plants and the loss of 30,000 jobs, America’s second
largest car manufacturer, Ford, has announced plans to close 14 plants over the
next few years and cut a similar number from its 125,000 work force, says
Michael Gawenda, reporting from Washington, in The SMH. While the announcement of
the job cuts and plant closures was expected, it was still
greeted with dismay and shock by Ford employees across America
and by many other Americans for whom Ford remains an icon of the free world

Aside from the common problems afflicting the entire US industry – a legacy of generous pension and welfare
provisions, a decade of falling market share, high oil prices, ruinous
discounting and over reliance on the gas-guzzling SUV market – some problems
are unique to Ford. “The main problem for Ford is that it hires the most
talented teams to make the greatest products, then it allows them to drift
apart and it forgets how to repeat the success,” said a Ford insider
in The Independent.

But it’s not time to write the obituary for the American
auto industry yet, say Mark Trumbull and Amanda Paulson in The Christian Science Monitor. Although it’s struggling on its home
turf, analysts say, the most likely scenario is continued downsizing and
restructuring, from which leaner but profitable US
operations will emerge.

And on Wall Street, US stocks closed higher for a
second straight session overnight, helped by a pull-back in crude-oil prices and
some solid earnings from Dow components United Technologies and McDonald’s. But
revenue shortfalls from Johnson & Johnson and Texas Instruments served to
remind investors what a bumpy ride the fourth-quarter earnings season has been
so far. The Dow Jones rose 23.45 points to 10,712 – MarketWatch has the full
report here.