The Australian sharemarket has posted its best start to a year since
2001, reports the Financial Review,
as soaring commodity prices and record trading volumes continued to push the
benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index closer to
the 5000-point mark. But with Boral and NAB hitting
52-week stock-price highs despite mixed outlooks for both, the lack of market
depth is clearly a concern to all investors, says John Durie in the paper. “As
was the case with the dotcom bubble, the trick is to pick the right stock,
basing investment decisions on actual earnings, as opposed to blue sky.”

To another sharemarket now, and while there’s been considerable questioning in London over
the level of gearing in the Macquarie Bank consortium’s pound stg 1.5billion
($3.5 billion) bid for the London Stock Exchange, it’s noticeable that the LSE
did not raise the issue in its takeover defence, says Bryan Frith in The Australian. That’s generating
some speculation that the reason for its silence is that it is contemplating
taking a leaf out of Macquarie’s book and gearing up to enable it to promise
benefits to shareholders if they reject the unwelcome bid.

It must’ve been the pretty pictures, says Stephen
Bartholomeusz
in The Smage.
That’s the only
possible explanation for why Multiplex shares rose yesterday after its
“update” on the progress of its disastrous Wembley
Stadium project. While its British management said there was now a 70%
chance
it would complete the project in time for May’s FA Cup final, avoiding
liquidated damages of up to about $33 million, there was, Multiplex
said, a
“material risk” that the stadium wouldn’t be finished on time.
Perhaps investors were relieved that, for the first time in a year, the
update didn’t contain a significant increase in the expected
losses from the project.

In The Sydney Morning
Herald
, Peter Hartcher pays tribute to US “money maestro” Alan Greenspan, who retired yesterday, aged
79, after nearly 19 years as chairman of America’s central bank, the Federal
Reserve. “George Bush called him ‘a legend.’ The Queen… gave him an honorary knighthood. The Washington Post, not content merely
to publish a profile of him, even carried a profile of his barber.”

And as the title of world’s most powerful banker passes from
Greenspan to Ben Bernanke today, a change at the top here is approaching with
considerably less fanfare, says Malcolm Maiden in The Age. Reserve Bank governor Ian
Macfarlane appears to have everything planned for his departure this September.
It would stun the markets if his deputy, Glenn Stevens, was not appointed to
replace him — and Stevens is considered highly unlikely to force policy or
operational changes.

Meanwhile, Who Wants
to be a Millionaire
host Eddie McGuire yesterday denied speculation that he
has been lobbying hard for the top job at the Nine Network, reports the Herald. But Maguire refused to rule
himself out of contention for the role, insisting that any comment must come
from James Packer or PBL chief John Alexander. “They’re running the situation,”
he said, “I’m just doing my day job.”

On Wall Street, Google has been walloped, says MarketWatch,
after the search engine giant’s earnings fell well short of market estimates,
hurt by a higher-than-expected tax rate. Its shares plunged as much as 19% in
late trading after the results. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company said it
earned net income of $US372 million, or $US1.22 a share, up from $US204
million, or 71 cents, a year earlier.

US stocks closed lower overnight after the Federal
Reserve raised interest rates as expected but left open the possibility of
further increases, dampening hopes that its campaign to curtail economic growth
is almost over. The Dow Jones ended down 35 points, or 0.3%, at 10,864 –
despite putting in its best performance for January in seven years, ending up
1.4% on the month. MarketWatch has the full story here.

Peter Fray

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