NAB to get a new chief executive? National Australia Bank chief executive John Stewart may become the highest-profile Australian casualty of the credit crunch, as speculation grew yesterday that the Scottish-born executive may shortly hand over the reins to the head of NAB’s New Zealand operation, Cameron Clyne.

Mr Clyne, 40, and one of a number of internal CEO aspirants, has been running the NZ operations since January last year, lifting cash earnings by 15 per cent in the March half-year from $NZ208 million ($161 million) to $NZ239 million. There are suggestions that the NAB board, which convened at short notice last week ahead of Friday’s shock $830 million CDO-related provision and will gather for a further meeting today, recently activated its succession plan, The Australian reports. —

Hope of world trade deal dashed. After seven years of on-again, off-again negotiations, world trade talks collapsed in rancor on Tuesday, ending hopes of a deal to free up global markets, cut farm subsidies and shore up the international trading system. After nine days of high-level talks here, discussions reached an impasse when the United States, India and China failed to compromise over measures to protect farmers in poor countries.

Despite exhaustive efforts, Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, failed to bridge differences between a group of newly confident developing nations and established Western economic powers. In the end, too few of the real power brokers proved committed enough to make compromises necessary to deliver a deal. “It is a massive blow to confidence in the global economy,” said Peter Power, a spokesman for the European Commission, based in Brussels. “The confidence shot in the arm that we needed badly will not now happen.” Supporters of the so-called Doha round of talks, begun in 2001, say a deal would have been a bulwark against rising protectionist sentiments that are now likely to spread as economic growth falters in much of the world. — New York Times

China‘s economic boom may be as good as Olympic gold. China stands to win more gold medals than any other country at the Aug. 8-24 Summer Games, according to an economic model created by Colorado College economist Daniel Johnson. John Hawksworth of PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLC projects it to win the most gold, silver and bronze medals combined.

“China is the big story this year,” said Johnson, an economics professor whose number-crunching has projected the gold medal count with more than 80 percent accuracy at the last four Winter and Summer Games. “If it does as well as predicted, it will be one of the most-golden nations ever.”

Chinese athletes will win 44 gold medals this year, ending America’s gold-medal dominance it has had since the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Johnson’s model projects. Economic strength translates into Olympic medals because the fitter a nation’s economy, the more money it has to spend on training, diet and sporting infrastructure, the economists said. — Bloomberg

Facebook to Scrabulous: Game over. The game is officially over for Scrabulous fanatics. The popular Scrabble knockoff, which grabbed millions of fans after launching on social network Facebook late last year, was disabled July 29 for US and Canadian Facebook members “until further notice.” The removal of the program was in response to a July 24 takedown request by Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to the Scrabble game. Hasbro asked that Facebook shut down the program shortly after filing suit against Scrabulous creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for violating Hasbro’s intellectual property. “We own the rights to that game,” said Mark Blecher, Hasbro’s General Manager of Digital Media. — BusinessWeek

Newsflash: The SUV not dead after all. Recently, there has been a rush by pundits, particularly those who live at the center of large, older cities, to claim that rising gasoline prices will lead inexorably to fundamental shifts in the way Americans live and work. They confidently predict a long-term decline in automobile use, a rise in mass transit ridership, a widespread move of families from the suburban periphery back to the central city and the demise of the McMansion and the SUV.

These predictions are based more on wishful thinking than on good evidence. They are, first of all, suspiciously similar to those made during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Like those of the 1970s, they are based on the notion that low-density suburbs, single-family houses and private automobiles necessarily consume significantly more energy than higher-density urban areas, apartments and public transportation. —

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Peter Fray
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