Gail Kelly world’s 11th most powerful woman. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the world’s most powerful woman for the third straight year, topping Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of the top 100 women based on their career, economic impact and media coverage. Sheila Bair, who chairs the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp that insures bank deposits, debuts at No. 2 due to her increased prominence amid a stumbling U.S. economy.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the only other government official in the top 10, although she dropped three spots from last year to No. 7 as the Bush administration prepares to leave office in January after the U.S. election in November.

The rest of the top 10 is made up of the chief executives of PepsiCo, WellPoint, Anglo American, Kraft Foods, Temasek Holdings, Areva and Xerox. Gail Kelly, head of Australian bank Westpac, lands at No. 11 as Westpac is making a $15.6 billion takeover of St George Bank in Australia’s biggest-ever bank deal. Yahoo President Susan Decker is No. 50 and talk show host Oprah Winfrey comes in at No. 36. The full list can be seen at www.forbes.com/women. — Reuters

Good news. The economy isn’t shrinking! The capital investment boom continues to power on, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics saying today that there are now signs of a noticeable expansion of downstream processing investment from the mining boom.

The ABS’s figures show that new capital spending hit a record $86.4 billion in the year to June, and the third estimate of capex for the current financial year has risen 26.2% to just under $100 billion at a massive $99.758 billion, which looks like rising further as the year wears on, despite some signs of deferred investment. The ABS said this morning that the “seventh and final estimate for 2007-08 for total capital expenditure is $86,404 million. This is the highest seventh estimate on record and has shown an increase of 11.4% from the final estimate for 2006-07.

“There has been growth in both asset classes, particularly building which rose 17.4% while equipment rose 6.6%. The seventh estimate is 1.6% below the sixth estimate. A 1.3% rise in equipment was offset by a 4.7% fall in the building asset class.

A solid rebound in capital spending should mean fears for a larger than expected slowdown in second quarter economic growth will be averted. Figures out Wednesday on new construction work done, thanks to a 6% drop in engineering work done in the quarter, suggested that the construction, engineering and building sectors would be making a flat contribution to second quarter growth. But total construction work done was still up nearly 6% year on year in the June quarter, will will make a substantial overall contribution. — Glenn Dyer

BHP hearing delayed. BHP Billiton Ltd.’s hearing tomorrow before South African antitrust regulators, who subpoenaed documents related to the company’s hostile bid for Rio Tinto Group, has been postponed for negotiations.

The world’s largest mining company and South Africa’s Competition Commission are in talks, the Competition Tribunal said in an e-mailed statement late today. If a settlement is not reached, the hearing will begin on Aug. 29, said the tribunal, the country’s highest antitrust body.

BHP was subpoenaed to provide information it declined to give on what would be the biggest-ever mining takeover. Buying Rio would enable Melbourne-based BHP to vie with Brazil’s Cia. Vale do Rio Doce as the world’s biggest iron-ore company. Rio Chief Executive Officer Tom Albanese has said the $142 billion offer undervalues his company. – Bloomberg

Macbank next domino to go? Once Babcock & Brown had toppled it was only a matter of time before attention turned to the Millionaires Factory. Sensing a structure diminished by its own leverage, conflicts and complexity, the short sellers had already piled in. A surprisingly negative analyst report from rival UBS gave it the kick the shorts were looking for.

All Macquarie’s financial engineering imitators – through Babcock, Allco and MFS – have crashed and now the corporate success story of the decade is under pressure. Could the mighty Macquarie – the deal-making phenomenon which bid for the London Stock Exchange one year and the national airline Qantas the next – be humbled? Not just yet. – Michael West, SMH

Origin expects earning to keep growing. Origin Energy, the focus of a $13.8 billion takeover from Britain’s BG Group , has forecast further earnings growth this year after delivering a rise in annual profit.

Profit during the 12 months to June 30 climbed 13.1 per cent on the corresponding period in 2006/07 to $516.66 million, while underlying earnings gained 19.7 per cent to $443.03 million. Origin, Australia’s second largest power retailer, has rejected BG Group’s $15.50 cash-per-share offer, saying it undervalues the company and its coal seam gas assets.

Chairman Kevin McCann said the company expected growth to continue this year, with a number of projects expected to make initial or significantly increased contributions to financial performance. “Based on current market conditions we are targeting growth in underlying EPS (earnings per share) of at least ten per cent for the 2008/09 financial year,” he said. – News.com.au

Peter Fray

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