Chi-Xed: The loss of its Australian CEO and chairman, Anthony Mackay, didn’t, in the end, hurt European-based exchange Ch-X Global’s attempt to become the first competitor to the ASX. The federal government this morning gave in-principle approval for the new market to trade shares. Chi-X Australia is the local subsidiary of Chi-X Global, following the completion of a licensing and regulatory process. It is 34% owned by Instinet, of which Mackay remains chairman. Investment banks and brokers such as  UBS, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley control the majority of the shares. All operate on the ASX in Australia and will no doubt try and arbitrage between the two to drive down costs at the ASX.

A question of timing #1: A busy day yesterday in the battle for funds manager and insurer AXA Asia Pacific, with the National Australia Bank finally trumping the earlier AMP offer with an agreed bid of its own. AXA and NAB asked for their shares to be suspended early yesterday; the competition regulator, which was due to issue rulings on the AMP offer tomorrow and the NAB offer on April 22, confirmed the timing, then changed it late in the day and then the agreed bid details were issued by the NAB and AXA.

Timing #2: So what happened at the ACCC before late morning yesterday and late afternoon to produce the unexpected decision to delay announcement of the commission’s ruling on the AMP bid for AXA Asia Pacific? This story was issued about midday on AAP  quoting a commission spokesperson as saying the decision the AMP offer for AXA AP would still be issued tomorrow (Thursday). Then at 4.35pm, this statement was issued and placed on the ASX website. It read: “The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has today deferred its decision on AMP Limited’s proposed acquisition of AXA Asia Pacific Holdings. The ACCC is continuing to receive relevant information and will make a decision as soon as all relevant information has been considered. It is anticipated the ACCC will make a decision no later than 22 April 2010.” Then at 5.21pm this statement revealing final bid agreement between AXA AP and the National Australia Bank.

Timing #3: So what caused the ACCC to say it is continuing to receive information when in the morning it appeared to have enough for the AMP ruling at least? The ACCC had previously delayed rulings on the bids from last month and had stuck to its two date announcement, until late yesterday afternoon. Did the NAB and AXA make a last-minute pitch yesterday to get the commission to hold off, so that they could get a final bid bedded down; have the two made offers of asset sales etc to the ACCC to try and get the bid accepted? The fact that the AMP bid is less objected to by the commission could have killed the NAB’s deal, had the commission issued its ruling tomorrow. The ACCC has also indicated it doesn’t like the NAB’s offer, saying in its statement of issues last month: ”It appears to the ACCC that NAB’s proposed acquisition of AXA raises a higher level of concern then AMP’s proposed acquisition of AXA.”  If that remains the case, then there’s a good chance yesterday’s flurry of activity by the NAB and AXA AP has been fruitless, despite some urgers in the market believing the ACCC will give the deal the green light.

Iron, coal haze: BHP Billiton will now be a tougher company for analysts and shareholders to examine with the move to short-term pricing and tonnages (on a quarterly basis, based on an index) and away from annual contracts based on benchmark prices. In fact the level of transparency for the entire export iron ore, coking and steaming coal sectors has now worsened and become far more difficult to monitor for investors. BHP was its (lately) unhelpful self in announcing its new iron ore pricing system (Vale of Brazil was just as opaque in its big deal yesterday). BHP said: “It had reached agreement with a significant number of customers throughout Asia to move existing iron ore contracts that were previously priced annually onto a shorter term landed price equivalent basis. The agreements reached represent the majority of BHP Billiton’s iron ore sales volume. The structural change that these settlements represent is consistent with BHP Billiton achieving market clearing prices.”

Hazy ores: Those mills are understood to include some Chinese mills (the key word is understood). Another major change is that BHP will be selling more than  half of its annual output at “landed” prices, meaning they will include freight. If customers want to buy Brazilian ore, they will have to pay extra to buy from the big rival, Vale. BHP will increase its ship chartering business and will gain total control over its exports. This is going to lead to more and more analysts trying to get the inside running on pricing details for BHP and Rio Tinto in preparing their reports that then can generate business for their dealing desks. The tonnages will still be released in the companies’ quarterly production reports. Everyone thinks this will be a bonanza, and it probably will for most of this year, but some forecasters see Chinese and Asian demand steadying later in the year, which could see prices ease. The upshot of the BHP pricing statement yesterday is that the market is now less informed than it was with the previous level of disclosure.

New life for PMP: the struggling Melbourne-based printer and distributor has had a big win: it has won all the catalogue business for Target from rival Salmat, which last year won Coles’ business after PMP admitted to distribution errors. PMP revealed its win yesterday in a statement to the ASX. It was a win worth boasting about, Salmat had been Target’s distributors for at least 20 years. It’s taken about 11 months for CEO Richard Alley to cut costs and attempt to improve PMP’s performance and reputation. Hiring David Chesser, who was at Salmat, to become general manager for PMP Distribution was a key move. He seems to have won the Target contract from his old employer. PMP’s statement didn’t reveal Chesser’s former employer.

Pink gins please: Britain’s economy grew slightly faster than previously estimated in the fourth quarter, with gross domestic product expanding by 0.4% compared to the third quarter. That’s up from the previous estimate of 0.3%, which was up from the first estimate of 0.1%.  The Office for National Statistics said that compared to the fourth quarter of 2008, GDP contracted by 3.1%, compared to the earlier estimate of 3.3%.

Jobs envy? At least America’s jobs picture is showing a glimmer of light. Even if the unemployment rate doesn’t change from its current 9.7% rate when the March report is out on Good Friday, at least it will be better than Europe where figures out tonight, our time are expected to show the jobless rate hitting 10% for February (9.9% in January, 9.7% in the US). Small mercies, I know, but with governments across the eurozone looking to cut spending over the next year to try and bring Budget deficits down and control huge national debts, we shouldn’t expect a dramatic easing in unemployment any time soon.

Ireland’s blacker, deeper hole: The damage to the country’s financial strength from the country’s home loan and development boom is far worse than previous expected, as recently as yesterday. So much so that the amount of new capital needed by the country’s five major lenders could be double the previous estimate. The new total could be as much as €32 billion, on a total of €81 billion of dodgy loans now in possession of the country’s bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. The original estimate was that the crippled three banks and two building societies needed up to €16 billion of new capital, that has risen to a minimum of €22 billion, with an extra €10 billion of possible extra money depending on loan losses at the most damaged lender, Anglo Irish Bank. The cost of the losses and bailout will now approach 40% or Ireland’s annual GDP.

Ireland’s unwelcome record. The estimate of the extra capital came as the bad bank set the discount on the first €16 billion of dodgy loans from the country’s 10 biggest biggest property developers, a massive 47% i.e. the €16 billion of loans had been bought for €8.5 billion. Overall the agency reckons 37% of the €81 billion of bad loans will go bad. The new capital can only come from the government, which has already injected €11 billion into the five banks. Ireland’s finance minister, Brian Lenihan, said the government would be providing €8.3 billion to Anglo Irish Bank this week alone, and that the bank may need a further €10 billion to cover its losses from bad property loans. Rival Allied Irish Bank needs another €7.4 billion in new capital by the end of this year and has started liquidating other assets. By the time the process is over the government will probably own a majority or all of Anglo Irish, Allied Irish, the two building societies and a sizeable minority state in the biggest, the Bank of Ireland, which has to”only” find €2.66 billion of new capital. Wasn’t the National Australia Bank lucky to have sold out of Ireland when it did several years ago.