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Back to school for the players

THE long hot summer holidays are over for children all over WA this week with the start of the new school year.

For the State Government, 2001 marks the first year of the new four-year-old kindergarten program.

The new program allows three-year-old children to begin kindergarten if they turn four by June 30, 2001.

The Australian Stock Exchange questioned the financial health of more than a dozen tech stocks after they filed their December quarter cash flow reports.

The tech stocks have been on the receiving end of other regulators checks recently. The first results of an Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation into the sector have appeared during the week. See page 3 for an example.

Liberal MLA Bob Bloff-witch has also failed the test in terms of public disclosure, after it was revealed he neglected to declare 84,000 shares in the company that plans to build a steelmill in his Geraldton electorate.

Still with precious metals, Sydney gold company Goldfields has declared a special dividend.

Goldfields declared a 3 cent special dividend for share-holders after a $12.1 million abnormal tax gain pushed up their earnings per share to 15.8 cents.

1000 taxpayers caught in a struggle with the tax office over a decision to disallow tax deductions for participants in a series of mass marketed tax-driven tea tree schemes have won interest and penalty concessions following the intervention of the Tax Ombudsman.

Foodland Associated is having a few problems of their own with the tax department. Following allegations the Perth-based retailer attempted to avoid tax, the department is sending them a $51.8 million bill.

Foodland has denied the claim and has engaged legal counsel.

Retail giant Coles Myer has watched their shares drop 4.2 per cent following concerns about a retail downturn in Australia. Merrill Lynch expects the net profits for Coles Myer to fall by 8 per cent in 2001.

The introduction of discount supermarket chain Aldi to Australia has bought little joy to the retail sector in the new year.

However, Coles Myer have bitten back with a decision to match Aldi’s low prices and start a retail price war.

A Perth tech company is fighting its own war against cyber hackers.

Secure Systems believe the silicon Data Vault is so secure they have challenged hackers all over the world to crack the vault and obtain the information inside.

As a reward, Secure Systems is offering to donate $10,000 to a charity of the hacker’s choice to anyone who gets past the Data Vault.

From security in cyberspace to security on our streets, Police Minister Kevin Prince claims information technology changes in police operations will free up the equivalent of 400 police. However, WA Police Union spokesman Michael Dean said the claim was not realistic.

Telephone company OneTel has some good news to report with a substantial slowdown in the cash burn rate in the six months to June and projected growth in customer numbers.

No such good news for News Corp with shares falling sharply following the downturn in the US television market. The share sell off has occurred in the launch week of the free metro newspapers in Melbourne.

Investors from both John Fairfax holdings and News Corp have expressed concerns that the free publications will eat into the companies’ bottom line.

Locally, Wesfarmers reported an 11.7 per cent jump in net profit for the half year to December 31 of $111.82 million.

Over the last year the group has added a number of assets to its portfolio of rural, energy and hardware businesses.

Chairman Michael Chaney said the group still had the capacity to take on new investments despite its relatively high debt.

The collapsed Knightsbridge Finance is not able to take such a positive line on debt with voluntary administrator John Carrello reassuring about 300 investors that Knightsbridge Finance is not another “Grubb”.

Despite the gloomy economic figures, BankWest has recorded a record $8 billion in housing loans, a rise of more than 14 per cent since last year.

BankWest attributed most of its growth to a 22 per cent rise in business generated through third-party channels, most of which are in the Eastern States.

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