Finance debacle sends elderly broke

AN elderly Busselton couple revealed they lost their life savings during the first day of hearing into the finance brokers’ scandal. They gave $650,000 to an investment adviser, who was also a Seventh Day Adventist pastor. The money was invested in a rural sub-division near Bridgetown. More than half of the money was to go into a mortgage loan on the Westonbirt project and the remaining money to a superannuation fund. However, when the project failed, it was revealed that all the money went into the project. The couple, who had hoped to depend on the interest from the loan, had to rely on help from family and friends until they received their pension earlier this year.

OVER in the corporate world, investors have decided to steer clear of Coles Myer shares until next year, causing the retailer’s share price to drop to $6.11. This came after the company admitted that sales figures at its clothing stores Coles Myer, Target and K-Mart have dropped drastically, from 5.7 per cent in the period compared with growth of 2.7 per cent in the April quarter. There are now calls for Coles Myer to shed its retail clothing stores.

INVESTORS, on the other hand, are showing a keen interest in Wesfarmers’ stocks, pushing the share price to more than $28. The company’s shares have shot up by 27 per cent since its $2.2 billion bid for hardware and distribution company Howard Smith on June 13. There is confidence that Wesfarmers will be successful in its attempt to merge Howard Smith’s BBC Hardware and Hardwarehouse stores with its Bunnings division.

CONFIDENCE also was evident in the shares of Foodland Association Limited after the company announced it had finalised the acquisition of 36 Franklin stores. It also was confident of further expansion. Foodland managing director Trevor Coates said a substantial amount would be invested to convert all stores to the Action format, but he would not disclose more. Transfer of the stores is set to begin next month and should be completed by the end of the year. The supermarket chain has also expressed interest in the New Zealand-owned Woolworths chain.

AND BankWest chiefs have broken their silence over the possibility of a merger, saying the bank was in preliminary talks with potential suitor St George Bank about “strategic opportunities”. Speculation is rising that St George is planning a $2.4 billion bid for the WA bank. Other BankWest suitors have included the ANZ and rural, energy, transport and hardware conglomerate Wesfarmers.

THE battle over Ansett continues and Singapore Airlines has edged closer to winning the Air New Zealand subsidiary. The New Zealand Government revealed it was highly unlikely that it would raise the stakes for foreign ownership of Air New Zealand. The airline needs funding to assist with its $5 billion aircraft re-equipment plan. Ansett Air New Zealand Group president Gary Toomey revealed the airline’s alternative was to sell off all or part of Ansett to SIA. Qantas, meanwhile, is continuing to raise support to get the deal quashed. Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon is strongly opposed to increased SIA ownership of Ansett because it could lead to a carrier double the size of his company.

THE Belltower we had to have is not losing us as much money as first claimed. The new WA Government has backed away from its statement that the Belltower was losing taxpayers $1,000 a day. Arts Minister Sheila McHale said it was only losing $600 a day. The Belltower needs 4,000 visitors a week to break even and so far numbers have been down. Ms McHale admitted visitor numbers to the site were down because arrangements had not been finalised with tour operators and winter was a slow tourist season. Businesses around the Belltower say it has been a boon for them. Even the smallest Barrack Square business is profiting from the tower.

THE Federal Government has promised to help struggling country pubs by pumping $5 million into historical restoration work. Country hotels that are at least 50 years old and have historical significance can qualify for grants of up to $100,000. Owners will have to put up 50 per cent and only those without gaming devices will be eligible for the grant. AHA national president Peter Burnett said it was difficult for hotels to survive on only food and beverage sales. The money comes from a deal between the Federal Government, the Australian Democrats and the Australian Hotels Association, reached after negotiations to cut beer excise.

WA RESOURCES companies enjoyed mixed fortunes this week. US company Mirando Enterprises Inc is suing Perth-based power and energy resources company Energy Equity Corp Ltd, alleging a breach of an agreement on the mutually agreed sale to Mirando of some of EEC’s major assets in Queensland and India for $100 million.

KIMBERLEY Diamond Company NL, meanwhile, is rubbing its hands following State Cabinet approval to excise the Ellendale Mining Area from Argyle Diamond Mines and transfer it to the Kimberley Diamond Company, which opens the way for the construction of a 750,000 tonne per annum diamond recovery plant. Also celebrating this week were the Indian owners of Burrup Fertilisers Pty Ltd following the launch of a new $600 million, 700,000 tonnes per annum ammonia project on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha, which is expected to generate about $200 million in export revenue when fully commissioned in 2004.

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