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Asia-Pacific News Australia & New Zealand

  • Australian employment dipped unexpectedly in January, but the jobless rate hit a new 30-year low of 4.5%, keeping alive the risk that a lack of suitable labor will eventually generate wage and price pressures.

  • World number one miner BHP Billiton said Chief Executive Chip Goodyear will step down by the end of 2007, as it posted a 41% rise in first-half net profit and added $10 billion in share buybacks.

  • Macquarie Bank, Australia's top investment bank, said it expects a strong increase in full-year profit, but warned second-half earnings would be slightly below the first-half result.

  • Australia's trade deficit widened 52% in December as imports of capital goods climbed while the drought hit farm exports, implying trade cut a sizable chunk out of economic growth for the fourth quarter as a whole.

  • Australia's underlying inflation rate slowed by more than expected in the fourth quarter while consumer prices fell for the first time in eight years, greatly lessening the risks of another rise in interest rates.

  • Australian energy retailer AGL Energy said it has approached Origin Energy about a potential A$13 billion (US$10 billion) merger to create the country's biggest gas and electricity supplier.

  • Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd., will lose its right to veto wheat export deals by its rivals for six months, Prime Minister John Howard said Tuesday.

  • Australia's current account deficit narrows  in the third quarter as improved trade performance added to economic growth for the first time in almost five years.

  • Insurance Australia Group Ltd. has agreed to buy British auto insurance underwriter Equity Insurance Group for $1.13 billion, its second acquisition in the UK market.