■ FOREIGN EXCHANGE
Australian dollar sets record
The Australian dollar hit a fresh 24-year high yesterday after official documents showed the central bank was more hawkish on interest rates than previously thought. The currency hit US$0.959 after the release of minutes from this month’s Reserve Bank of Australia monetary policy meeting, when rates were left on hold at a 12-year high of 7.25 percent. Markets had taken the lack of action as a sign that rates were likely to remain on hold for the rest of the year. But the minutes stated: “Members spent considerable time discussing the case for a further rise in the cash rate.” Economists said the minutes showed the central bank was poised to pull the interest rate trigger at the first indication that inflationary pressures were increasing. The Australian currency eased to US$0.9586 in late afternoon trading yesterday.
Japan keeps rates steady
Japan’s central bank kept interest rates steady yesterday as widely expected amid lingering worries about a global slowdown. The seven-member policy board was unanimous in keeping the benchmark overnight call rate unchanged at 0.5 percent at the end of a two-day meeting, the Bank of Japan said. Soaring gas prices, rising material costs and signs of slower global growth are weighing on the world’s second-largest economy, which depends heavily on exports. Economists predict that the Bank of Japan is likely to do nothing for about a year unless economic signs change dramatically. The Japanese economy has proved remarkably solid recently. Last week, the government said the economy grew at a stronger-than-expected 3.3 percent annual pace in the first quarter, racking up its third consecutive quarter of growth. Still, economists warn that export growth could stumble if overseas economies falter, and domestic spending will probably stay weak if paychecks aren’t growing.
Studios hire Greenberg
A new pay TV channel being set up by Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate has hired former Showtime executive Mark Greenberg to become its new chief executive. Plans for the channel were announced last month after the studios could not reach a deal to continue to supply their movies to Showtime, the pay TV channel that belongs to CBS Corp. Greenberg, whose hiring was announced on Monday, spent 25 years in the cable business, including seven years at Time Warner Inc’s HBO. The channel and video-on-demand service is to launch late next year with original shows and movies from Viacom Inc’s Paramount and Paramount Vantage units, MGM, United Artists and Lionsgate.
Imperial profit down 45%
Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, the world’s fourth-largest tobacco company, reported yesterday that profit in the first half was down 45 percent as it absorbed the Spanish company Altadis. The company reported a profit of £233 million (US$455 million) in the six months ending March 31, compared with £421 million in the same period a year earlier. Revenue was up 38 percent to £8.056 billion. Imperial Tobacco completed its acquisition of Altadis on Jan. 25. The company said it expected savings of 300 million euros (US$470 million) a year by 2010 from the Altadis takeover, rising to 400 million euros by 2012. However, it said those savings would be offset by one-off cash costs of 600 million euros.