Sydney, Dec 15, 2008 AEST (ABN Newswire) - Last week Wall Street ended with minor gains on the possible bailout of the US auto makers, but the European and Asian markets fell on Friday.

The Australian stock market closed more than two per cent lower on Friday following weakness in United States markets caused by doubts over a rescue package for US car makers. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index had fallen 87.6 points, or 2.43 per cent, to 3,510.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index lost 81.7 points, or 2.31 per cent, to 3,452.5. As the US Senate's rejected the $14-billion bailout for American automotive makers, the stock market is expected to continue moving downward on the negative news.

At 0751 AEDT on the Sydney Futures Exchange, the December Share Price Index futures contract was steady at 3,620.

The Australian dollar has opened higher after an up-and-down weekend session where the fate of the troubled US car industry dominated market direction. At 0700 AEDT, the Australian dollar was trading at $US0.6629/37, up from Friday's close of $US0.6568/76.

Oil prices rallied from early lows Friday as the president and the Treasury Department said they were prepared to act if needed to save the US auto industry. Crude's wild swings on Friday capped a volatile week in which prices surged on the back of a weakening dollar, and also the potential for severe production cuts from OPEC. Light, sweet crude fell $1.70 to settle at $46.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Key Economic Facts and Figures

The Australian Retailers Association said that after struggling for most of 2008, retailers expected year-on-year growth this festive season totaling A$37.2 billion, an increase of about 2.5 per cent on 2007.

Access Economics director David Rumbens says in the independent forecaster's latest retail report that retailers will get worse in 2009. Access is forecasting retail sales to fall 0.1 per cent in 2008-09 compared with 4.5 per cent growth in 2007-08. In 2009-10 it expects anaemic growth of 0.9 per cent.

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) says recent interest rate cuts have eased mortgage stress. The HIA says 31 per cent of Australians were experiencing mortgage stress in August, compared to 21 per cent in December.

Today Australian Bureau of Statistics releases lending finance data for October.

M&A News

A joint venture between the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Ltd(ASX:BEN) and a consortium of charities and community service agencies said it had had initial talks with the Federal Government about the bid of the ABC Learning Centres(ASX:ABS).

Overseas companies may buy into fast-growing regional financial institution Bank of Queensland Ltd(ASX:BOQ), taking advantage of the low share price and weak Australian dollar, an analyst says.

Grange Resources(ASX:GRR) shareholders have overwhelmingly voted in favour of its merger with private Tasmanian magnetite iron ore pellet producer Australian Bulk Minerals.

Important Corporate News

Macquarie Group(ASX:MQG) plans a venture with Hengtai Securities Co. to gain access to China's $US70 billion equity and bond underwriting market, two people familiar with the matter said.

Centro Properties(ASX:CNP) has been trying to get an extension to a major debt refinancing that was due to expire on Monday. Bankers are expected to sign a deal today to throw the Centro a financial lifeline to give it more time to repay its debts.

Supermarket operator Woolworths Ltd(ASX:WOW) says it is well placed to weather the economic downturn and it expects to invest in more new stores, invest in refurbishing stores and creating jobs.

The federal Government has excluded Telstra(ASX:TLS) from the bidding process to build a national broadband network. Telstra explained in a statement that its proposal submitted on November 26 did not include a plan on how to involve small and medium-sized enterprises in the building of the network.

Gas transmission pipeline owner APA Group(ASX:APA) has earned A$647 million from the sale of assets into an unlisted investment vehicle -- Energy Infrastructure Investments Pty Ltd, and will use the proceed to pay down debt. APA will retain a 19.9 per cent interest in the vehicle, with Japanese groups Marubeni Corp(TYO:8002) holding 49.9 per cent and Osaka Gas(TYO:9532) holding 30.2 per cent.

1. Related Stocks - Mid Market (AEST 1230)
-----------------------------------------------Code   % Change   Volume    Turnover  Low  High-----------------------------------------------ASX:TLS -6.53 63,875,594 $247,693,867 384  392ASX:WOW +3.4  1,707,001  $44,031,017  2538 2594ASX:MQG +5.27 585,635    $17,516,812  2951 3010ASX:BEN +.95  262,297    $3,000,831   1078 1175ASX:BOQ +2.7  169,817    $1,610,871   931  965ASX:APA +8.69 410,811    $1,118,051   256  281ASX:ZYL +5.88 120,000    $4,250       3.5  3.6ASX:GRR -2.56 12,045     $4,676       37   39
2. Top 10 ASX on Turnover - Mid Market (AEST 1230)
-----------------------------------------------Code   % Change   Volume    Turnover  Low  High-----------------------------------------------ASX:BHP +7.52 9,940,199  $306,495,253 3005 3143ASX:TLS -6.53 64,053,310 $248,379,851 384  392ASX:RIO +9.85 2,275,149  $96,150,236  3922 4030ASX:CBA +1.24 3,107,087  $93,829,986  2841 2868ASX:WBC +3.18 3,987,234  $67,279,943  1631 1657ASX:CSL +.78  1,910,125  $56,689,428  2914 2994ASX:NAB +2.19 2,585,909  $54,406,725  1946 1980ASX:ANZ +2.47 3,094,118  $46,940,021  1470 1510ASX:WOW +3.56 1,714,278  $44,219,548  2538 2594ASX:WPL +5.71 937,269    $32,891,332  3400 3550


Michelle Liang
Asia Business News Asia Bureau
Tel: +61-2-9247-4344

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