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Booming Australian Economy Boosts Bank's Profit

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia - the country's largest home lender - posted a 50 percent increase in profit to nearly one and a half billion dollars in the six months to December.

The bank's chief executive David Murray said it was the result of a major restructuring effort, which included job cuts and improvements in customer service. A housing boom lifted growth in its mortgage business, up 10 percent for the period.

Mr. Murray said Australia's economic indicators point to a good year for the bank. "With low inflation and low interest rates, consumer confidence is very high so the trend in the economy is very good," he said.

The Hong Kong luxury hotel chain Shangri-La signed a deal to open its first European property in London. The new hotel, set to open in 2009, will occupy 18 floors in what is expected to be Europe's tallest tower along the River Thames. Shangri-La operates 46 hotels in Asia and the Middle East.

Also in Hong Kong, the Ports Authority of Singapore has made its first investment in one of the world's busiest port. PSA will buy a 54 percent stake in Hong Kong's Asia Container Terminals for $385 million. Asia Container Terminals owns two berths at the Kwai Chung container port - which handles more than half of Hong Kong's sea cargo.

Foreign supermarket chains in China reported strong sales in 2004. The French supermarket Carrefour says sales jumped 21 percent to $2 billion, while the U.S. chain Wal-Mart saw sales surge 30 percent to nearly $1 billion. The two chains continued their expansion in China, with Wal-Mart adding 10 stores and Carrefour 21 stores last year.