Companies in Brief

Xstrata/Rio Tinto: Tax Détente Down Under

Mining companies are resuming investment in Australia following the government's decision to ratchet back a planned resource profits tax. Xstrata, the country's biggest exporter of power-station coal, restarted work on a $5 billion mine, while Rio Tinto (RTP) revived a study for an expansion of its iron ore mines in the western part of the country. Prime Minister Julia Gillard on July 2 agreed to knock down the proposed tax from 40 percent to 30 percent after it became clear that the confrontation with mining companies threatened her party's prospects.

Hexagon: Swedish Engineering Makes a Big U.S. Buy

Hexagon, the Swedish company that is the top maker of precision measuring instruments, paid $2.3 billion for Intergraph. Alabama-based Intergraph makes software to visualize complex data and design factories, ships and oil rigs. The deal will more than double Hexagon's workforce, adding 4,000 employees.

Daiwa Securities: European Woes Create Opportunity

Japan's second-largest brokerage agreed to buy KBC's convertible bond and Asia equity derivatives units for about $1 billion. The Belgian bank has been unloading assets in order to meet a 2013 deadline for repaying a government bailout. The acquisition will help Daiwa boost annual revenue by about $171 million.

Carrefour: Dialing Back in Southeast Asia

France's Carrefour, the world's second-biggest retailer after Wal-Mart Stores, is looking to sell its units in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, according to people familiar with the matter. Prospective buyers could include the U.K.'s Tesco, Japan's Aeon, and Hong Kong's Dairy Farm International. The assets could fetch as much as $1 billion in total. Meanwhile, Carrefour is scaling up in China, where it plans to open 22 hypermarkets and 140 discount stores this year alone.

Samsung: Rising Chip Prices Deliver Bumper Profits

Asia's biggest maker of semiconductors, flat screens, and mobile phones posted record profits last quarter, spurred by a recovery in demand for computer memory chips that drove up prices. Samsung's second-quarter sales jumped 14 percent and its operating income soared 87 percent, to around $4.1 billion. The strong results should help Samsung fund a $14.7 billion capital spending plan to widen its lead over competitors.

Wal-Mart: Testing an Online Loan Program

The world's No. 1 retailer will launch an experimental online loan program. Wal-Mart Stores' (WMT) Sam's Club unit is teaming with Superior Financial, an Arkansas-based non-bank lender, to offer qualifying members 10-year loans of between $5,000 to $25,000 at an annual interest rate of 7.5 percent. In a statement, the company said the program is aimed at entrepreneurs and businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans. Wal-Mart's earlier efforts to open a full-fledged bank in the U.S. were stymied by Congress.

Apple: Mining iTunes to Target Mobile Ads

Apple (AAPL) is studying the buying habits of many of the 150 million users of its iTunes store to finesse its mobile ad strategy. The company began placing ads in iPhone applications for the first time this month. Early clients include Nissan Motor, Unilever, J.C. Penney, Best Buy (BBY), and AT&T (T). U.S. mobile advertising spending is expected to grow 43% this year, to $593 million, and reach $1.56 billion by 2013, according to research firm eMarketer.

Total: Burrowing into Canadian Oil Sands

Total (TOT), Europe's No. 2 oil producer, spent $1.4 billion to acquire UTS Energy, a Calgary (Alta.)-based company that owns a 20 percent stake in a large bitumen project called Fort Hills. Oil majors including Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and ExxonMobil (XON) have been investing heavily in shale gas, oil sands, and other crude alternatives, a trend that may pick up in the wake of BP's (BP) woes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Volkswagen: A New Hand at the Wheel at Porsche

Volkswagen appointed Matthias Mueller as chief executive officer of Porsche, effective Oct. 1. Mueller, currently the head of product planning at VW, will replace Michael Macht, who will become VW's production chief. Volkswagen gained effective control of Porsche in December and has been working to knit the two carmakers closer together. Mueller, 57, will be tasked with expanding Porsche's four-model lineup with an eye to doubling annual sales, to 150,000 vehicles.

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