Aust-Eng medal rival heats up on day one

Australia’s battle with England for Commonwealth Games dominance heats up immediately on the opening day of competition on Thursday, with medals in cycling, swimming and triathlon expected to be shared among the two Commonwealth powers.

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With the retirement of her English nemesis Victoria Pendleton, flag bearer Anna Meares is a firm favourite to take gold in cycling’s 500m time trial at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, the Australian having no qualms about competing the day after marching at the opening ceremony.

Being named Australia’s flag bearer on Monday motivated her hugely, she said.

“I’m feeling the love at the moment. Love turns to happiness and when I feel good, I go good,” she said at the time.

While she’s expected to win her fifth Commonwealth gold, the men’s Ashes cycling contest will be fierce.

Australia’s world champion team pursuiters take on an England foursome featuring three Olympic gold medallists, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, while New Zealand have also shown they’re a threat in a truly world class event.

As Wiggins points out, they are the likely three medallists at the Rio Olympics.

Shane Perkins has pulled out of the individual sprint to focus on leading Australia in the team sprint on Thursday with Matthew Glaetzer and Nathan Hart. They’re up against an England team which features a pair of Olympic champions.

England are also expected to reign in the triathlon with Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee and his world champion brother Jonny the favourites.

The first gold medal of the Games will be won in the women’s triathlon with Emma Moffatt Australia’s best hope of keeping England’s Jodie Stimpson at bay.

But Australia should take an early lead on the medals table courtesy of a traditional strong start by the swimmers, with as many as five of the six gold on the opening night at the Tollcross Swimming Centre.

Siblings David (400m freestyle) and Emma McKeon (200m freestyle) and Cate and Bronte Campbell (women’s 4x100m freestyle relay) are overwhelming favourites.

And world 100m breaststroke champion Christian Sprenger will try to topple Scot Michael Jamieson in the men’s 200m final, with the world record under threat.

Australia is also a fancy for the rhythmic gymnastics team gold, while the women’s hockey team open their campaign against Malaysia and the netballers play Wales.

House prices still booming, led by Sydney

The house price boom shows no sign of cooling despite the onset of winter.

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Price growth in almost all capital cities in the three months to June has helped the median Australian house price soar almost 11 per cent in just 12 months.

Sydney is leading the surge, where the median house price climbed by more than $100,000 in the year to June, or 17 per cent, to hit a record $812,000.

Melbourne recorded 10 per cent growth to $608,000, according to the latest report from Australian Property Monitors (APM).

June quarter prices showed capital city housing markets are showing no signs of slowing down, APM senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson said.

“Most capital cities are maintaining or exceeding the solid to strong prices growth levels recorded during the previous quarter,” he said.

“Other leading indicators of housing market activity such as home loan activity and auction clearance rates point to continued solid buyer activity through 2014.”

Canberra was the only capital city not to have an increase in house prices in 2013/14, dropping by 0.5 per cent to a median price of $576,000.

Despite strong growth in median house prices, unit prices were more varied.

Sydney’s 13.3 per cent growth did pull the national average up to 8.3 per cent, but Brisbane, Canberra and Hobart all fell.

CAPITAL CITY MEDIAN HOUSE PRICES

* Sydney – $811,837, up 17 pct

* Melbourne – $607,721, up 10.3 pct

* Brisbane – $477,352, up 6.9 pct

* Hobart – $329,186, up 6.0 pct

* Adelaide – $462,129, up 5.8 pct

* Perth – $619,532, up 5.1 pct

* Darwin – $655,615, up 1.3 pct

* Canberra – $576,367, down 0.5 pct

* National – $627,940, up 10.3 pct

Source: Australian Property Monitors

Finance News Update, what you need to know

WORLD FINANCE UPDATE:

The Australian dollar is at a three-week high following higher-than-expected inflation figures.

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At 0630 AEST on Thursday, the local currency was trading at 94.56 US cents, up from 94.40 cents on Wednesday.

And the Australian share market looks set to open higher after a mixed performance on Wall Street where the S&P 500 reached a record high.

At 0645 AEST on Thursday, the September share price index futures contract was up 17 points at 5,544.

ELSEWHERE:

MOSCOW – Shrugging off the threat of additional Western economic sanctions, Russian officials have indicated the 2014 growth forecast is likely to be doubled.

WASHINGTON – The International Monetary Fund has lowered its US economic growth forecast for 2014 after severe winter weather in the first quarter delivered a sharp contraction.

MADRID – The Spanish economy has grown at its strongest rate for six years in the second quarter of the year, expanding by 0.5 per cent from the previous three months, the country’s central bank says.

NEW DELHI – The World Bank has offered India up to $US18 billion ($A19.5 billion) in financial support in the next three years, while lavishly praising new right-wing premier Narendra Modi’s “ambitious vision” for the country.

PARIS – Swiss bank UBS has been charged with tax fraud in Paris for allegedly helping rich French clients to hide money in Switzerland, a judicial source said.

NEW YORK – General Motors has announced six recalls covering nearly 718,000 vehicles in the US, adding to its recall tally after an ignition-switch auto safety scandal.

FRANKFURT – German auto giant Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz and Smart cars, has reported a sharp rise in second-quarter underlying profit driven by record sales in its luxury car division.

WASHINGTON – US aerospace and defence giant Boeing has raised its full-year profit outlook after a strong second quarter that saw profit soar 52 per cent on higher jetliner deliveries.

LONDON – British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has slashed its 2014 profits forecast as second-quarter earnings sank on the back of weak US trade, adverse currency moves and a Chinese bribery probe.

SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook’s quarterly profit has more than doubled amid big gains in ad revenues and a jump in users.

TOKYO – Bitcoin investors have voiced anger after the first creditors’ meeting for failed Tokyo trading exchange MtGox, whose spectacular collapse hammered the digital currency’s reputation and left a trail of unanswered questions.

RBNZ may not touch OCR brake soon

New Zealand Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler has raised the official cash rate (OCR) as expected, while signalling a pause in future hikes to assess the impact of moves so far in 2014.

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The kiwi dollar sank after Wheeler said its strength was “unjustified” and that the currency could have “a significant fall”.

“Encouragingly, the economy appears to be adjusting to the monetary policy tightening that has taken place since the start of the year,” Mr Wheeler said on Thursday.

“It is prudent that there now be a period of assessment before interest rates adjust further towards a more-neutral level.”

The quarter point increase in the OCR to 3.5 per cent was forecast by all 16 economists in a Reuters survey. The market has become increasingly convinced that the central bank will wait, possibly until 2015, before hiking again in the face of falling commodity prices, relatively tame inflation and signs house price inflation is moderating.

The New Zealand dollar dropped to US86.31 cents from US87.02c immediately before the statement was released.

The trade-weighted index fell to 80.35 from 80.97.

The New Zealand economy is expected to grow at an “annual average” pace of 3.7 per cent in 2014.

Construction, particularly in Canterbury, was “growing strongly”, with strong net migration adding to housing and household demand. But house price inflation “has moderated further since the June statement”.

Mr Wheeler also noted the decline in export prices for dairy products and timber, saying that “would reduce primary sector incomes over the coming year”.

“With the exchange rate yet to adjust to weakening commodity prices, the level of the New Zealand dollar is unjustified and unsustainable and there is potential for a significant fall,” he said.

The Reuters survey shows that before Thursday economists were expecting the OCR to rise again in December to 3.75 per cent, reach four per cent by March and 4.25 per cent by June next year.

Wheeler repeated that inflation “remains moderate”.

Australian peacekeepers possible for MH17 site: Bishop

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has left open the possibility that Australian peacekeepers could be dispatched to help secure the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine.

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Ms Bishop confirmed she will travel with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Frans Timmermans on Thursday morning to Kiev, to discuss with the Ukrainian Government and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation Europe, the most effective way of securing the rebel-controlled region near Donetsk.

They will then continue on to Kharkiv – where bodies are being transported by military planes to the Netherlands – as part of the joint mission.

Asked if there might be a peacekeeping force involving Australia sent in to protect the MH17 crash site, Ms Bishop indicated it was an option currently on the agenda for discussion.

“I will be travelling to the Ukraine to meet with the Ukrainian leadership to build on the discussions Prime Minister Abbott has had overnight including with the Ukrainians, Dutch and others,” Ms Bishop told media following her attendance at a ceremony for the first 40 bodies of victims arriving back in the Netherlands on Wednesday.

“We must ensure the investigators and those who have the gruesome task of identifying body remains are able to do that in safety. Unfettered, without any tampering from anyone.

“We are looking at the most effective way.

“The work that must be undertaken (is) painstaking, long, difficult work. But we will not rest until we have counted every body, every Australian aboard that flight.”

Ms Bishop said Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be involved in details being worked out on Thursday with the Ukrainians and other leaders.

Australia will also be united with the Netherlands and other impacted countries in ensuring the perpetrators of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 that killed 298, including Australian citizens and residents, nearly a week ago are brought to justice.

Ms Bishop said the government was determined to find who was responsible for the “atrocious act and to hold them to account”.

The government has already been in contact with the friends and family of Australian victims, about whether they wish to travel to the crash site.

“We are compiling an understanding of what friends and families are looking for,” Ms Bishop said.

“Our concern in all of this is to give the families their rightful embrace of those who were killed on that flight. We just want to bring them home.”

Australia’s special envoy in Ukraine, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said security was currently being provided by European security body OSCE and unarmed civilian escorts.

“They are doing a very fine job but it’s probably necessary to have something a little bit more than that. We just have to work out how that might be done.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman on Wednesday was asked about the possibility of international forces securing the area.

Nigeria attacks kills 42 people

Two bombings in a key Nigerian city, targeting a prominent cleric and a former head-of-state, have killed at least 42 people in the latest violence blamed on Boko Haram Islamists.

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Officials ordered everyone off the streets and imposed an around-the-clock curfew to restore order in the targeted city of Kaduna, as rescue workers raced to care for the dozens of wounded.

Police on Wednesday said the first attack was carried out by a suicide bomber on the convoy of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a cleric who has fiercely criticised Boko Haram’s deadly five-year uprising.

The blast which went off at about 12.30pm local time (2130 AEST), killed at least 25 people, but Bauchi escaped unhurt, Kaduna state police chief Umar Shehu said.

The second attack some two hours later that killed 17 people, targeted Muhammadu Buhari, one of Nigeria’s most prominent opposition leaders who also ruled the country as a military dictator from 1983 to 1985.

Buhari, who was not injured, has also been threatened by Boko Haram, which accuses him of betraying Islam by accepting democratic rule.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the circumstances pointed directly to the Islamic extremists, whose uprising has increasingly threatened the stability of Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer.

Kaduna state Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero placed his capital under a “24-hour curfew… aimed at forestalling (the) breakdown of law and order,” following the attacks, his spokesman Ahmed Maiyaki told AFP.

Maiyaki added that the governor was worried about an outbreak of chaos in a city that has known sectarian clashes in recent years, because the two targets, Bauchi and Buhari, “hold eminent positions in the eyes of the people”.

Boko Haram has sought to brand Nigeria’s senior Islamic leaders as traitors for submitting to the authority of a secular government, currently led by a devout Christian, President Goodluck Jonathan.

Geale dedicates Golovkin fight to sick mum

Daniel Geale faces the most devastating puncher in boxing at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden this weekend, but it is nothing compared to the battle his beloved mum is facing back in Australia.

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Michelle Geale is fighting cancer.

It’s an uphill struggle, but the Geales are used to overcoming adversity.

“This one is for Mum,” Geale announced at his pre-fight press conference on Wednesday.

Las Vegas oddsmakers give the Launceston-born boxer next to no chance of upsetting Kazakh heavy hitter Gennady Golovkin in their world-title fight, with most expecting Geale to end up flat on his back on the canvas.

As the bout draws close and Geale is inundated with pre-fight hype half a world away in New York, the quietly spoken former world champion looks to his mum, diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, for inspiration.

“Mum is going through a bit of a tough time, but she’s a tough girl,” Geale told AAP.

“She fights hard.

“Mum says, ‘I’m fighting hard and I’m going to beat this too’.

“That gives me a lot of motivation.

“If she can battle through that and not give up I can do the same in the ring.”

Golovkin, 32, is risking his WBA and IBO middleweight belts against Geale in Saturday’s (Sunday midday AEST) bout inside the hallowed New York indoor arena.

The undefeated Golovkin collected and repeatedly defended the belts by destroying opponents.

The Kazakh has knocked out 26 of his 29 victims, a statistic unrivalled by any other champion in the sport.

But, Geale has shown plenty of mettle.

He claimed the IBF belt by going to Germany to beat Sebastian Sylvester in a split decision in 2011, went back to Germany a year later and took Felix Sturm’s WBA title and won the war with Anthony Mundine in their Sydney grudge match in 2013.

Geale lost a split decision to Darren Barker almost a year ago, despite the Australian knocking the UK fighter down in the sixth round.

Just as Geale, 33, has no doubt he will beat Golovkin, he knows his mum will also be victorious.

“I can see the little tinkle in her eye which is good,” Geale said.

Geale has a 30 win (16 KO), two loss professional record.

The fight will be broadcast in Australia by Main Event.

Flags of the world mourn MH17 victims

The sound which interrupted the solemn silence at Eindhoven Airbase was the most symbolic of all.

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Seventeen flags of the countries impacted by MH17, raised at half mast, rattled gently against their poles.

The breeze offering a defiant reminder that the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines disaster nearly a week ago in the Ukraine are gone but not forgotten.

With sun shining and not a cloud in the sky on Wednesday, the first 40 bodies touched down on Dutch soil from Kharkiv.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove best summed up the mood.

“Why is it that such sad occasions often occur on beautiful days,” said Sir Peter following the completion of a moving ceremony.

At 3.47pm local time, the Dutch C130 Hercules arrived with 16 bodies on board.

Minutes later, the Australian RAAF C17 transporter landed, with its Australian crew carrying 24 victims.

The two planes formed a v-shape on the tarmac as military personnel took guard.

About 1000 relatives and friends of victims, Australians among them, and dozens of dignitaries – including Sir Peter, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the king and queen of Holland – watched on.

In a separate section stood hundreds of the world’s media.

Finally, the overwhelming sound of the propellers and engines ceased and stoic flags aside, all went quiet.

Then the spine-tingling Last Post rang out.

After a minute’s silence, the dignified process of moving bodies from the planes to 40 hearses began.

The black hearses lined up in two rows of 12, in between the two aircraft.

One can only imagine the thoughts of relatives, wondering whether the bodies inside each wooden casket was a loved one.

Until a specialist team in Hilversum, north Holland, begins the agonising process of identifying bodies on Thursday, Sir Peter said the dead were nationals of a united humanity.

“So today they were all Australians. And they were all Dutch. And they were all the other nations,” he said.

Letters and numbers were written on a small strip of masking tape stuck to the side of each casket.

Some featured just one inscription to identify who or what was inside; others had up to three markings of letters and numbers.

What that might mean is a gruesome thought, indeed.

The hearses departed the tarmac in silent convoy; 24 in the first motorcade, 16 in the next.

Later, the Dutch C130 and Australian RAAF would take off, back to the Ukraine to do it all again, until all the accounted bodies have arrived in Holland for identification.

Australian families and friends will be notified as soon as bodies are recognised, a process which could take months.

In the meantime, the flags of the world will remember.

Operation Bring Them Home has begun.

World Bank offers India billions

The World Bank has offered India up to $US18 billion ($A19.

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5 billion) in financial support in the next three years, while lavishly praising new right-wing premier Narendra Modi’s “ambitious vision” for the country.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Party was elected in May with the biggest electoral majority in three decades on pledges of reviving India’s sluggish economy.

Speaking at the end of a three-day visit to India, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told reporters he was hugely impressed with Modi’s “comprehensive and extremely ambitious vision for the country”.

“I am more optimistic leaving (about India’s prospects) than when I arrived,” Kim said on Wednesday, following talks with Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to discuss the new government’s development priorities.

Modi, 63, “has an extreme sense of urgency”, Kim said, as he outlined an offer to India of “financial support worth $15 billion to $18 billion over the next three years” to help lift hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty.

“His (Modi’s) intention is to grow this economy quickly, grow the number of jobs quickly and demonstrate to the Indian people you can do things at scale with great speed,” Kim said.

As part of Modi’s anti-poverty drive, Kim strongly urged him not to block a landmark world trade deal, due for acceptance by July 31, that would make it easier for goods to cross borders and inject an estimated $1 billion into the global economy.

India has been threatening not to ratify the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement reached last year in Bali unless it gets assurances that it can help its poor citizens with food subsidies.

While Modi is pro-business, his government says the trade facilitation agreement or TFA is biased in favour of wealthier nations which assert that food subsidies lead to distortions in global trade.

Australians march in to AC/DC

AC/DC’s Back in Black is hardly a marching tune, but it just seemed to fit when Australia’s head banging athletes strode into Celtic Park to the rousing anthem as the Commonwealth Games officially got underway.

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Anna Meares led the Australian contingent of around 375 athletes and officials into the home of Celtic Football Club to a welcoming ovation from the 40,00 crowd as loud as any AC/DC number.

And in case they needed any more pumping up for the Games opening ceremony, the raucous entrance tune lifted the Australians even higher.

“Just before we went into the stadium I turned around and did the `Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,’ chant and the whole team followed along,” Meares said.

“That was incredible.

“Standing there, waiting to walk in and then being welcomed in hearing AC/DC, the vibe in there was just electric.

“So happy, so colourful – lots of Aussie flags and boxing kangaroos around the place as well, I can’t stop smiling.”

Their wintry green rain jackets were an unnecessary accessory on a balmy Glasgow evening at the end of the city’s hottest day of the year.

Strolling behind Meares and the flag, the massive Australian team spread out along the multi-coloured track, holding up the traffic as they stopped for the obligatory selfie and paused to take in the atmosphere, while marching wasn’t good enough for some who walked on their hands.

They took out their cameras again when swimming great Ian Thorpe walked past them as he carried the Commonwealth Games Federation flag around the stadium.

But they also joined in a sombre moment as the stadium rose for a minute’s silence to honour the 28 Australians and other victims of the MH17 plane disaster, more than 100 of whom were from Commonwealth countries.

Meares was whisked back to the athletes village shortly after leading the team to their place in the infield, to prepare for her 500m time trial on Thursday morning.

And how else would a champion cyclist have travelled to and from the stadium?

“My coach and team manager met me outside the stadium with my bike and I rolled down the hill to here – save the legs for tomorrow,” she said.

“I rode up to the stadium and rode home from the stadium.”