PAINTSColourful startAmerican paint giant Valspar, which last year bought leading Australian paint brand Wattyl for $142 million, has reported strong sales for its paint range at Woolworths new hardware outlet Masters but has warned that a soft local housing market had dented volume expectations. Addressing analysts, the Valspar president and chief executive, Gary Hendrickson, said he was pleased with the progress of Masters with five stores now opened and the paint group being awarded with a majority of the shelf space. Rival Bunnings has retaliated by not stocking Wattyl.COALDemand slippingFalling demand is feeding through to falling coal prices, Gloucester Coal told shareholders at yesterday's annual general meeting, although it remains confident in demand over the "medium to longer term". Prices of both coking coal, used in steelmaking, and steaming coal, used by power stations, are down about 10 per cent in the past six weeks or so, with no immediate prospect of a turnaround. According to coal industry specialist IHS McCloskey, export prices for good-quality Australian coking coal has fallen to $US240 a tonne from $US267 a tonne in October.RETAILSussan quits NZFashion chain Sussan is to close six of its New Zealand stores and turn the remaining nine into outlets for its low-budget sister, Suzanne Grae. "We will exit the New Zealand brand in August next year," the Sussan chief executive, Colleen Callander, told BusinessDay. She said the move would increase the number of Suzanne Grae stores in New Zealand from 11 to 20.TAKEOVERSNew Hope suitorsNew Hope Coal says it has received several third-party takeover proposals and talks are continuing. The thermal coal miner invited formal takeover bids in early October, after receiving several unsolicited preliminary offers. "New Hope remains in discussion with several of those third parties, and those discussions remain confidential and incomplete," the company said in an ASX statement. It says the formal process had progressed to the second stage and was expected to take several months.TAXATIONCarbon crusaderAUSTRALIA'S richest person Gina Rinehart, pictured, is happy for government to increases taxes on cigarettes and grog. But don't go increasing taxes on productive capacity through carbon and mining taxes. Writing in the Australian Resources and Investment magazine today, Mrs Rinehart said the taxes would only make Australia less competitive as a "recession approaches." She said Australia could learn from countries like Singapore and Monaco.