18/12/2008 - 14:37

Another flat day for the market

18/12/2008 - 14:37


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The Australian share market finished marginally in the black with a weaker Commonwealth Bank and energy stocks weighed on the bourse.

Another flat day for the market

The Australian share market finished marginally in the black with a weaker Commonwealth Bank and energy stocks weighed on the bourse.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 10.6 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 3,581.2, while the broader All Ordinaries index gained 6.7 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 3,521.7.

Yesterday the S&P?ASX200 index closed up 0.4 oer cent while the All Ordinaries closed up 0.46 per cent.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange at 1618 AEDT, the March share price index contract was four points higher at 3,585 on a volume of 28,448 contracts.

The March contract replaces the December contract, which expired at 1200 AEDT.

The December share price index futures contract settled 74 points lower to 3,504 points on a volume of 7,048 contracts.

Shares in Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) slumped to their lowest level in almost six years after the country's biggest lender finalised a $2 billion raising of capital underwritten by UBS, of which $1.65 billion was replaced on Wednesday.

"The capital raising and increase in bad debt provisions has attracted significant attention from the brokers, with a number of downgrades coming across the wire," IG Markets research analyst Ben Potter said, describing the capital raising as "bungled".

CBA's shares plunged $2.65, or 9.09 per cent, to $26.50.

National Australia Bank head of Australia operations Ahmed Fahour has apparently lost his position after group chief executive designate Cameron Clyne decided to combine the roles, cementing his power at the bank.

"At their AGM this morning, NAB reiterated their expectations for slowing volume growth and rising bad debt provisions given the slowing global economy," Mr Potter said.

NAB shares advanced 50 cents, or 2.59 per cent, to $19.82.

ANZ said it planned to take advantage of opportunities offered by the financial crisis as it seeks to grow its business in Asia and become a "super regional bank".

Shares in ANZ rose 57 cents, or 4.16 per cent, to $14.27.

Westpac gained 22 cents, or 1.4 per cent, to $15.94.

Among the mining giants, Rio Tinto was down 32 cents to $40.00 and BHP Billiton gained five cents to $31.00.

BHP Billiton said in a letter to shareholders that it would focus on expanding existing mines rather than new developments in nations where it had not yet operated during the current economic uncertainty.

"Moody's downgraded Rio's senior unsecured debt to Baa1 from A3, saying that the downgrade captures increased financial risk linked with the firm's Alcan debt and limited progress with asset disposals," Mr Potter said.

CommSec market analyst Savanth Sebastian said the energy sector was weaker despite the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries saying it would slash its output by seven per cent - its biggest yet production cut.

He said the cut did not necessarily mean oil producing nations would comply with the directive.

The price of crude oil fell below $US40 a barrel in New York overnight before closing at a four-and-a-half year low.

Woodside Petroleum was down $2.19, or 6.08 per cent, at $33.81, Santos retreated 55 cents, or 3.75 per cent, to $14.10 and Oil Search gave up 23 cents, or 4.87 per cent, to $4.49.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US864.25 per fine ounce at 1624 AEDT, up $US13.65 on Wednesday's close of $US850.60.

Gold stocks were mixed. Newcrest was up 81 cents, or 2.74 per cent at $30.36, Newmont fell 10 cents, or 1.75 per cent, to $5.60 and Lihir Gold gained seven cents to $2.74.

Making headlines on Thursday, Australia's largest general insurer IAG has agreed to sell its mass market distribution business in the UK for STG73.5 million ($A162.8 million) to concentrate on profitable units there.

Shares in IAG were up 10 cents to $4.10.

Among the retailers, Coles owner Wesfarmers was 10 cents lower at $16.56, rival Woolworths fell 40 cents to $25.35, David Jones gained 12 cents to $2.97 and Harvey Norman shed nine cents to $2.34.

The media sector was mixed. Newspaper group Fairfax gained two cents to $1.54, News Corp appreciated nine cents to $12.79, its non-voting scrip inched two cents higher to $11.96 and broadcaster Ten Network Holdings fell 3.5 cents to $1.01.

Ten has taken a razor to its cost base, reduced its interim dividend payout ratio and cancelled its share buyback after reporting a slump in first quarter profit as ad spending slides.

Telstra was the most traded stock, with 135.7 million shares changing hands worth $484.32 million.

The telco's shares added 14 cents, or 3.93 per cent, to $3.70.

It said in a letter to shareholders that it disagreed with the federal government's decision to kick it out of the bidding process for a national high-speed broadband network but would "move on".

Preliminary turnover reached 2.49 billion shares, valued at $9.71 billion, with 427 stocks up, 454 down and 295 unchanged.


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