After a strong start to the week the Australian share market opened flat and closed 0.4 per cent down at session lows. Negative leads and a lack of clear direction on future stimulus from the US Federal Reserve sapped sentiment from the start. BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) dropped along with the major miners following recent production reports, pushing the materials sector 2.1 per cent down by close.
The S&P/ASX 200 index dipped 17 points to finish at 4,124. On the futures market, the SPI is now 15 points lower.
A gauge on the likely pace of economic activity three to nine months into the future has improved. The Westpac – Melbourne Institute Leading Index in May came in at 1.6 per cent, above April’s read of 0.2 per cent but below the long term trend of 2.6 per cent.
BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) has reported record full year and fourth quarter iron ore results. West Australian iron ore shipments rose to an annualised rate of 179 million tonnes in the March quarter and the global miner has forecast iron ore output to rise by 5 per cent in 2013. It was not enough to impress investors: Mining rivals Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) and Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) continued to extended yesterday’s losses also after reporting higher iron ore production. Shares in BHP Billiton fell 1.98 per cent today, closing at $30.18.
Asciano Limited (ASX:AIO) has announced a $348 million plan to expand its container terminal at Port Botany in Sydney. The ports and rail operator says the changes will boost productivity and as a result 270 positions will be cut by mid-2014. Shares in Asciano firmed 0.69 per cent today, closing at $4.37.
National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) has revealed that its two British lenders, Clydesdale and Yorkshire, are under review for the alleged inappropriate sales of interest rate hedging products.
Qantas Airways Limited (ASX:QAN) has launched an online accommodation booking website named Hooroo that will enable social media users to recommend accommodation and holiday destinations to their personal network.
Shares in Gerard Lighting Group Limited (ASX:GLG) surged after the lighting manufacturer backed a $186 million takeover offer from Champ Private Equity.
Shares in technology company TZ Limited (ASX:TZL) dropped as the Mark Bouris-chaired company announced a restructure to reduce overall operating costs.
Best and worst performers
The best performing sector was Health Care adding 73 points to close at 9,358.
The worst performing sector was Materials, losing 190 points to close at 9,022 points.
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Southern Cross Media Group (ASX:SXL), rising 4.09 per cent to close at $1.15. Shares in Seven Group Holdings Limited (ASX:SVW) and Pacific Brands Limited (ASX:PBG) also closed higher.
The worst performing stock was Mount Gibson Iron Limited (ASX:MGX), dropping 6.81 per cent to close at $0.89. Shares in Perseus Mining Limited (ASX:PRU) and Intrepid Mines Limited (ASX:IAU) also closed lower.
Gold is trading at $US1,579 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.62 down at $US88.60 a barrel.
The Australian dollar
The Australian dollar is buying $US1.03.