Market Wrap: Aus shares hit with impact from Japan

Market Reports

The Australian share market fell .4 per cent today, investors unnerved by the events in Japan. Local shares however recovered ground, after steep losses in early afternoon trade with interest returning in the miners. 

The S&P/ASX200 Index fell 18 points to close at 4,626. On the futures market, the SPI is down 22 points.

Company news: Shares in Rio Tinto Ltd (ASX:RIO) subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ASX:ERA) took a battering today, as investors pulled back from uranium stocks amid rising fears brought on by Japan’s nuclear crisis. Reports have suggested three Japanese nuclear power plants are suffering potential radiation leaks, stoking concern over the safety of nuclear power generation which is fuelled with uranium. Other steep falls hit Paladin Energy Ltd (ASX:PDN), closing 16.28 per cent lower. While junior explorer Energia Minerals Ltd (ASX:EMX) plummeted 21.57 per cent to close at $0.20. Energy Resources of Australia plunged 12.23 per cent to close at $8.25. 

Galaxy Resources Ltd (ASX:GXY) has announced that it will indefinitely push back it proposed initial public offering in Hong Kong. The emerging lithium producer last year applied for a dual listing of its shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, in a move geared towards establishing a strategic Asian footprint. Galaxy Resources today says that in light of serious international events and related market volatility it will postpone the IPO until further notice, though remains strongly focussed on a listing in Hong Kong. Shares in Galaxy Resources dropped 13.2 per cent to close at $1.085.
 
Shares in Gunns Ltd (ASX:GNS) shed 12.5 per cent at close after one of the Tasmanian timber company’s largest customers, Nippon Paper, confirmed it will close a number of paper mills in Japan. The Japanese market provides Gunns with up to half of its revenues from exporting woodchip.  

Shares in Astro Japan Property Group (ASX:AJA) fell 4.02 per cent. The Japanese real estate market investor today said it expects no material portfolio damage as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, and announced that it had completed a $34.6 million equity raising, after which Goldman Sachs confirmed its hold recommendation on the stock.   

QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX:QBE) has issued its preliminary estimate of net claims from the earthquake and tsunami, expected to hit around $125 million.

Bowing to the rising cost of fuel, Virgin Blue Holdings (ASX:VBA) has advised it will raise international flight fuel surcharges by up to $100 on a return journey, while one-way domestic trips are set to cost an extra $10 from 21 March, 2011.

In the best and worst performers, most closed in the red: The best performing sector was Telco Services with the index adding 4 to close at 908. The worst performing sector was Financial Excluding Real Estate Investments Trusts, dipping 32 points to close at 5,038. The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX200 was BlueScope Steel shares rose 7.82 per cent to close at $2.00. Shares in Eastern Star Gas and Charter Hall Group also closed in positive territory today. The worst performing stock was Paladin Energy, shedding 16.49 per cent to close at $3.95. Shares in Gunns and Energy Resources of Australia also closed weaker today.

In commodities: Gold is trading at $US1,423 an ounce. Light crude is $1.49 cents down at $US99.67 a barrel.