Weak leads pushed the Australian share market more than 1 per cent lower at open and equities spent the day in the red, closing near session lows. The fall came after US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave no hits the central bank will be launching another round of quantitative easing, dampening investor sentiment. Most sectors closed lower, weighed down by utilities and miners.
The S&P/ASX 200 index shed 43 points to finish at 4,256. On the futures market, the SPI is currently 39 points lower.
Chinese manufacturing has expanded for the third straight month. The state-affiliated China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing’s official Purchasing Managers Index increased to 51 in February, up 0.5 per cent from the month before.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported total capital spending dropped 0.3 per cent to $37.9 billion in the last three months of 2011, missing expectations for an increase of up to 4 per cent.
The ABS also showed residential building approvals in Australia increased 0.9 per cent in January, coming in less than expected and 14.6 per cent down from the year before.
Supermarket giant Woolworths Limited’s (ASX:WOW) first half results have come in better than expected. Though Woolies net profit fell 17 per cent on the back of a $300 million charge for its Dick Smith business, its profit from continuing operations gained 3.2 per cent. Woolies has confirmed full year guidance of between 2 to 6 per cent profit growth. Shares in Woolworths spent most of the day in positive territory but closed steady at $25.30.
Shares in New Hope Corporation Limited (ASX:NHC) fell after the Queensland coal producer said it has abandoned plans to put itself up for sale. New Hope put itself up for sale in October last year but says after granting due diligence and holding discussions with third parties it has not received an appropriate offer and so will terminate the sales process. Shares in New Hope fell 4.9 per cent today, closing at $5.43.
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) has scored approval from the West Australian government for its rail and power supply project which is set to connect the Hope Downs 4 iron ore mine to Hope Downs 1 infrastructure in the Pilbara region.
Explosives maker Orica Limited (ASX:ORI) has inked a heads of agreement with Yara and Apache to form a joint venture to start building an ammonium nitrate plant on the Burrup peninsula by mid this year.
Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) has confirmed that it is in advanced talks with India’s International Coal Ventures to sell its Washpool Hard Coking Coal project, but no binding offer has at this stage been received.
Saracen Mineral Holdings Limited (ASX:SAR) fell to today’s worst performer after yesterday afternoon releasing its first half results and forecasting higher costs in the second half.
Best and worst performers
The best performing sector was Consumer Staples adding 13 points to close at 7,418. The worst performing sector was Utilities, losing 97 points to close at 4,527 points.
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Southern Cross Media Group (ASX:SXL), rose 6.32 per cent to close at $1.345. Shares in Seven Group Holdings Limited (ASX:SVW) and David Jones Limited (ASX:DJS) also added value.
The worst performing stock was Saracen Mineral Holdings Limited (ASX:SAR) falling 11.03 per cent to close at $0.645. Shares in Mineral Deposits Limited (ASX:MDL) and White Energy Company Limited (ASX:WEC) also lost value.
Gold is trading at $US1,723 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.01 lower at $US107.06 a barrel.