Market Wrap: ASX hits fresh 20 month high

Market Reports

The Australian share market opened slightly lower this morning and was weighed down by losses in resources stocks early before rallying in afternoon trade to hit a fresh 20 month high, closing 0.5 per cent up.  
 
Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed 22 points up to finish at 4,810. The value of trades was $4.02 billion on volume of 732 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA)
 
On the futures market the SPI is 22 points higher.
 
Economic news

HSBC's Flash Chinese manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) hit a 24 month high in January, rising to 51.9, from 51.5 in December. The positive result is an indication Chinese operating conditions are improving, given any reading above 50 signals expansion.
 
The HIA-RP Data Residential Land Report has revealed that residential land sales fell by 17.8 per cent in the September quarter, which the Housing Industry Association says signals a ‘rocky road’ for any new home building recovery this year. 
 
Company news 
 
Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) has maintained its full-year production guidance after reporting a rise in second quarter iron ore production. Fortescue shipped 19.1 million tonnes of iron ore in the three months to December, a 32 per cent increase on the previous corresponding quarter, and a 24 per cent increase on the September quarter. The Pilbara focused miner says increased shipments resulted from boosted production at its processing facility at Christmas Creek, as well as early mining activity at the Firetail deposit in its Solomon project. Shares in Fortescue closed 0.64 per cent down at $4.63. 
 
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) is reportedly facing court action surrounding worker discrimination allegations stemming from the closure of its Blair Athol coal mine late last year. According to Fairfax reports, Rio has fronted the New South Wales federal court over accusations of redundancy payout favouritism toward non-union affiliated workers. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union told Fairfax Rio breached four sections of the Fair Work Act by attempting to penalise workers that chose to remain on a collective agreement. Shares in Rio Tinto closed 0.24 per cent down at $66.29. 
 
Cedar Woods Properties Limited (ASX:CWP) has upgraded its first half net profit to approximately $18 million unaudited, a 64 per cent increase on the previous corresponding period.
 
The consumer watchdog has given the green light to Brickworks Limited (ASX:BKW) acquisition of Boral Limited’s (ASX:BLD) NSW concrete masonry business.
 
OZ Minerals Limited (ASX:OZL) says its Prominent Hill operations delivered a consistent performance in 2012 despite gold and copper production falling below the previous year.
 
Newcrest Mining Limited (ASX:NCM) has maintained its full year gold and copper production guidance after boosting its output slightly in the December quarter.
 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Telco services adding 17 points to close at 1,560.
The worst performing sector was Utilities, losing 11 points to close at 5,397.
 
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX:ALL), rising 5.41 per cent to close at $3.51. Shares in Southern Cross Media Group Limited (ASX:SXL) and Ardent Leisure Group (ASX:AAD) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was PanAust Limited (ASX:PNA), dropping 8.96 per cent to close at $3.05. Shares in Discovery Metals Limited (ASX:DML) and Kingsgate Consolidated Limited (ASX:KCN) also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,681 an ounce. Light crude is $0.32 up at $US95.55 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.051. 

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