Midday: Aus shares hit fresh 21 month high

Market Reports

Despite weak offshore leads, the Australian share market opened higher and is 0.7 per cent up at noon, hitting a fresh 21 month high in morning trade with health, financial and materials stocks posting gains.
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 36 points up at 4,915. On the futures market the SPI is 34 points higher. 
 
Economic news

Manufacturing activity contracted for an eleventh month in December according to the Australian Industry Group’s performance of manufacturing index (PMI). The index came in a 40.2 points, down from 43.6 in November. 
 
The RP Data-Rismark report has shown a solid performance in the Australian housing market to kick off 2013, with rising values in all capital cities bar Darwin. The national dwelling value rose 1.2 per cent in January, swinging from a 1.2 per cent drop in the final quarter of last year. 
 
Company news 
 
Virgin Australia Holdings Limited (ASX:VAH) has welcomed shareholder approval of its proposed 60 per cent acquisition of Tiger Airways in a deal valued at approximately $35 million. Australia’s second largest carrier says the positive vote is an important step in completing the proposed transaction. Shares in Virgin are trading steady at $0.43. 
 
Clover Corporation Limited (ASX:CLV) and its subsidiary Nu-Mega Ingredients have resigned a five year global supply agreement with a major multinational company to supply its Driphorm infant formula. The agreements continues what Clover says is a long term beneficial technical and commercial relationship. Shares in Clover Corporation are trading flat at $0.52. 
  
Best and worst performers

All major sectors are higher thus far today: The best performer is Healthcare gaining 198 points to 12,245. Shares in Mesoblast limited (ASX:MSB) have risen 4.60 per cent and trading at $6.25. Shares in ResMed Inc.(ASX:RMD) and Acrux Limited (ASX:ACR) are also stronger at midday.  
 
The sector with the least gains is Consumer Staples, adding 12 points to 9,249. Shares in Metcash Limited(ASX:MTS) have fallen 0.39 per cent, trading at $3.79. Shares in Woolworths Limited (ASX:WOW) are lower while Treasury Wine Estates Limited (ASX:TWE) are trading flat at noon.  

Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,663 an ounce and the Australian dollar is buying $US1.043.