Market Wrap: ASX sinks 0.6% into red

Market Reports

Lifting at open the Australian share market dropped into the red by noon and closed 0.6 per cent down, just off session lows. Despite a positive lead from Wall Street local stocks reversed direction as investors absorbed surprisingly disappointing housing figures, fuelling question about interest rate cuts on the horizon. Meanwhile, Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glen Stevens was today reappointed as the central bank’s chief for another three years. 

Figures
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 28 points by session’s close to end at 4,958. 

The value of trades was $5.4 billion on volume of 913 million shares at the close of trade.

The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), ANZ Banking Group (ASX:ANZ) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA).

On the futures market the SPI is 22 points lower.

Economic news

Australia’s trade balance has improved on the back of coal and iron ore shipments. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports the trade deficit narrowed to $178 million in February from $1.2 billion the month before. Exports rose 3 per cent as imports dipped 1 per cent. 

New home sales have fallen for the first time in four months, despite last year's RBA interest rate cuts. According to the Housing Industry Association new homes sales fell 5.3 per cent in February, weighed down by an 11 per cent fall in multi-unit sales. 

Company news

Santos Limited (ASX:STO) has expressed disappointment in Standard and Poor’s decision to reclassify the company’s hybrid instrument as debt. S&P previously classified Santos’ €100 billion hybrid as equity but has now reclassified it as debt, meaning Santos’ BBB+ credit rating has been placed on Credit Watch with negative implications. Shares in Santos fell 2.1 per cent and closed at $12.11. 

Origin Energy Limited (ASX:ORG) has advised it will mull its options following a move by Standard & Poor’s revise criteria used for assigning equity content to hybrid capital instruments. The energy producing company will now consider whether it will exercise its early redemption rights. Shares in Origin Energy fell 1.86 per cent and closed at $13.20. 
 
ANZ Banking Group’s (ASX:ANZ) international and institutional chief Alex Thursby is set to depart the bank at the end of this month to head another bank in the Middle East.
 
Property manager Stockland (ASX:SGP) says it is expanding its presence into Sydney’s south west growth corridor after submitting development applications to launch a $1 billion major new residential community. 
 
West Australian property developer Finbar Group Limited (ASX:FRI) has affirmed it expects a strong annual financial performance after announcing the sale of apartment projects. 
 
Coal exploration company Atrum Coal NL (ASX:ATU) has boosted the JORC resources at its flagship Groundhog Anthracite Project in Canada and described the deposit as extraordinary. 
 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was telco services adding 20 points to close at 1,563.
The worst performing sector was materials, losing 178 points to close at 9,380 points.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Maverick Drilling and Exploration Limited (ASX:MAD), rising 10.77 per cent to close at $0.72. Shares in Goodman Fielder Limited (ASX:GFF) and Senex Energy Limited (ASX:SXY) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Discovery Metals Limited (ASX:DML), dropping 13.6 per cent to close at $0.54. Shares in Northern Star Resources Limited (ASX:NST) and St. Barbara Limited (ASX:SBM) also closed lower. 

Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,568 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.51 down at $US96.68 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.046.