Market Wrap: Aus shares close 0.85% higher

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.85 per cent higher after fears of war in Ukraine eased with most major sectors experiencing gains. 
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 46 points up to finish at 5,446. 
 
The value of trades was $5.7 billion on volume of 960 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC), BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA).

On the futures market the SPI is 44 points higher.

Economic news

The Chinese Government has set an annual growth target of 7.5 per cent for the second straight year. China actually achieved a 7.7 per cent growth last year, despite a contraction in manufacturing growth and exports. Chinese economists have reaffirmed a commitment to do ‘whatever it takes to prevent growth from slowing down.’

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the target will boost market confidence and promote economic structural adjustment. He also said stable growth ensures employment.

Analysts have said maintaining the growth level at 7.5 per cent will require a significant easing of credit conditions in China as well as significant increases in government spending. Growth of 7.5 per cent would be the weakest annual growth rate for over twenty years.
 
Company news
 
Wesfarmers Limited (ASX:WES) has announced plans for its flagship supermarket chain Coles to invest $1.1 billion over the next three years, building 70 new supermarkets and creating more than 16,000 jobs.

Managing Director Ian McLeod said Coles new store expansion would create around 8,500 full-time retail jobs as well as more than 8,200 construction jobs over the next three years. The group plans to open between 20 and 25 stores a year, while also closing some outlets with a net store growth over around 3 per cent. Shares in Wesfarmers closed 1 per cent up at $43.15. 
 
Downer EDI Limited (ASX:DOW) has been awarded a $70 million contract for structural, mechanical, piping, electrical and instrumentation installations at the Technical Ammonium Nitrate project near on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia. 
 
The engineering and infrastructure management company was awarded the contract by Tecnicas Reunidas S.A., a Spanish-based international contractor. 
 
Downer EDI is maintaining its positive full year outlook on improved production and cost cutting within its divisions. Shares in Downer EDI closed 0.6 per cent down at $4.93. 
 
Carsales.com Limited (ASX:CRZ) today announced that it has agreed to acquire a further 3 per cent stake in iCar Asia, lifting its total holding in the leading ASEAN online car network to 22.9%.
 
The sale will see carsales grow its position in the lucrative Asian market. iCar Asia has a similar business model to carsales with websites in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia reaching more that 4.5 million unique visitors every month. 
 
The $7.2 million dollar acquisition represents carsales 'maximum permitted creep' under Section 611 of the Corporations act. Shares in X are trading down 0.57 per cent. 
 
Global resources giant Glencore Xstrata is considering making an offer to BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) for the Nickel West operation, located near as existing Glencore nickel facility in Western Australia.

Glencore Xstrata is looking to lower costs in its nickel operations after a recent price slide. CEO Ivan Glasenberg has indicated the Nickel West project’s proximity to Glencore’s Murrin Murrin project as well as its rail links to smelting facilities in Kalgoorlie and Kwinana make it an attractive target. Shares in BHP Billiton are trading up 1.18 per cent. 
 
To the best and worst performers of the day: The best performing sector was Consumer Discretionary adding 25 points to close at 1,891.The worst performing sector was REITs, losing 1.6 points to close at 1,029 points, followed by Telcos.
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Paladin Energy Limited (ASX:PDN), rising 11.88 per cent to close at $0.57. Shares in PanAust Limited (ASX:PNA) and Sirtex Medical Limited (ASX:SRX) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was NRW Holdings Limited (ASX:NWH), dropping 7.17 per cent to close at $1.17. Shares in Silver Lake Resources Limited (ASX:SLR) and Decmil Group Limited (ASX:DCG) also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,337 an ounce. Light crude is $1.59 down at $US103.33 a barrel.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.8963.