Market Wrap: Aus shares close flat

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed flat after profit taking was offset by strong retail sales and trade figures. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed just 0.3 of a point down to finish at 5,446. 
 
The value of trades was $4.8 billion on volume of 845 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA).
On the futures market the SPI is 9 points down.
 
Economic news

China was today hosing down yesterday's bullish prediction of 7.5 per cent growth this year with Finance Minister Lou Jiwei saying economic growth below the government’s target is acceptable. He reiterated that employment, not the exact level of expansion, was the government’s key target.
 
At home, COMMSEC household income and spending data shows real consumer spending rose by 2.0 per cent in the 2013 calendar year, down from the decade average 3.3 per cent. GDP per capita rose by 3.0 per cent in the year, also short of the 4.9 per cent average. Household income was up 2.9% with a rise in disposable income.

COMMSEC economists said the ‘non-retail’ areas like health, utilities, cars, insurance, housing and education that are taking larger shares of the increased consumer outlay.
 
Company news 
 
Carsales.com Limited (ASX:CRZ) has entered a trading halt before announcing it had acquired a 49.9 per cent shareholding in South Korea’s top auto trading website SK Encar. 
 
The news comes after carsales announced yesterday it had bought a 3 per cent holding in iCar Asia. Carsales managing director Greg Roebuck said the investment in SK Encar was an important step in its long-term growth and internationalisation strategies. Shares in Carsales.com closed 5 per cent up at $11.03. 
 
Slater & Gordon has announced it is preparing a class action against Billabong International Limited (ASX.BBG) on instructions from Billabong investors. The action centres on a trading update made by the company to the market on 19 December 2011.
 
Slater and Gordon said in a release their “clients allege that Billabong’s internal initiatives had no viable chance of substantially increasing profit margins, contrary to what the company had conditioned investors for."
 
Billabong said in a release to the ASX that they had not yet been contacted by Slater and Gordon and will vigorously defend the allegations. Shares in Billabong International closed 1.63 per cent down at $0.60. 
 
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) has added two new non-executive directors who boast significant experience in the mining industry. Simon Thompson and Anne Lauvergeon will join the company within the next month after serving as directors of a number of mining businesses. Elsewhere, Rio Tinto has amended the terms of a farm-in and joint venture with Canada-based Laramide Resources. Laramide says it has received a 12 month extension from Rio Tinto to complete certain work programs in Australia’s Northern Territory. Shares in Rio Tinto closed 0.35 per cent down.  
 
Bank of Queensland Limited (ASX:BOQ) says its ability to compete has improved after its credit rating was again upgraded by Moody's Investors Service. The ratings agency has lifted the Brisbane based lender’s long term credit rating to A3 from Baa1. Moody’s says the upgrade reflects the bank’s improved credit risk profile and balance sheet strength. Shares in Bank of Queensland closed 1.71 per cent up.  
 
Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) has announced plans to raise about $500 million from wholesale investors. The bank will offer subordinated notes with the margin to be determined by a bookbuild process. Westpac says the notes are not being offered to retail investors and are not issued under a prospectus. Shares in Westpac closed 0.23 per cent up.
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Industrials adding 27 points to close at 4,120.The worst performing sector was Health Care, losing 162 points to close at 14,688 points.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Sirius Resources (ASX:SIR), rising 8.76 per cent to close at $2.73. Shares in Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) and Carsales.com Limited (ASX:CRZ) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Acrux Limited (ASX:ACR), dropping 8.61 per cent to close at $1.91. Shares in Echo Entertainment Group (ASX:EGP) and Mermaid Marine Australia Limited (ASX:MRM) also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,338 an ounce. Light crude is $1.88 down at $US101.45 a barrel. The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9011.