Midday: Aus shares down at noon

Market Reports

Following soft offshore leads, the Australian share market opened lower this morning despite a bright start for the miners and stayed in negative as some heavyweights traded ex-dividend. At noon, the market 0.1of a per cent down. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 6 points down at 5,324. On the futures market the SPI is 1 points higher. 
 
Economic news

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) new motor vehicle sales for February were flat. The February 2014 seasonally adjusted estimate of 92 799 new vehicle sales has increased by 0.1% when compared with January 2014, Sales are down 3.5 per cent on a year ago, lead by commercial and sports utility categories.
 
Company news
 
BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) CEO Andrew Mackenzie has told media that the possibility of a cash return to investors is now “a practical one rather than a theoretical one."
 
Speaking in British media, Mackenzie reaffirmed the company's $6.1 billion cost-cutting target by the end of 2014 and a reduction in debt to $US25 billion. 
 
Mackenzie said upon reaching the debt reduction target “we will have a serious and practical conversation on how we might increase cash returns to shareholders. Net debt for the company was reported as $27.1 billion in the first half of this financial year. 
 
Despite a fall in iron ore prices this calendar year, Mackenzie predicted BHP would be in a position to return up to $6 billion dollars of free cash flow to investors in the 2015 financial year. Shares in BHP Billiton are trading up 0.24 per cent at $35.74. 
 
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) has announced it will not proceed with a farm-in agreement with Tasman Resources Limited (ASX:TAS) at the Vulcan joint venture in South Australia. Rio made the decision after the completion of the initial exploration program at the iron oxide, copper, gold and uranium site.
 
Tasman has said in a release that no thick mineralisation had yet been discovered at Vulcan, located 30 kilometres north of Olympic Dam, though significant areas of the site are yet to be explored. Shares in Rio Tinto are trading up 0.16 per cent at $61.60. 
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector is Materials gaining 42 points to 9,965. Shares in Medusa Mining Limited (ASX:MML) have risen 5.74 per cent and trading at $2.58. Shares in Resolute Mining Limited (ASX:RSG) and Northern Star Resources Limited (ASX:NST) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is Consumer Staples, falling 116 points to 9,834. Shares in Woolworths Limited (ASX:WOW) have fallen 2.23 per cent, trading at $35.51. Shares in Metcash Limited (ASX:MTS) and Coca-Cola Amatil Limited (ASX:CCL) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,386 an ounce.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9023.