Market Wrap: Aus shares close lower on Ukraine fears

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.22 of a per cent down as risk averse investors sent most major sectors lower as the world awaits the fallout of the Crimean independence referendum. 

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 12 points down to finish at 5,318. 
 
The value of trades was $3.4 billion on volume of 604 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 3 points down.

Company news
 
Property developer Lend Lease Group (ASX:LLC) has been appointed preferred tenderer for the design and construction of the NorthConnex Motorway in Sydney.
 
Toll road operator Transurban Group (ASX:TCL) and its partners in the Westlink M7 are undertaking the project which has a construction budget of $2.65 billion. 
 
Lend Lease will work with a French construction company Bouygues Construction to deliver the project. 
 
Lend Lease has advised the award of the design and construction contract is subject to planning approval and finalisation of contract terms. Pending New South Wales government approvals, the financial close is expected late this year and work is expected to start in 2015. Shares in Lend Lease Group are trading up 0.9 per cent at $11.42.
 
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 down 0.53 per cent at $35.47. 
 
Shares in Macquarie Radio Network Limited (ASX:MRN) dropped over 5 per cent after the company announced the departure of managing direct Rob Loewenthal. Mr Loewenthal joined MRN as CFO in 2007. He also served as COO before taking the managing director hat in 2012. He also sat on the company’s board of directors, and will relinquish that position as well.
 
Mr Loewenthal will leave the company on 28 March. Executive Chairman and CEO of Macquarie Radio Russell Tate will take over MD and Chairman duties. Shares in Macquarie Radio Network closed 5.22 per cent down. 
 
Leighton Holdings Limited’s (ASX:LEI) parent company Hochtief has warned the construction giant’s work force could be cut and its five internal businesses restructured.
 
Leighton’s internal businesses include Thiess, John Holland, Leighton Contractors, Leighton Asia, India and ¬Offshore and Leighton Properties.
 
Leighton’s CEO Hamish Tyrwhitt and CFO Peter Gregg resigned following Hochtief’s bid of $22.50 per share. Shares in Leighton Holdings closed 3.37 per cent down. 
 
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 closed 0.36 per cent down. 
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Industrials adding half a point to close at 4,039.5. The worst performing sector was Consumer Staples, losing 110 points as Woolworths traded ex-dividend. Staples closed at 9840 points.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Northern Star Resources Limited (ASX:NST), rising 8.16 per cent to close at $1.32. Shares in G8 Education Limited (ASX:GEM) and Resolute Mining Limited (ASX:RSG) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC), dropping 6.25 per cent to close at $0.23. Shares in Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN) and Acrux Limited (ASX:ACR) also closed lower. 

Commodities

Gold is buying $US1,383 an ounce. Light crude is $0.69 up at $US98.89 a barrel.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9054.