Market Wrap: Aus shares march steadily higher

Market Reports

Following positive leads from US markets the Australian share market marched steadily higher in light trade today, advancing by 1.47 per cent. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 79 points up to finish at 5,474. 
 
The value of trades was $2.4 billion on volume of 411 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA), BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) and Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC)
 
On the futures market the SPI is 84 points up.
 
Company news
 
Staffing services company Skilled Group Limited (ASX:SKE) has blasted a merger proposal from Programmed Maintenance Services Limited (ASX:PRG) as opportunistic and undervalued. Programmed Maintenance Services has confirmed it made a non-binding ‘merger of equals’ proposal to Skilled Group last week which valued Skilled at $1.38 per share. Under the proposed deal shareholders of each company would hold 50 per cent of the combined group. Programmed Maintenance Services anticipates synergies of more than $20 million per annum after the merger. Skilled Group says it will conduct a detailed review of the proposal and respond in due course. Shares in Skilled Group advanced 20.08 per cent to close at $1.53. 
 
Infrastructure investor Infratil Limited (ASX:IFZ, NZE:IFT) and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund have agreed to buy RetireAustralia in a deal worth $640.2 million. RetireAustralia is Australia's largest privately-held retirement operator with 28 villages across New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. It’s the first foray into the Australian aged care sector for the two partners who teamed up to buy a stake in one of New Zealand’s largest aged care providers Metlifecare just over a year ago. Shares in Infratil are flat at $2.21.
 
Kresta Holdings Limited (ASX:KRS) will pay $10 million in cash for Franklyn Blinds Awnings Security Holdings. The deal should add about 30 per cent to Kresta’s turnover.
 
Woolworths Limited (ASX:WOW) hardware offshoot Masters opened two new stores on Boxing Day taking its footprint to 51 stores Australia-wide. 
 
Seven Group Holdings Limited (ASX:SVW) has been granted court approval for its acquisition of oil and gas junior Nexus Energy Limited (ASX:NXS)
 
And Aveo Group (ASX:AOG) says it has secured a new $275 million debt facility for the next three years, reducing cash interest expenses by over $10 million per annum.
 
Best and worst performers

All sectors were up today, the sector with the most gains was materials adding 2.5 per cent to close at 8,799. The sector with the least gains was real estate investment trusts, gaining 0.5 per cent to close at 1,232 points.
 
The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was the aforementioned Skilled Group. Shares in Beadell Resources and Evolution Mining also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Duet Group, dropping 3.21 per cent to close at $2.41. Shares in Charter Hall and Sydney Airport also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,196 an ounce. Light crude is $0.70 down at $US55.14 a barrel. The Australian dollar is buying 81.38 US cents.