Midday: ASX maintains momentum ahead of RBA

Market Reports

With positive leads from the US the local share market pushed closer towards the 6,000 point mark led by the real estate investment trust sector.
 
Debate on the RBA’s rates call due this afternoon is still vigorous with the need for economic stimulus being weighed against the prospects of the property market pushing into bubble territory if the central bank’s cash rate were to be lowered. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 19 points up at 5,978. On the futures market the SPI is 19 points higher. 
 
Economic news

The ABS has reported a surprise narrowing in the current account deficit in the December quarter. The deficit on income moving between Australia and the rest of the world shrunk 21 per cent to $9.6 billion. Meanwhile building approvals have jumped 7.9 per cent to 19,282 for January which is a new record high and comes in above analysts’ expectations. 
 
Company news
 
Coal explorer Cokal Limited (ASX:CKA) has received a takeover proposal from Indonesian company Cakra Mineral. Cokal operates in Kalimantan in Indonesia and says the offer was unsolicited, non-binding and incomplete and, as yet it has formed no opinion on the deal. Cakra has proposed an offer price of $0.15 per share, valuing the company’s equity at $70 million. The company will engage with Cakra to evaluate the proposal. Shares in Cokal are trading up 36.84 per cent at $0.13
 
Benitec Biopharma Limited (ASX:BLT) has progressed its Hepatitis C drug TT-034 with a US safety board finding no drug related adverse events in the dosing of the third patient. The biotech company says the US Data Safety Monitoring Board recommended that the drug’s trial continue to proceed. Shares in Benitec Biopharma are trading up 0.87 per cent at $0.87 
 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector is REIT, gaining 1.1 per cent to 1,349. Shares in Scentre Group Limited (ASX:SCG) have risen 2.31 per cent and trading at $3.99. Shares in Mirvac Group (ASX:MGR) and Goodman Group (ASX:GMG) are also stronger.
 
The worst performing sector is utilities, falling 1.5 per cent to 6,744. Shares in APA Group (ASX:APA) have fallen 3.93 per cent, trading at $9.28. Shares in Spark Infrastructure Group (ASX:SKI) and AusNet Services (ASX:AST) are also lower.
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,208 an ounce.
The Australian dollar is buying $US0.7761