Market Wrap: Shares close higher

Market Reports

Financial stocks pushed the Australian share market higher today, with the benchmark index breaking through the 5000-point barrier for the second time since Monday. Aussie shares closed firmly in the black led by gains in the big four banks and Macquarie after news Macquarie Bank has agreed to acquire an aircraft operating lease portfolio for $1.67 billion from a unit of American International Group.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index closed the session 43 points higher at 4,995, while on the futures market, the SPI200’s up 42.

To company news around this afternoon: MEO Australia Ltd (ASX:MEO) shares surged today after Brazilian oil giant Petrobras announced it will pay up to $US80 million for a 50% stake in an exploration permit offshore Western Australia. Under the deal, Petrobras will buy 50% of the permit in the Carnarvon Basin by funding up to $US41 million of the first well’s costs, paying MEO $US31.5 million cash and covering about $US7.5 million of MEO’s share of previous costs. MEO says its Artemis prospect could contain up to 12 trillion cubic feet of gas, but it admits exploration success is not guaranteed. If a discovery is successful, Petrobras will pay for two follow-up wells to a cap of $US62 million and another $US31.5 million cash to MEO in January 2011. Shares in MEO Australia closed 24.66% higher at $0.455.

Australian Agricultural Company Ltd (ASX:AAC) has appointed director Nick Burton Taylor as acting chairman as it continues a reshuffle of its board. Mr Taylor is a former chairman of the company’s board, who was dumped in May 2008 after a major shareholder opposed his re-election. The beef producer is searching for a new chairman after Stephen Lonie indicated earlier this month that he would step down, after less than a year in the position. Shares in Australian Agricultural Company closed 0.7% higher at $1.435.

Also making news: Reed Resources Ltd (ASX:RDR) has increased the resource at its Mt Marion project near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia by 220% to 128,000 tonnes of lithium oxide.

ASIC has given Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina’s planned $3.4 billion acquisition of Arrow Energy Ltd (ASX:AOE) the green light, ruling that is unlikely to substantially lessen competition in the domestic wholesale gas market.

Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX:TLS) has denied media speculation that it has brokered a $9 billion deal with the federal government regarding the National Broadband Network.

And CBH Resources’ Ltd (ASX:CBH) major shareholder, Japan’s Toho Zinc, has rejected a sweetened takeover offer from Nyrstar.

In the best and worst performers: The best performing sector today was the Health Care index, up 165 points at 9,182. The worst performing sector was the Telco Services index; down 3 points at 1,084.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ ASX200 was Murchison Metals, shares rose 6.01% to $3, while shares in Sigma Pharmaceuticals and Cudeco also closed higher.

The worst performing stock was SMS Management & Technology, shares fell 3.19% to $6.68. Shares in Macarthur Coal and Hills Industries also closed weaker today.

In commodities, gold is trading at $1,156.60 U.S an ounce and light crude is up $0.27 to $84.32 U.S a barrel.