Market Wrap: Aussie stocks close weaker

Market Reports

Aussie shares have finished weaker today closing out the worst month since October 2008 as lingering concerns for Europe’s debt crisis continued to make investors jittery. The big miners like BHP and Rio and the major banks such as NAB and Westpac led the declines this afternoon. There will be little direction for the market tomorrow with US markets closed tonight for Memorial Day.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index finished the day 28 points lower at 4,430. While on the futures market, the SPI200’s down 29.

In economic news: Figures released by the ABS today show Australia’s current account deficit stood at $16.55 billion in the first quarter, an improvement on the previous quarter. Business inventories rose 0.5% in the first quarter, and gross company operating profits increased 3.9% for the quarter.

In separate news the RBA reports that private credit rose 0.2% in April, economists expected credit to rise 0.5% for the month.

And surging home sales in Victoria have boosted overall national sales figures, with private sector detached home sales rising 6% in April. In Victoria detached new home sales jumped 27.6% but fell by 9.6% in NSW.

To company news around this afternoon: Hospital owner and manager Healthscope Ltd (ASX:HSP) says it has received two takeover offers since Friday which are both superior to a bid made by Blackstone Group and partners on May 20. The company says both of the proposals are at a price of $5.80 a share compared to the consortium’s offer of $5.75 a share. Healthscope says these two proposals are equal to or superior to the consortium’s offer and will both be given the opportunity to conduct due diligence. The company says it will now thoroughly examine each offer and does not intend to make any further announcements until a recommended offer is secured. This process, it says, could take several weeks. Shares in Healthscope closed 4.97% stronger at $5.49.

According to reports Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) has agreed to give staff annual pay rises of up to 4% over the next three years. The new enterprise agreement struck between the bank and the Finance Sector Union, is for a 2% pay increase for Westpac employees this year and a minimum 4% pay rise next year, with eligible staff given a further 4% on top of that in 2012. The agreement also provides 13 weeks paid parental leave and the option to buyout annual leave, however, it will only be given to Westpac employees not St George bank or Bank SA. Westpac shares closed 1.92% lower at $22.95.

Also making news: Junior explorer Cazaly Resources Ltd (ASX:CAZ) has placed its shares in a trading halt pending an announcement regarding its Parker Range Iron Ore project in Western Australia.

Paint maker Wattyl Ltd (ASX:WYL) has upgraded its earnings guidance for the 12 months to June 2010 due to a rise in revenue, better margins and cost cutting. Wattyl says it now expects earnings before interest and tax of between $14 and $15 million for the year, compared to previous guidance given in February of between $12 and $13 million.

National Australia Bank Ltd (ASX:NAB) is seeking to extend its exclusive negotiations with Axa Asia Pacific Holdings over its $14 billion takeover bid for the company.

And Aspen Pharmacare Holdings has entered into an agreement with troubled prescription drugs maker Sigma Pharmaceuticals Ltd (ASX:SIP) allowing it to conduct due diligence on the company. Earlier in the month, Aspen made a non-binding and indicative $707 million takeover bid for Sigma.

In the best and worst performers: The best performing sector at close was the Health Care index, up 75 points at 8,072. The worst performing sector at close was the Materials index; down 137 points at 11,564.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ ASX200 was Gunns, shares rose 21.52% to $0.48 on the back of continued takeover speculation, while shares in Sigma Pharmaceuticals and Virgin Blue Holdings also closed higher.

The worst performing stock in the S&P/ASX200 today was Ausenco, shares dropped 7.26% to $2.17. Shares in Mincor Resources and Avoca Resources also closed weaker today.

In commodities, gold is trading at $1,213.45 U.S an ounce, and light crude is up $0.46 to $74.43 U.S a barrel.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter?

Would you like to receive our daily news to your inbox?