Market Wrap: Aus shares close lower

Market Reports

The local share market has closed the session in the red today weighed down by declines in the top banks and mining stocks as investors fled riskier assets and turned to defensive stocks after the release of weaker than expected housing data in the US caused concern for its economic recovery. The S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 32 points to finish at 4,527. And on the futures market, the SPI200’s down 22 points. To company news around this afternoon: Engineering and construction company UGL Ltd (ASX:UGL) has secured $280 million in new resources projects and reaffirms its earnings guidance for fiscal 2010. The company says the contracts are evenly distributed between new works and project extensions and include contracts with the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, Wesfarmers, Orica and Incitec Pivot. UGL also says it remains on track to deliver profit for fiscal 2010 in line with the prior record year. Shares in UGL closed flat at $13.85. AXA Asia Pacific Holdings Ltd (ASX:AXA) CEO Andrew Penn says we are likely to see an increase in merger and acquisition activity in the financial sector in the wake of the GFC. AXA is currently the target of a takeover by NAB who out bid an earlier offer from AMP, but has faced rejection from the ACCC. Speaking at Finsia’s Asia Financial Services Summit, Mr Penn also highlighted the potential for expansion and growth in Asia. He says Australian financial services companies have seriously under-exploited the opportunity of the very exciting Asian markets that sit on Australia’s doorstep. Mr Penn says there is a very significant opportunity for Australia and Australian companies to play a more meaningful role in the region. Shares in AXA Asia Pacific Holdings closed 0.17% higher at $5.75. Also making news: Nexus Energy Ltd (ASX:NXS) says it has secured a $50 million equity facility with US based investment fund YA Global. Swan Gold Mining Ltd (ASX:SWA) has put on hold two gold projects targeted for production in August because the proposed Resources Super Profits Tax made it too difficult to raise funding. Project development and contracting company Leighton Holdings Ltd (ASX:LEI) has been awarded $1.5 billion’s worth of contracts in Australia and Indonesia. And QBE Insurance Group (ASX:QBE) says its year to date insurance margins have been hit by lower investment yields and large claims. QBE estimates it will face a $555 million bill for large risk and catastrophe claims up to the end of May, including $29 million for BP's Deepwater Horizon rig disaster that resulted in the Gulf oil spill. In the best and worst performers: The best performing sector at close was the Health Care index, up 16 points at 8,444. The worst performing sector was the Consumer Discretionary index, down 19 points at 1,532. The best performing stock in the S&P/ ASX200 was Gunns, shares rose 11.21% to $0.645. Shares in Sigma Pharmaceuticals and Mermaid Marine Australia also closed higher. The worst performing stock was Energy World Corp, shares fell 7.59% to close at $0.365. Shares in iSOFT Group and Ausenco also closed weaker today. In commodities, gold is trading at $1,234.15 U.S an ounce, and light crude is down $0.64 at $77.03 U.S a barrel.

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