The Australian share market closed 0.4 per cent weaker today. The major banks helped trim earlier losses, with the exception of ANZ. A strong performance from Wesfarmers also helped offset weakness in the miners. The S&P/ASX200 Index fell 21 points to close at 4,754. On the futures market, the SPI is 31points lower.
Economic news: The TD Securities-Melbourne Institute inflation gauge lifted 0.4 per cent in January. The rise in consumer prices was fueled by higher food prices following the Queensland floods and the latest figure is up from 0.2 per cent in December. Also out today, RP Data/Rismark reported that city home prices nationwide added 0.2 per cent in December to a median price of $475,000, reversing November’s fall of 0.2 per cent.
Company news: Origin Energy Ltd (ASX:ORG) has delivered a record first half sales result, with revenue rising 48 per cent to $424 million, driven by increased liquefied natural gas output. In the six months to 31 December 2010, Origin says it produced 68.2 petajoules equivalent, up 38 per cent over the prior corresponding half. In the same period Origin advises exploration and evaluation expenditure reached $121, associated with an expanded offshore and international drilling campaign.Shares in Origin Energy fell 0.79 per cent today to close at $16.43.
Whitehaven Coal Ltd (ASX:WHC) has downgraded its half year earnings guidance as a result of Queensland’s wet weather conditions. The company now expects to post a net loss of between $38 million to $48 million in the six months to 31 December. Whitehaven says the expected result reflects the negative impact of lower sales tonnage of coal produced by the company and additional coal purchases to meet blending needs. Whitehaven Coal lifted 0.57 per to close at $7.04 cent.
Coal miner New Hope Corporation Ltd (ASX:NHC) has boosted its bid for Northern Energy Corporation Ltd (ASX:NEC) by 25 cents to $1.75 per share, valuing the company at $224.7 million.
Shares in Macquarie Telecom Group Ltd (ASX:MAQ) rose over 10 per cent today, following news the telco has upgraded its first half earnings guidance to $20 million.
Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX:WES) has beaten analysts expectations to record a 6.7 per cent improvement in total quarterly sales for its Coles supermarkets.
Shares in Southern Cross Media Group (ASX:SXL) fell almost 12 per cent today, after the company made an off-market takeover bid for Austereo Group Ltd (ASX:AEO). In the best and worst performers: The best performing sector at close was Financials Excluding Real Estate Investment Trusts, with the index adding 6 points to close at 5,186. The worst performing sector was Consumer Discretionary, the index falling 20 points to close at 1,508. The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX200 was Sundance Resources shares rose 8.79% to close at $0.495. Shares in OceanaGold Corporation and St. Barbara also gained today. The worst performing stock was Southern Cross Media Group shares lost 11.57% to close at $0.765. Shares in PaperlinX and Beach Energy also closed weaker today.
In commodities, gold is trading at $US1,334 an ounce. Light crude is up $0.41 to $US89.75 a barrel.