Market Wrap: Aus shares close in the red

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.2 per cent weaker today, recovering from steep losses at open.  Continuing unrest in the Middle East and a mixed bag of corporate results weighed on the market.

The S&P/ASX200 Index closed 11 down to 4,846. On the futures market, the SPI is up 17 points.

Economic news: The Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that total construction work done in Australia increased 0.8 per cent in the December quarter to a value of $41.9 billion. The increase came in lower than had been expected and only slightly above the prior quarter’s figure. The ABS also reported total hourly rates of pay, excluding bonuses, increased 1 per cent in the December quarter while the wage price index rose 3.9 per cent in the same period.

Company news: Worleyparsons Ltd (ASX:WOR) has recorded a 7 per cent fall in its first half earnings to $128.6 million for the six months to 31 December. The engineering services provider says a stronger Australian dollar chipped $14 million of the interim result, while in the same period revenue increased 12 per cent to $2.8 billion. Worleyparsons expects market conditions to improve through the second half and based on stable currency markets has forecast a lift in full year earnings. A fully franked interim dividend of 36 cents per share has been declared. Shares in Worleyparsons closed 3 per cent higher today at $29.19.

Macarthur Coal Ltd (ASX:MCC) has tripled its first half earning, delivering a 256 per cent jump in net profit to $141.3 million on the back of higher coal prices. The coal producer says demand remained robust throughout the half year with sales revenue growing 32 per cent to $420.4 million. A fully franked interim dividend of 24 cents per share has been declared. Shares in Macarthur Coal firmed 0.08 per cent today to close at $12.03.
 
Shares in Macmahon Holdings Ltd (ASX:MAH) fell today after the civil construction and mine contracting company posted a first half loss of $13.2 million, weighed down by a $48.9 million write-down. 

Mortgage Choice Ltd (ASX:MOC) has announced a 13 per cent lift in its half year earnings, achieving a net profit of $8.8 million. The mortgage broker has also boosted its interim dividend to 6 cents per share, fully franked.

Beverages manufacturer Coca-Cola Amatil (ASX:CCL) has delivered a full year net profit of $497 million, up 11 per cent from the year before and in line with its earlier forecast of 10 per cent growth.

Origin Energy Ltd (ASX:ORG) has announced that its 50:50 joint venture with ConocoPhillips, the $US35 billion Australia Pacific LNG project in Queensland, has been given the green light by the federal government.

In the best and worst performers: The best performing sector at close was Telco Services with the index rising 6 to close at 955. The worst performing sector was Utilities easing 6 points to close at 871. The best performing stock in the S&P/ ASX200 was Murchison Metals shares gained 11.79 per cent to close at $1.47. Shares in Gindalbie Metals and Wotif.com Holdings also closed stronger today. The worst performing stock was West Australian Newspapers Holdings shares plunged 14.51 per cent to close at $5.42. Shares Macmahon Holdings and Spotless Group also dropped today.

In commodities, gold is trading at $US1,398 an ounce. Light crude is 19 cents up at $US95.61 a barrel.