Midday: Shares slightly stronger

Market Reports

The Australian share market is slightly stronger at midday, positive offshore leads overnight continued to drag the market higher. And relatively positive local economic data released this morning added to the upbeat sentiment.

The S&P/ASX200 index has gained 10 points and is 4,842 at noon. On the futures market the SPI up 4 points.

Economic news: The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences has forecast that commodity prices are likely to peak in the next two years. The Australian Industry Group/PricewaterhouseCoopers performance of manufacturing index rose 4.4 points to 51.1 in February. That takes it above 50, marking expansion. The Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that retail sales rose 0.4 per cent in January. Also from the ABS, Australia reported a seasonally adjusted current account deficit of $7.299 billion in the December quarter from a downwardly revised deficit of $6.490 billion in the September quarter. And the ABS is on a roll today, also announcing that Australian government spending on consumption and investment rose 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Company news: Equinox Minerals Ltd (ASX:EQN) surprise offer for Lundin Mining yesterday has been met with some opposition. Lundin Mining chief Phil Wright said today he saw “zero” strategic benefits of a combination with Equinox Minerals. Nonetheless, he said he would consider the $4.85 billion bid. Mr Wright said a combination with Equinox would burden the company with a higher level of debt and increase central African risk. Shares in Equinox Minerals have slipped 6.27 per cent at noon and are trading at $5.83.
Rio Tinto Ltd (ASX:RIO) and BHP Billiton Ltd (ASX:BHP) have spoken about their options for future growth at the BMO Capital Markets Global Metals and Mining Conference in Florida. Rio chief executive Tom Albanese emphasised the miner’s plans to grow its iron ore production capacity by 50 per cent over the next five years. He expects this growth to take place at its Pilbara operations in Western Australia. Shares in Rio Tinto have advanced 0.84 per cent and are $85.64 at noon. 

Best and worst performers: The best performing sector is Materials rising 90 points to 14,216. Shares in Lynas Corporation have gained 4.62 per cent and are $2.04. Shares in Amcor Ltd and Atlas Iron have also lifted at midday. The worst performing sector is Health Care, falling 43 points to 8,665. Shares in Primary Health Care Ltd have dropped 2.78 per cent to $3.15. Shares in Sonic Healthcare Ltd and CSL Ltd have also eased at midday.

To New Zealand: The NZSX50 has added 8 points. Taking a look at the top four stocks by turnover, Fletcher Building is at the top of the list with stock down 0.57 per cent at $8.72 followed by Westpac, Telecom Corporation of New Zealand and ANZ.

To gold and the dollar: Gold is trading at $US1410 an ounce and the Aussie dollar is buying $1.0198 US cents.

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