Market Wrap: Aus shares edge 0.4% higher

Market Reports

The Australian share market traded in positive territory today, closing 0.4 higher. Equities reversed gains after a strong start but gained momentum in the afternoon on the back of strength in energy, health and telco sectors, to end just off the session’s highs.

The SP/ASX200 Index added 17 points to finish at 4,291. On the futures market the SPI is 13 points higher.

Company news

BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) has reported a first half profit of $US9.94 billion, falling 6 per cent from the year before and coming in slightly under expectations for a $US10 million profit. The drop came on the back of lower commodity prices and union battles in the six months to the end of December 2011. BHP has affirmed its belief long term commodities demand will stay robust and declared an interim dividend of $US0.55 per share. Shares in BHP Billiton slipped 0.4 per cent today, closing at $37.75.

Ahead of releasing its full year results tomorrow, Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) has announced an extra $US3.4 billion investment into expanding its iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The funds will be put to extending the life of the Nammuldi iron ore mine and to early works for the Cape Lambert port and rail infrastructure. Shares in Rio Tinto firmed 1.06 per cent today, closing at $71.76.

Shares in Gunns Limited (ASX:GNS) closed 36 per cent higher after the forestry company unveiled a proposed capital raising for up to $280 million, including a $150 million investment from Richard Chandler which scores the billionaire investor a 39 per cent stake in Gunns.

Shares in Ansell Limited (ASX:ANN) dipped today after the gloves and condoms maker posted a 1.1 per cent increase in its first-half profit and maintained its second half guidance. An interim unfranked dividend of 15 cents per share has been declared.

Shares in Webjet Limited (ASX:WEB) lifted after the online travel booker reported a 17 per cent increase in its half year profit on the back of more Australians travelling overseas. A fully franked interim dividend of 6 cents per share has been declared.

Shares in Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) closed higher after the Pilbara focussed iron ore miner scored conditional approval from Western Australia’s environmental regulator for the expansion of its Cloudbreak mine.

Best and worst performers

Most sectors advanced: The best performing sector was Energy lifting 215 points to close at 14,038. The only sector to end in the red was Utilities, pulling-back 11 points to close at 4,605 points.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200, was Goodman Fielder Limited (ASX:GFF), rising 5.94 per cent to close at $0.535. Shares in Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC) and Beadell Resources Limited (ASX:BDR) also finished higher.

The worst performing stock was Saracen Mineral Holdings Limited (ASX:SAR) dropping 3.85 per cent to close at $0.75. Shares in Dart Energy Limited (ASX:DTE) and Resolute Mining Limited (ASX:RSG) also closed lower.

Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,745 an ounce.

Light crude is $0.49 higher at $US98.90 a barrel.