The Australian share market spent most of the day in negative territory, rising in the afternoon but retreating before close to end almost where it started. Skepticism over Greece’s second bailout package weighed on investor sentiment, given a further knock with soft manufacturing data from China. Earnings reports also came in thick and fast. Shares in Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN) dropped to the worst performer after downgrading its expected profit. Shares in OneSteel Limited (ASX:OST) surged to the best performer for the second day after revamping its strategy.
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 2 points to finish at 4,293. On the futures market the SPI is currently 2 points higher.
China's manufacturing activity improved this month but is still at the level that indicates contraction. The preliminary HSBC “flash” purchasing managers index increased to 49.7 in February from 48.8 the month before but was still under 50, the level that separates contraction from expansion.
The outlook for Australia’s economic growth has improved but is still weak. According to Westpac and Melbourne Institute, their leading index came in at 2.3 per cent in December from 1.8 per cent the month before, but still under the long-term trend of 3 per cent.
Shares in SEEK Limited (ASX:SEK) rose to one of today’s best performers after the online employment company reported a record first half net profit of $60.6 million, up 27 per cent from the year before. A fully-franked interim dividend of 8.3 cents per share has been declared, 22 per cent higher than the year before. Shares in SEEK rose 10.7 per cent today, closing at $6.31.
Shares in Wotif.com Holdings Limited (ASX:WTF) jumped after the online travel booker revealed a record first half profit, rising 14 per cent to $25 million. A fully-franked interim dividend of 11.5 cents per share has been declared. Shares in Wotif.com jumped 8.27 per cent today, closing at $4.45.
Healthcare company CSL Limited (ASX:CSL) has posted a 3 per cent fall in its first half net profit due to a strong Australian dollar, but said it expects to deliver 13 per cent earnings growth in 2012.
Seven West Media Limited (ASX:SWM) more than tripled its first half net profit to $163 million, boosted by its merger with West Australian Newspapers Holdings last year.
Beverage-focussed company Coca-Cola Amatil Limited (ASX:CCL) reported a 19 per cent improvement in its full year amid what it describes as the most challenging year it has ever faced.
Insurer and regional bank Suncorp Group Limited (ASX:SUN) has generated a better than expected 74 per cent jump in its first half net profit and confirmed its transformation is on track.
Best and worst performers
The sectors closed mixed: The best performing sector was Energy adding 237 points to close at 14,441. The worst performing sector was Real Estate Investment Trusts, losing 13 points to close at 813 points.
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was OneSteel Limited (ASX:OST), rising 15.85 per cent to close at $0.95. Shares in SEEK Limited (ASX:SEK) and Wotif.com Holdings Limited (ASX:WTF) also added value.
The worst performing stock was Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN), dropping 9.3 per cent to close at $0.78. Shares in Kagara Limited (ASX:KZL) and Sigma Pharmaceutical Limited (ASX:SIP) also lost value.
Gold is trading at $US1,755 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.10 lower at $US106.15 a barrel.