Market Wrap: ASX ends quarter higher

Market Reports

The Australian sharemarket ended flat today but has finished the quarter higher.

Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index fell 3 points to finish at 4,335, and gained 65 points over the week. On the futures market, the SPI is currently 9 points stronger.

Looking at Wall Street, over its four trading days this week: The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 100 points. The S&P 500 Index added 11 points, the Nasdaq was up 32 points, and the 100 Index rose 31 points. 

Economic news

New home sales increased 3 per cent, seasonally adjusted in February, according to a report by HIA. The report surveys Australia’s 100 largest builders.

And the Reserve Bank of Australia has reported total credit provided to the private sector by financial intermediaries rose by 0.4 per cent over February. Housing credit increased by 0.4 per cent. Other personal credit grew by 0.3 per cent. And business credit increased by 0.4 per cent.

Company news

Austar United Communications Limited (ASX:AUN) shareholders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a takeover by Foxtel. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is yet to approve the $2 billion deal. Austar says it would consider extending the takeover agreement if ACCC approval hadn’t been given by the April 17 deadline. Austar shares gained 2.11 per cent today, closing at $1.45. 

Wesfarmers Limited (ASX:WES) owned hardware chain Bunnings says it has $1.5 billion expansion plans, will create 6,000 jobs in the next three years, build up to 85 new stores in Australia and create 11,500 construction jobs. Wesfarmers shares gained 0.98 per cent, closing at $30.02.

Virgin Australia Holdings Limited (ASX:VAH) says its proposed new ownership structure has been finalised.

And Qantas Airways Limited (ASX:QAN) announces fares will increase by up to $30 next month in response to high fuel prices.

Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Consumer Staples adding 79 points to close at 7,647. The worst performing sector was Real Estate Investment Trusts, falling 9 points to close at 820 points.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Kagara Limited (ASX:KZL), rising 25.93 per cent to close at $0.17. Shares in Coalspur Mines Limited (ASX:CPL) and Macmahon Holdings Limited (ASX:MAH) also added value.

The worst performing stock was Mirabela Nickel Limited (ASX:MBN) dropping 8.13 per cent to close at $0.565. Shares in Goodman Group (ASX:GMG) and Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) also lost value.

Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,662 an ounce and gained $1.63 over the week. Light crude is $0.54 higher, sitting at $US103.32 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $1.0408 US cents and is half a cent lower over the week.