Market Wrap: ASX hovers amid US budget nerves

Market Reports

The Australian share market hovered throughout the session ending where it began as investors remain cautious over US budget negotiations. Optimism over the US Federal Reserve’s plans to stimulate the economy was offset by Chairman Ben Bernanke's warning on the imminent fiscal cliff deadline which threatens to topple to US into a recession if automatic tax hikes and spending cuts come into effect in the New Year.  

Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index lost 1 point to finish at 4,583.

The value of trades was $4.5 billion on volume of 925 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), Telstra Corporation Limited (ASX:TLS) and National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB).

On the futures market, the SPI is currently 6 points lower.
Economic news

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported sales of new motor vehicles in Australia stayed steady between October and November, with 95,748 new vehicles sold last month, but sales in the year to November have risen 9.7 per cent.
Company news

BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) and ExxonMobil will together construct the $1.1 billion Longford Gas Conditioning Plant in Victoria after today announcing the project has been approved. BHP Billiton says the plant is a necessary extension of Bass Strait infrastructure to enable hydrocarbon liquids production and domestic gas supply for years to come. Shares in BHP Billiton rose 0.67 per cent, closing at $36.00. 
Westpac Banking Corporation’s (ASX:WBC) chairman has cautioned banking sector conditions are likely to remain subdued when speaking at the bank’s annual meeting today. CEO Gail Kelly forecast the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) could even cut rates to record lows next year after the RBA lowered the key cash rate to a GFC-low of 3 per cent earlier this month. Shares in Westpac Banking Corporation firmed 0.31 per cent today, closing at $25.98.  
Shares in Iluka Resources Limited (ASX:ILU) pulled back 5.6 per cent after the mineral sands producer warned sales volumes have dipped to the lower end of its guidance range because of softer demand and prices for its products. 
Shares in Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) shed 0.7 per cent despite the miner announcing it has increased the size of its iron ore deposit at Iron Bridge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. 
Shares in Webjet Limited (ASX:WEB) rose 6 per cent after the online travel agent announced it has successfully completed a $25 million capital raising to fund its latest acquisition. 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was consumer discretionary adding 13 points to close at 1,338.
The worst performing sector was consumer staples, losing 101 points to close at 8,789 points.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Fairfax Media Limited (ASX:FXJ), rising 11.34 per cent to close at $0.54. Shares in APN News and Media Limited (ASX:APN) and Intrepid Mines Limited (ASX:IAU) also closed higher.
The worst performing stock was Linc Energy Limited (ASX:LNC), dropping 20.3 per cent to close at $1.03. Shares in Iluka Resources Limited (ASX:ILU) and Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) also closed lower. 

Gold is trading at $US1,702 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.21 down at $US86.56 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.055.