Market Wrap: ASX finishes 2012 lower

Market Reports

The Australian sharemarket fell for the first time in four sessions today, with unrelenting US fiscal-policy indecision impacting on market sentiment ahead of the New Year. Fiscal-cliff negotiations in the US have stagnated as President Obama’s Democrats and opposition Republicans missed a self-imposed deadline to table a potential deal to Senate lawmakers.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 22 points down to finish 2012 at 4,649. The value of trades was $1.27 billion on volume of 252 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP),  Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA) and National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB).

On the futures market, the SPI is currently 28 points down.

Economic news

The pace of activity in the Chinese manufacturing sector rose to a 19 month high in December, according to the HSBC purchasing manager's index (PMI). The survey ascended to 51.5 in the month, up on November's 50.5 reading.
 

Company news

Fairfax Media Limited (ASX:FXJ) shares surged this morning on reports Advertising magnate John Singleton and Banker Mark Carnegie is set to consult with Gina Rinehart and force a showdown between the current Fairfax board and Mr Rinehart’s unrepresented shareholder consortium. Mr Singleton purchased a stake in the media giant after overtures for a sale or joint venture agreement between Fairfax and his Macquarie Radio Network was rejected by the board. Mr Singleton says he could buy a significant amount of Fairfax assets at a far lower price to earnings multiple for the money he was prepared to outlay simply for its radio assets. Shares in Fairfax Media closed 7.37 per cent up at $0.51.

Karoon Gas Australia Limited (ASX:KAR) has commenced drilling of its first exploration well in the Santos Basin in Brazil and expects to continue the drilling program until February 2013. Karoon says the Santos Basin has recently yielded multiple oil discoveries and is becoming an exciting area for exploration. The company currently holds 100 per cent of the operated Santos Basin blocks, totalling 865 square kilometres. Shares in Karoon Gas closed 2.75 per cent down at $5.30.

Discovery Metals Limited (ASX:DML) has advised that the Botswana Competition Authority has approved the acquisition of all remaining Discovery shares by Cathay Fortune Investments.

Sundance Resources Limited (ASX:SDL) has received approval from Congo’s Ministerial Council to develop and mine its high grade Nabeba Iron Ore Deposit.

Murchison Metals Limited (ASX:MMX) wants shareholders to get behind its share buyback plans ahead of the mineral explorer being wound up.

Envestra Limited (ASX:ENV) CEO Ian Little reportedly says more than half of the gas distributors $250 million annual capital outlay is at risk due to adverse rulings from the Australian Energy Regulator.

Best and worst performers 

All sectors are down today, the sector with the fewest losses was Real Estate Investment Trusts losing 2 points to close at 974.
The worst performing sector was Utilities, losing 64 points to close at 5,258.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Sundance Resources Limited (ASX:SDL), rising 15.63 per cent to close at $0.37. Shares in Fairfax Media Limited (ASX:FXJ) and OceanaGold Corporation (ASX:OGC) also closed higher.
 

The worst performing stock was Breville Group Limited (ASX:BRG), dropping 5 per cent to close at $6.65. Shares in Perseus Mining Limited (ASX:PRU) and Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN) also closed lower.

Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,661 an ounce. Light crude is $0.07 down at $US90.80 a barrel.

The Australian Dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.039.