Market Wrap: ASX shrugs off weak retail sales figures

Market Reports

The Australian share market shrugged off weak offshore leads to start the day slightly higher and continued to trade in positive territory.  Weaker than expected retail sales figures failed to dampen investor sentiment, with the ASX closing 0.4 per cent up with REIT stocks lifting to the best performing sector. 
 
Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed 18 points up to finish at 4,708.

The value of trades was $3.8 billion on volume of 680 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA), BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC).
 
On the futures market the SPI is 13 points higher.
 
Economic news

Australian retail spending has unexpectedly dropped in November , according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Retail sales fell 0.1 per cent  after economists predicted a rise of 0.3 per cent and following a flat result the month before. Spending on household goods fell but consumers were happy to spend more on eating out, with figures showing a 0.3 per cent jump in food retailing.

The ABS has also revealed job vacancies have hit a 30-month low pulling back 6.9 per cent from the previous quarter.
 
The Housing Industry Association has reported new home sales rose for the second straight month in November last year. HIA says new home sales lifted 4.7 per cent on the back of a 7.7 per cent gain in sales of detached houses. 
 
Company news 
 
QBE Insurance Group Limited (ASX:QBE) has appointed Mr David Fried as CEO of Asia Pacific effective from early April. Mr Fried was the former head of Allianz Asia Pacific and has worked with HSBC for over 20 years. Shares in QBE Insurance closed 0.69 per cent down at $11.47.
 
Gold Producer  Norton Gold Fields Limited (ASX:NGF) says it has approved a $38 million capital investment to purchase mining fleet at its Paddington operations in Western Australia. The move will see a replacement of existing equipment hired from contractors and geared towards increasing its production. Shares in Norton Gold Fields closed 4.76 per cent down at $0.20.

GPT Group (ASX:GPT) has sold two Homemaker Centres in Brisbane for $91.7 million to private investors.
 
St. Barbara Limited (ASX:SBM) has inked a deal to sell its Southern Cross Operations for $22.5 million.
 
The parent of Australia’s Alcoa (ASX:AAI), Alcoa Incorporated (NYSE:AA) has forecast aluminium demand will rise by 7 per cent this year as it delivered fourth quarter earnings in line with expectations. 
 
Biotechnology and medical device company Sirtex Medical Limited (ASX:SRX) has today posted a 25 per cent jump in quarterly dose sales for its SIR-Spheres microspheres targeted radioactive liver cancer treatment. 
 
Best and worst performers 

The best performing sector was REITs adding 14 points to close at 975.The worst performing sector was energy, losing 61 points to close at 12,641 points.
 
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Nufarm Limited (ASX:NUF), rising 6.22 per cent to close at $6.32 Shares in Skilled Group and Buru Energy also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Alacer Gold Corporation (ASX:AQG), dropping 5.71 per cent to close at $4.29. Shares in Mineral Deposits and Maverick Drilling and Exploration also closed lower. 
 
IPOs

Asia Pacific Data Centre Group Limited (ASX:AJDCA) with an issue price of $0.61 per partly paid stapled security, opening at $0.64 and closing at $0.615.  MGT Resources Limited (ASX:MGS) with an issue price of $0.20, opening at $0.15 and closing at $0.10. 
 
Commodities 

Gold is trading at $US1,658 an ounce. Light crude is $0.20 down at $US92.95 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.05.