Market Wrap: Aus shares close steady

Market Reports

The Australian share market followed firm US leads to open stronger and spent the day in positive territory, bolstered by gains in the materials and financial sectors before easing in late trade to close 0.18 per cent higher.  
 
Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed 9 points up to finish at 4,788. The value of trades was $4.1 billion on volume of 736 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) and ANZ Banking Group (ASX:ANZ)
 
On the futures market the SPI is 10 points up.
 
Economic news

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 per cent in the three months to December, lower than expectations of a 0.5 per cent rise. The ABS says the inflation rate has lifted to 2.2 per cent for the year.
 
The Westpac/Melbourne Institute Leading Index came in at 3.9 per cent in November, above its long-term trend of 2.8 per cent.
 
Company news
 
Linc Energy Limited (ASX:LNC) has had the potential of shale oil at its Arckarings Basin site in South Australia confirmed by two separate independent experts. Reports by firms DeGolyer & MacNaughton and Gustavson Associates estimated the site may contain 125 billion and 233 billion barrels of oil equivalent respectively. Linc is in talks to locate a shale oil experienced JV partner willing to fund development at the site. Shares in Linc Energy closed 9.64 per cent up at $2.16. 
 
Investment Company Milton Corporation Limited (ASX:MLT) has boosted its half year net profit by 3.1 per cent to $56.3 million. Milton invested $15 million across 21 companies in the six months to the end of December, the largest being a $3 million investment in Telstra Corporation Limited (ASX:TLS). Shares in Milton Corporation closed 0.33 per cent up at $18.38. 
 
Defence contractor Austal Limited (ASX:ASB) has signed a deal which will enable it to support the US Navy in the Asia Pacific.
 
Global miner BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) iron ore production has risen above expectations in its second quarter.
 
Pesticide company Nufarm Limited (ASX:NUF) expects its half year underlying profit to be 15 per cent higher than the previous corresponding period, despite earnings being impacted by hot and dry conditions in eastern Australia.
 
Boral Limited (ASX:BLD) has upgraded guidance for its underlying first half profit to about $52 million, up from its earlier forecast of $35 million. 
 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Materials adding 60 points to close at 10,716.
The worst performing sector was Healthcare, losing 160 points to close at 11,670 points.
 
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was St. Barbara Limited (ASX:SBM), rising 12.41 per cent to close at $1.63. Shares in Resolute Mining Limited (ASX:RSG) and Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Nufarm Limited (ASX:NUF), dropping 9.16 per cent to close at $5.75. Shares in Discovery Metals Limited (ASX:DML) and Mirabela Nickel Limited (ASX:MBN) also closed lower. 

Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,692 an ounce. Light crude is $0.08 down at $US96.60 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.054.