Midday: ASX pulled down by financials

Market Reports

The Australian share market opened flat after the US stocks paused from their record breaking rally and is 0.4 per cent lower at midday, with financial stocks weighing on the market in early trade. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 19 points down at 5,099. On the futures market the SPI is 14 points lower. 
 
Economic news

The Westpac and Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment lifted two per cent to 110.5 in March, up from 108.3 in February, its fifth consecutive positive monthly result. Consumer sentiment has risen just over 15 per cent in the past year and is currently at its highest point since December 2010. 
 
Home loan approvals fell 1.5 per cent to 44,383 in January, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their fourth consecutive monthly fall. Total housing finance by value rose 2.4 per cent to 21.48 billion in the month. 
 
Company news 
 
BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) is under investigation by Australian and US authorities regarding alleged suspicious sponsorship transactions carried out in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. According to various media reports, the investigation has uncovered dubious transactions that were recorded as legitimate business payments, linked to several countries, including China and Australia. BHP says it is cooperating with the relevant authorities and believes its Olympic sponsorship and hospitality activities complied with applicable law.  Shares in BHP are trading up 1.01 per cent at $36.03. 
 
Golden Gate Petroleum Limited (ASX:GGP) has secured access to up to $7.5 million in funds to progress development of its Permian project in Texas. The Working Capital has been secured via New York based institutional investor, The Australian Special Opportunity Fund. Shares in Golden Gate Petroleum are trading steady at $0.004. 
  
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector is Materials gaining 113 points to 10,432. Shares in Saracen Mineral Holdings Limited (ASX:SAR) have risen 7.14 per cent and trading at $0.34. Shares in St. Barbara Limited (ASX:SBM) and Newcrest Mining Limited (ASX:NCM) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is Financials excluding real estate investment trusts, falling 70 points to 6,356. Shares in National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) have fallen 2.14 per cent, trading at $30.87. Shares in Bank of Queensland Limited (ASX:BOQ) and FlexiGroup Limited (ASX:FXL) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,592 an ounce and the Australian dollar is buying $US1.032.

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