Market Wrap: Aus shares close 0.5% lower

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.5 per cent down, weighed down by some heavy losses in the financial sector, which weren’t quite offset by some solid gains in materials stocks. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 26 points down to finish at 5,092. The value of trades was $4.8 billion on volume of 795 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 Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA)
 
On the futures market the SPI is 18 points down.
 
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
 
Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) subsidiary Leighton Contractors has been contracted by the New Zealand Transport Agency to deliver a $NZ220 million highway upgrade in Auckland. The contract was won by Leighton Contractors and the Causeway Alliance, a consortium also comprising Fulton Hogan, Aecom, Sinclair Knight Merz and Coffey Geotechnics. Shares in Leighton Holdings closed 1.28 per cent up at $22.15. 
 
Coal seam gas company Metgasco Limited (ASX:MEL) says uncertainty created by the state government is behind its decision to suspend operations in the New South Wales northern rivers region. The decision follows a federal government declaration that it would impose tougher environmental checks on coal seam gas and large coal mines, regulation Metgasco says has been announced minus any consultation with the energy industry. Shares in Metgasco closed 21.51 per cent down at $0.07. 
 
Mineral explorer Blackthorn Resources Limited (ASX:BTR) has reached an agreement with Glencore International regarding an additional JV based financing solution of up to $US80 Million.
 
Telecom Corp of New Zealand (ASX:TEL) has undertaken a strategic review of its ICT services unit, Gen-i, which has resulted in a significant change in focus.
 
Telstra Corporation Limited (ASX:TLS) has been asked to trim wholesale prices charged to retail telcos accessing its fixed line copper network by the competition regulator.
 
National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) will make sweeping changes among its executive ranks in an effort to boost performance and eventually cut up to $800 million annually in costs.
 
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Telco services adding 16 points to close at 1,551.
The worst performing sector was Financials excluding real estate investment trusts, losing 108 points to close at 6,319.
 
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Energy World Corporation Limited (ASX:EWC), rising 7.14 per cent to close at $0.38. Shares in Wotif.com Holdings Limited (ASX:WTF) and Beadell Resources Limited (ASX:BDR) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Southern Cross Media Group Limited (ASX:SXL), dropping 6.98 per cent to close at $1.60. Shares in Pacific Brands Limited (ASX:PBG) and Gindalbie Metals Limited (ASX:GBG) also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is trading at $US1,591 an ounce. Light crude is $0.18 up at $US92.72 a barrel.

The Australian dollar

The Australian dollar is buying $US1.031.