Midday: ASX 0.7% down at midday

Market Reports

The Australian share market started the session in negative territory despite higher finishes on Wall Street, as concerns about potential strikes against Syria persist. Local stocks are 0.7 per cent down at midday, although better than expected GDP figures are likely to improve sentiment moving into afternoon trade. The Aussie dollar added around a third of a cent on the GDP numbers, touching $US.9085. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 41 points down at 5,156. On the futures market the SPI is 39 points lower. 
 
Economic news 
 
The Australian Industry Group's Performance of Services Index (PSI) fell 0.4 points to 39.0 in August. Activity in the services sector is at its lowest level since the GFC, and AIG chief Innes Wilcox says cautious consumers are keeping their hands in their pockets, reluctant to take on debt, keeping a lid on discretionary spending and in turn placing further strain on wholesalers and freighters. 
 
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the national economy expanded in line with expectations in the June quarter. GDP grew 0.6 per cent in the quarter, and 2.6 per cent annually. Australia’s terms of trade grew 0.1 per cent in the quarter, however remain 4.9 per cent lower than this time last year. 
 
Company news 
 
Virgin Australia Holdings Limited (ASX:VAH) has confirmed that middle eastern airline Etihad was responsible for snapping up a large block of shares earlier this week. Etihad has boosted its stake from 10.5 to 12.3 per cent, well on the way to its target of 19.9 per cent. Shares in Virgin are trading flat at $0.42. 
 
Hills Holdings Limited (ASX:HIL) will acquire two leading Australian interactive patient care businesses for $33.5 million, to be funded from its existing facilities. The companies include Victorian based Merlon Healthcare Communications and Queensland based Hospital Television Rentals, boasting combined revenues in excess of $25 million annually. Shares in Hills Holdings are trading up 5.54 per cent at $1.72. 
  
Best and worst performers

The best performing sector is Industrials gaining 4 points to 3,856. Shares in Emeco Holdings Limited (ASX:EHL) have risen 12.82 per cent and trading at $0.22. Shares in McMillan Shakespeare Limited (ASX:MMS) and Qube Holdings Limited (ASX:QUB) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is Healthcare, falling 196 points to 13,845. Shares in Sirtex Medical Limited (ASX:SRX) have fallen 3.55 per cent, trading at $12.78. Shares in Sonic Healthcare Limited (ASX:SHL) and Ramsay Health Care Limited (ASX:RHC) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold has extended gains two a second straight session on President Obama’s Syria strike support from congress. It’s trading at $US1,414 an ounce. The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9095.

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