Midday: ASX drifts down, miners head higher

Market Reports

The Australian share market has continued last week’s downward trend and is trading in the red after America’s disappointing December jobs report was released on Friday. The local benchmark has stayed soft as traders consider the implications a weak jobs report has on the US Federal Reserve’s economic stimulus timeline.  
 
Across the sector most are trading lower but the miners have found support on the back of stronger commodity prices. The gold sub-index has shot up 4.5 per cent after the price of the precious metal posted its third straight weekly gain. Silver and copper stocks are looking up while nickel stocks have climbed on fears Indonesia’s ban on mineral exports will lower nickel supplies.  
 
Figures
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index has dipped 6 points to 5,306. On the futures market the SPI is 19 points lower. 
 
Economic news
 
In yet another sign of a housing recovery home loan demand increased slightly more than expected at the end of last year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports home loans granted rose 1.1 per cent to 52,912 in November against expectations for a 1 per cent rise. Total housing finance by value rose 1.7 per cent to $26.934 billion in the same period. 
 
Jobs ads in Australia fell again at the end of 2013 but ANZ Banking Group’s (ASX:ANZ) head of Australian economics says overall labour demand appears to be stabilising or even improving modestly. ANZ job ads survey dropped 0.7 per cent in December, widening a fall of 0.8 per cent the month before. Over the year job ads fell 9 per cent in 2013. 
 
Company news
 
Shares in Mirrabooka Investments (ASX:MIR) have firmed after announcing its portfolio delivered a return of 17 per cent in the last six months of 2013. The investment company’s interim net operating result rose 3.1 per cent while its net profit fell almost 30 per cent to $4.4 million after the prior period’s result was boosted by one-off gains.   
 
Shares in Western Desert Resources Limited (ASX:WDR) are trading flat after the iron ore focussed explorer awarded Leighton Holdings Limited’s (ASX:LEI) business Thiess a three-year mining services contract. 
 
Shares in Mortgage Choice Limited (ASX:MOC) have moved higher after the mortgage broking company spruiked an aggressive recruitment plan and outlined plans to launch a new incentive for franchisees. 
 
Shares in Dart Energy Limited (ASX:DTE) have jumped after the gas explorer said it has entered into a farm-out agreement with Total E&P UK concerning shale licenses in Britain. 
 
Best and worst performers
 
Most sectors are trading negative territory but materials have soared to the best performer, jumping 84 points points to 9,948. Shares in Western Areas Limited (ASX:WSA) have risen 9.57 per cent and trading at $2.58. Shares Silver Lake Resources Limited (ASX:SLR) and Evolution (ASX:EVN) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is energy, falling 76 points to 13,330. Shares in Whitehaven Coal Limited (ASX:WHC) have dropped 2.7 per cent, trading at $1.80. Shares in Senex Energy Limited (ASX:SXY) and Horizon Oil Limited (ASX:HZN) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar
 
Gold rose $17.50 overnight, now buying $US1,248 an ounce. 
The Australian dollar hit a one month high above $US0.90 after surprising weak US jobs figures but has pulled back this morning to $US0.8993.