Market Wrap: Aus shares fall below 5300

Market Reports

The Australian share market started the week on a soft note and sank to session lows and below the 5,300 barrier by close. Stocks got off on the back-foot after a disappointing read on America’s labour market cast doubt over the strength of the US economy.  
The local benchmark lost 0.4 per cent by end, dragged down by losses across the financial sector. Insurance giant QBE Insurance Group Limited (ASX:QBE) and investment bank Macquarie Group Limited (ASX:MQG) fell almost 1.5 per cent each and the Big Four Banks all ended lower. 
The mining sector came off its highs but ended the day stronger led by gains among precious metal stocks. Nickel stocks were a highlight after nickel hit a two week high on news Indonesia’s ban on mineral exports will lower nickel supplies.  
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 20.3 points to finish at 5,292. 
The value of trades was $2.6 billion on volume of 482 million shares at the close of trade. 
The top three stocks by value were Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (ASX:FOX) BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA)
On the futures market the SPI is 32 points lower. 
Economic news
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. ANZ Banking Group’s (ASX: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. 
Company news
Shares in Whitehaven Coal Limited (ASX:WHC) fell to one of the day’s worst performers after inking a 12-year rail haulage deal with Asciano Limited’s (ASX:AIO) Pacific National Coal division. The new agreement is geared to providing a more efficient train fleet configuration and Asciano says it reflects both company’s confidence in the long term outlook for Australian coal mining. Shares in Whitehaven Coal fell 4.58 per cent today to end the session at $1.77. 
Telstra Corporation Limited (ASX:TLS) has sold a 70 per stake in its struggling directories business Sensis for $454 million. Australia’s biggest telco divested the majority interest to US private equity firm Platinum Equity and will retain a 30 per cent shareholding. Shares in Telstra Corporation lost 0.19 per cent today to end the session at $5.25. 
Nickel miner Mirabela Nickel Limited (ASX:MBN) has announced a board shake-up with Chairman Geoff Handley and two other directors resigning while Ian McCubbing has been appointed Non-Executive Chairman.  
Toll road operator Transurban Group (ASX:TCL) says its M5 project is tracking on schedule and budget as it reported proportional toll revenues rose 12.6 per cent to $281.3 million in the December quarter. 
Takeover target Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory Co (ASX:WCB) has revealed its suitor Canadian dairy giant Saputo Inc has now boosted its stake in the company to 26.445 per cent and extended its offer until January 22. 
Mining focused engineering company Austin Engineering Limited (ASX:ANG) has been awarded its largest Chilean maintenance contract to start next month at a copper mine owned by the Chilean Government. 
Best and worst performers 
The best performing sector was materials, adding 38 points to close at 9,902.
The worst performing sector was financials excluding real estate investment trusts, losing 54 points to close at 6,901 points.
The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Energy World Corporation Limited (ASX:EWC), rising 9.86 per cent to close at $0.39. Shares in Silver Lake Resources Limited (ASX:SLR) and Western Areas Limited (ASX:WSA) also closed higher.
The worst performing stock was Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN), dropping 5.8 per cent to close at $0.33. Shares in Decmil Group Limited (ASX:DCG) and Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC) also closed lower. 
Gold has continued to rise today after capping off three weeks of gains - now buying $US1,252.60 an ounce. 
Light crude is $1.06 higher at $U92.72 a barrel. 
The Australian dollar has bounced back above $US0.90 – now buying $US0.9032.  

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