Midday: Iron ore stocks drag on ASX

Market Reports

In the absence of a lead from Wall Street the Australian share market has posted a soft start to the session. With Americans pausing for the Martin Luther King Jr public holiday on Monday, the local benchmark has followed Europe lower. 
 
While the sectors are trading mixed some strength among financials is helping to offset losses among the major miners. Iron ore stocks are dragging with Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) and Atlas Iron Limited (ASX:AGO) down about 3.5 per cent each. The price of the steel making commodity slipped about 2 per cent overnight and has so far shed almost $US10 per tonne this year.   
 
Figures
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 4.2 points higher at 5,299. On the futures market the SPI is 4 points higher. 
 
Company news
 
Oil and gas company Otto Energy Limited (ASX:OEL) has executed binding agreements with BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) to assume the miner's interest in Service Contract 55, located offshore the Philippines. 
 
Shares in Sandfire Resources NL (ASX:SFR) have dropped after the copper and gold producer’s quarterly report revealed a fall in output over the December quarter from the prior quarter but maintained its annual production guidance range.   
 
Shares in Finbar Group Limited (ASX:FRI) have dipped after the property developer announced a new town planning scheme has boosted the end value of a project it is working on in the second largest town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Port Hedland. 
 
Shares in Zambezi Resources Limited (ASX:ZRL) have surged more than 230 per cent after the Zambian Government gave the green light for the copper, gold and uranium explorer to develop its wholly owned Kangaluwi Copper Project. 
  
Best and worst performers 
 
The sectors are trading mixed at noon: The best performing sector is health care, gaining 90 points to 14,521. Shares in Mesoblast Limited (ASX:MSB) have risen 4 per cent and trading at $5.98. Shares in ResMed Inc. (ASX:RMD) and Cochlear Limited (ASX:COH) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is energy, falling 71 points to 13,523. Shares in Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) have dropped 3.77 per cent, trading at $2.30. Shares in Horizon Oil Limited (ASX:HZN) and Woodside Petroleum Limited (ASX:WPL) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar
 
Gold is trading at $US1,254 an ounce. 
The Australian dollar is buying $US0.881.

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