Outlook: Aus shares eye earnings reports

Market Reports

The Australian share market looks set for a soft start to the session after Wall Street closed mixed following Monday’s Presidents Day holiday. US stocks ended mostly flat as investors absorbed earnings reports and US listed The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) dropped almost 4 per cent after reporting disappointing profit results. 
Closer to home earnings will continue to roll in with Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG), Wesfarmers Limited (ASX:WES) and Woodside Petroleum Limited (ASX:WPL) among the majors reporting today. On the economic front investors will get an insight into expected business sales and economic activity with both indicators due out today. 
Wall Street ended mixed as it started its shortened trading week on Tuesday: The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 24 points to close at 16,130, the S&P 500 added 2 points to close at 1,841 and the NASDAQ added 29 points to close at 4,273.
European markets also ended mixed on Tuesday: London's FTSE 100 Index added 60 points, France's CAC 40 lost 4 points and Germany's DAX added 3 points.
Asian markets finished mixed on Tuesday: Japan’s Nikkei jumped 450 points, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lifted 52 points, and China’s Shanghai Composite fell 16 points.
The Australian share market finished just slightly higher yesterday, buoyed by BHP Billiton Limited’s (ASX:BHP) bumper profit result: The S&P/ASX 200 index added 9.9 points on Tuesday to finish at 5,393. On the futures market the SPI is 6 points higher. 
The Australian Dollar at 8:30AM was buying $US0.9028, 54.14 Pence Sterling, 92.45 Yen and 65.65 Euro cents.
Economic news due out today 

Australian Bureau of Statistics: Wage price index for December
Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) - Melbourne Institute: Leading Indexes of Economic Activity
Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA): Business sales indicator for January
Company news 
Challenger Limited (ASX:CGF) has generated a 10 per cent rise in its interim profit on the back of growth in annuities sales and funds under management. The investment company posted a first half net profit of $163.5 million in the same period funds under management grew 27 per cent to $45 billion. CEO Brian Benari has flagged further growth and lifted its retail net book growth and life cash earnings targets. An interim dividend of 12.5 cents per share has been declared. Shares in Challenger rose 3.28 per cent on Tuesday to close at $6.61. 
Hills Limited (ASX:HIL) has rebounded to a first-half profit of $14.1 million and forecast its full year underlying net profit will reach up to $28 million. CEO Ted Pretty says Hills is pleased with its interim results with all divisions having posted a solid performance. The company formally known as Hills Holdings has declared a fully franked interim dividend of 3.4 cents per share. Shares in Hills slipped 0.57 per cent on Tuesday to close at $1.74. 
CVC Limited (ASX:CVC) paying a 7 cent fully franked dividend
Gold has added $5.80 to $US1,324.40 an ounce for the April contract on Comex. 
Silver has lifted $0.47 to $21.90 for March. 
Copper has firmed $0.02 at $3.29 a pound. 
Oil has gained $2.13 at $US102.43 a barrel for March light crude in New York.

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