Midday: Aus shares lift despite Ukraine worries

Market Reports

Following soft international leads and plenty of anxiety about Russia’s military intentions in Ukraine, the Australian share market opened lower but strength in materials helped claw back the early losses and at noon it is trading 0.1 per cent up. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 3 points up at 5,387. On the futures market the SPI is 5 points lower. 
 
Economic news

ABS Building Approvals for total dwellings approved in the year to January rose 34.6 per cent in seasonal terms. That represented a 6.8 per cent rise in total approvals for the month of January, seasonally adjusted. Private sector house approvals rose 2.0% in January and have risen for 13 straight months.
 
The current account deficit has fallen $2,400m to $10,139m in the December quarter 2013, seasonally adjusted, a 19 per cent fall. The balance of goods and services turned around $2,919m, creating a surplus of $247m in the December quarter 2013.
 
Company news
 
Virgin Australia Holdings (ASX:VAH) has expressed relief that the federal government will not extend a debt guarantee to Qantas after the Abbott government said it would support the repeal of part three of the Qantas Sale Act which restricts foreign ownership.
 
The airline said today in a statement that they are pleased with the outcome which supports fair competition in the Australian aviation market.
 
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has earlier said a debt guarantee would also level the playing field between a fully privatised QANTAS and its state owned international competition.
 
The opposition and unions have flagged a long fight against the moves, citing the loss of jobs offshore. Shares in Virgin Australia are trading down 0.7 per cent at $0.35. 
 
Coal prospector Universal Coal (ASX:UNV) has announced that it has commenced production at its Kangala mine in South Africa. The miner says it will be producing up to 2.4 million tonnes per annum, of which 2 Million tonnes per annum is ear marked for ESKOM, South Africa’s leading power utility. The remainder will be exported.
 
CEO Tony Weber said the mine will provide a steady cashflow for the next decade and provide funding for the further development of existing Universal project in South Africa. Shares in Universal Coal are trading up 21.74 per cent at $0.14. 
  
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector is Materials gaining 33 points to 10,360. Shares in Alacer Gold (ASX:AQG) have risen 2.5 per cent and trading at $3.08. Shares in BlueScope Steel Limited (ASX:BSL) and Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) are also stronger. 
 
The worst performing sector is Utilities, falling 122 points to 5,550. Shares in Envestra Limited (ASX:ENV) have fallen 9.13 per cent, trading at $1.15. Shares in AGL Energy Limited (ASX:AGK) and Spark Infrastructure Group (ASX:SKI) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,350 an ounce.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.8946.