Market Wrap: Aus shares close 0.3% higher

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.3 per cent higher as it shrugged off fears of war between Russia and Ukraine. Materials and the big four banks helped the market build on gains at midday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 16 points up to finish at 5,400. 
 
The value of trades was $4.3 billion on volume of 799 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA) and Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC).
 
On the futures market the SPI is 10 points up.

Economic news
 
The RBA has left interest rates at the record low level of 2.5 per cent for the sixth straight meeting. The RBA noted that while there has been a modest improvement in consumer demand, other sectors are in decline and wages growth has declined noticeably. The central bank forecasts that rates will remain on hold for the foreseeable future.
 
Company News

Wesfarmers Limited (ASX:WES) flagship Coles might be facing court action from the ACCC over its fuel discount dockets, but today the company had a win in court. The Federal Court ruled the company's grocery delivery drivers were not eligible for the transport workers award. The judgement identified the drivers as “customer service assistants” similar to newspaper delivery drivers employed by newsagents who are covered by retail industry awards.
 
The Transport Workers Union said the decision undermined the protections and safety of workers engaged in transport duties and have already flagged an appeal. Shares in Wesfarmers Limited closed 0.07 per cent down at $42.72. 
 
AGL Energy Limited (ASX:AGK) has had its bid for New South Wales power producer Macquarie Generation rejected by Australia’s competition regulator. 

The gas and electricity retailer had already inked a $1.5 billion deal to buy the New South Wales state-owned power plants last month. However, the transaction was subject to regulatory approval and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has today opposed the purchase.

The competition watchdog says the proposed acquisition will likely result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for the retail supply of electricity in the state. 

Responding to the announcement AGL says it is reviewing the reasons for the ACCC’s decision and will make a statement about what actions, if any, it may take in due course. Shares in AGL closed 2.46 per cent down at $15.05. 
 
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 up 1.41 per cent. 
 
Cash Converters International Limited (ASX:CCV) will team up with one of the largest pawn shop operators in the world called EZCORP to launch Cash Converters in South America & Mexico. The second-hand goods retailer says it will hold a 20 per cent interest in the joint venture through a subsidiary company. In return Cash Converters will grant a master licence to the JV for Latin America and provide information technology services, training and management support. 

EZCORP already have an established presence in Mexico and will inject $US3.6 million in return for its 80 per cent stake. Cash Converters says the JV is not expected to be a material contributor in the short term but the company sees strong growth potential in the region over the next five to 10 years. Shares in Cash Converters are trading up 2.21 per cent.
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Telcos adding 13 points to close at 1,784.The worst performing sector was Utilities, losing 97 points to close at 5,575 points.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Bradken Limited (ASX:BKN), rising 4.37 per cent to close at $4.30. Shares in Ardent Leisure Group (ASX:AAD) and BC Iron Limited (ASX:BCI) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Envestra Limited (ASX:ENV), dropping 8.73 per cent to close at $1.15. Shares in Wotif.com Holdings Limited (ASX:WTF) and Silver Lake Resources Limited (ASX:SLR) also closed lower. 
 
Turning to IPOs and SG Fleet Group Limited (ASX:SGF) started trading today. The Fleet Management and Leasing company floated with an issue price of $1.85, opened at $1.72 and closed at $1.61.    

Commodities

Gold is well up at $US1,350 an ounce as investors seek safe havens. Light crude also climbed $2.27 on war jitters and is trading at $US104.86 a barrel. 

The Australian dollar is down to $US0.8934 after the RBA’s rates announcement.