Market Wrap: Aus shares finish a strong week

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed 0.3 per cent up for the day as a series of strong economic figures delivered a positive week. Today, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed 16 points up to finish at 5,462. Over the week the index is 57 points higher. 
 
The value of trades was $4.3 billion on volume of 736 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA), Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) and BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP).
 
On the futures market the SPI is 21 points up.
 
Wall Street

US stocks have risen over the four trading days this week: The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 149 points. The S&P 500 Index added 23 points. The NASDAQ added 33 points. The 100 Index added 21 points. 
 
Economic news

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng has said today the prospects of signing a Free Trade Agreement with Australia "as soon as possible" were "optimistic". Gao made no specific timeframe for the agreement but did acknowledged the Australian government's desire to seal a deal within the year. 
 
Australia wants free access to the Chinese market for its agricultural exports, while China is looking for a more open access for its state-owned enterprises when competing for Australian business and an easing of restrictions for Chinese nationals working in Australia. 

Company news
 
Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) has told the ASX it can’t explain a 12 per cent rise in its stock price over the past two days.  Leighton shares reached the highest levels in almost 12 months at $20.33 in early afternoon trading today, up from $18.15 on Thursday morning, sparking the price enquiry.
 
Leighton’s controlling investor, German construction company Hochtief, said it would continue lifting its holdings in the Australian contractor’s stock. Hochtief had acquired some 3.4 million shares in Leighton between December 27 and February 3, increasing its total to nearly 59 per cent. Under Australian law Hochtief can buy 3 percent of the company every six months. Shares in Leighton Holdings closed 7.69 per cent up at $20.72. 
 
Woolworths Limited (ASX:WOW) has announced the appointment of UK retail chief Alastair McGeorge as Managing Director of BIG W. Previous CEO Julie Coates has been appointed Director of Business Transformation on a permanent basis following her secondment to the role in October 2013.
 
McGeorge was Chairman of UK Chain New Look and is their previous Chief Executive.  He also previously held Chief Executive roles with retailers Matalan and Littlewoods. 
 
The company said McGeorge has been consulting to BIG W in recent months and is well placed to take the business through their transformation process. Shares in Woolworths Limited closed 0.6 per cent up at $36.36. 
 
Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) has announced Phil Coffey, the current CFO has been appointed Deputy Chief Executive Officer, reporting directly to CEO Gail Kelly. Mr Coffey will work closely with Ms Kelly overseeing Westpac’s contribution to the Federal Government’s Financial System Inquiry. He will retain his current responsibilities for strategy, mergers and acquisitions. 
 
Peter King, a Westpac veteran of 20 years has been promoted to the role of Chief Financial Officer from the position of deputy. Shares in Westpac closed 1.2 per cent down.
 
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX:ANZ) says it will appeal a Federal Court decision last month that it charged ‘ extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable’ late payment fees on credit cards. 
 
The ruling has said that the late payment fees of up to $35 charged by the bank were illegal. However the judge allowed that four other types of fees were legitimate. 
 
ANZ also plans to challenge the court’s dismissal of the statute of limitations on claims which would limit how far back fees could be recovered. 
 
The appeal, if successful could save the bank millions of dollars. Shares in ANZ closed only 0.03 per cent up.
 
The best and worst performers of the day

The best performing sector was Energy adding 174 points to close at 14,068.The worst performing sector was Financials excluding real estate, losing 6 points to close at 7,066 points.

The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Carsales.com Limited (ASX:CRZ), booking another strong day after its acquisitions in Asia this week. It was up 7.80 per cent to close at $11.89. Shares in Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) and Seven Group Holdings (ASX:SVW) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Energy World Corporation (ASX:EWC), dropping 7.14 per cent to close at $0.33. Shares in Medusa Mining Limited (ASX:MML) and Seven West Media Limited (ASX:SWM), trading ex-dividend, also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

The price of gold is buying $US1,351 an ounce, and is up $20.21 over the week. Light crude is $0.11 higher at $US101.56 a barrel.

The Australian dollar is buying $0.9090 and is $0.01 up over the week.