Midday: Aus shares lower as miners and banks dip

Market Reports

Following soft offshore leads, the Australian share market opened lower lead by big miners and banks and a general weakness in consumer sectors. At noon, the market is 1 per cent down. 
 
The S&P/ASX 200 index is 52 points down at 5,362. On the futures market the SPI is 54 points lower. 
 
Economic news

In what they have described as a ‘surprisingly weak result,’ the Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment fell 3.0 per cent in February, moving from 103.3 in January to 100.2 last month. Westpac Chief Economist Bill Evans said “the Index is now down 7.5% on a year ago; 9.5% on its recent September high and is at its lowest level since July last year.” 
 
Evans said households are particularly worried about the future, especially looming interest rate increases while the labour market and housing affordability remain weak. The difference between the current conditions index and the expectations index widened further and is now at its highest level since June 2000.
 
Company news
 
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) Iron Ore chief Andrew Harding has also moved to keep sentiments bullish about the global iron ore market. Speaking at the AJM Global Iron Ore and Steel Forecast conference, Harding has echoed his BHP Billiton counterpart Jimmy Wilson’s words saying while there will be short-term volatility, the longer term is still intact and he predicts good growth in the market through to the 2020s. 
 
Analysts have downgraded outlooks for the mining giant this year as the use of stockpiled iron ore in China dented demand. Rio’s share price has fallen from over $70 in mid February to under $61 over night despite rebounding to a net profit that beat expectations in 2013. Shares in Rio Tinto are trading down 0.4 per cent at $60.98. 
 
Standard & Poor's has lowered Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) credit rating from stable to BBB- as majority shareholder Hochtief continues to lift its holding.
 
S&P says Hochtief's intention to lift its shareholding and board representation will decrease an already limited separation of the governance arrangements between the companies, lowering credit-worthiness.
 
ASIC has already announced it will look into a spike in Leighton’s share price late last week before Hochtief launched a $1.15 billion conditional cash takeover bid for the Australian construction giant on Monday morning. Shares in Leighton Holdings are trading down 0.45 per cent at $22.04. 
 
The best and worst performers

All major sectors are down this noon. The sector with the smallest losses is Telcos losing 2.3 points to 1,771. Shares in Telecom Corp of New Zealand (ASX:TEL) have risen 1.54 per cent and trading at $2.31. Shares in M2 Group Limited (ASX:MTU)are also up while Telstra Corporation Limited (ASX:TLS) is down 0.1 per cent. 
 
The worst performing sector is Consumer Discretionary, falling 36 points to 1,860. Shares in Automotive Group Holdings Limited (ASX:AHE) have fallen 5.5 per cent, trading at $3.61. Shares in Breville Group Limited (ASX:BRG) and Domino's Pizza Enterprises Limited (ASX:DMP) are also lower. 
 
Gold and the dollar

Gold is trading at $US1,347 an ounce.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.8960.