Market Wrap: Aus shares close down on Russian worries

Market Reports

Australian shares closed 0.5 per cent down after continuing fears of escalating Russian aggression sent the market sharply lower in early trade. Strength in the banks this afternoon offset losses in the miners to help recover some early losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 27 points down to finish at 5,350. 
 
The value of trades was $4.2 billion on volume of 756 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 20 points down.
 
Company news
 
Singapore Telecommunications Limited (ASX:SGT) Australian arm Optus has been formally warned for inaccurately billing approximately 237,500 customers prior to September 2012.
 
An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that between 23 November 2008 and 30 September 2012, Optus failed to accurately bill some customers in respect of its SurePage and SpinVox services, two ancillary messaging options for post-paid services. The ACMA’s investigation also found that Optus failed to identify and fix the root cause of the billing inaccuracy as soon as practicable. 
 
Between November 2008 and July 2011, errors in an IT upgrade meant that 2,600 customers were overcharged. However, between 1 July 2011 and 30 September 2012, many more customers were affected by the error with an additional 235,000 customers overcharged a total amount of approximately $8.9 million. Shares in SingTel closed flat at $3.12. 
 
Shares in yesterday’s worst performer Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC) have soared nearly 20 per cent today after the company announced commercial production and sales of rare earth oxide products for the March quarter will both be higher than the previous quarter. 
 
It was a good day to deliver good news on rare earths as the World Trade Organization ruled China's restrictions of its rare earths exports violated global trade rules. The restrictions raised the prices of rare earths for other countries and gave preferable pricing to Chinese manufacturers.
 
Chairman Nicholas Curtis moved to reassure shareholders in today’s announcement after a decline in the company’s share price since they reported their first half results earlier this month. Mr Curtis reaffirmed previous guidance that Lynas will produce 11000 tonnes of rare earths in the year to June 2014. Shares in Lynas Corporation closed 25 per cent up at $0.23. 
 
The board of News Corp (ASX:NWS) has announced Lachlan Murdoch will become non-executive co-chairman of News Corp and 21st Century fox with his father Rupert Murdoch. The move has been widely touted as clear indication of the media mogul’s succession plans.
 
Rupert Murdoch said this appointment is a sign of confidence in the growth of News Corp and recognition of Lachlan’s entrepreneurial leadership and passion for news, digital media and sport.
 
News Corp publishes a string of major newspapers in Australia, the US and the UK including The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. It also has a major interest in FOXTEL pay TV service. Shares in News Corp closed 2.35 per cent down.
 
Shares in Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Co. Limited (ASX:SOL) eased slightly today after reporting a first half profit of $73.7 million, down 0.79 per cent from the year before.
 
Chairman Robert Millner says the investment company remains in a strong financial position with cash reserves including wholly owned subsidiaries of $180 million. 
 
A fully franked dividend of 19 cents per share has been declared. Shares in Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Co. have fallen 0.4 per cent.
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Energy adding 22 points to close at 13,501.The worst performing sector was Consumer Discretionary, losing 23 points to close at 1,804 points.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Lynas Corporation Limited (ASX:LYC), rising 25 per cent to close at $0.23. Shares in Karoon Gas Australia Limited (ASX:KAR) and TPG Telecom Limited (ASX:TPM) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Navitas Limited (ASX:NVT), dropping 7.48 per cent to close at $6.93. Shares in Paladin Energy Limited (ASX:PDN) and Resolute Mining Limited (ASX:RSG) also closed lower. 
 
Commodities

Gold is buying $US1,303 an ounce. Light crude is $1.07 up at $US100.26 a barrel.

The Australian dollar is up again at $US0.9239.