Market Wrap: Aus shares close 0.1% lower

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed only 0.1 of a per cent down after falling almost 1 per cent in early trade. Better than expected Chinese manufacturing data brought a midday recovery that was helped on by the RBA keeping rates on hold as expected. 

In the end the S&P/ASX 200 index closed 5.6 points down to finish at 5,389. 
 
The value of trades was $3.9 billion on volume of 723 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 12 points down.

Economic news
 
HSBC’s final China Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for March was 48, below the flash reading of 48.1 which came out earlier in the month. Both numbers however were well below the official number of 50.3 released this morning. The official number sparked a minor recovery on the ASX before the HSBC data stemmed gains. 

Locally, the RBA has held rates at 2.5 per cent for the seventh straight meeting with the bank saying ‘recent information suggests slightly firmer consumer demand over the summer and foreshadows a solid expansion in housing construction’ and that ‘equity and credit markets are well placed to provide adequate funding.’
 
Company news 
 
Shares in BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) climbed this afternoon after the company responded to media reports that it was looking to spin off non-core assets including aluminium, nickel and bauxite in order to create a new $20 billion resources company to be handed back to shareholders.
 
Reports stated Goldman Sachs investment bank was looking at options including demerge and individual asset sales for non-core businesses.
 
The miner said in a statement to the market this afternoon the company would “continue to actively study the next phase of simplification, including structural options, but will only pursue options that maximise value for BHP Billiton shareholders.” BHP Billiton closed 1.59 per cent up at $37.05. 
 
Shares in Prana Biotechnology Limited (ASX:PBT) plunged over seventy five per cent in early trade today after the company announced trials in PBT2, a drug aimed at treating Alzheimer’s Disease, had failed to meet expectations. 
 
CEO Geoffrey Kempler said says there is “a strong body of evidence for the efficacy of PBT2 in Alzheimer's disease” and "Whilst not meeting all of our hopes, this result does not deter us from the future development of the drug.” Shares in Prana Biotechnology closed 73.56 per cent down at $0.28. 
 
Coca-Cola Amatil Limited (ASX:CCL) has flagged a review after highlighting a weak consumer confidence and spending environment in Australia. The beverage manufacturer’s full year report reveals it remains concerned by the conditions in Australia following last year’s disappointing result.

Coca-Cola Amatil says it will now undertake a comprehensive review of the operating cost structure to adapt to a more competitive landscape. Shares in Coca-Cola Amatil have fallen 0.63 per cent. 
 
News Corp’s (ASX:NWS) chief Rupert Murdoch has taken the top title in the latest BRW executive rich list of the 100 wealthiest bosses of ASX-listed companies. The ranking of Australia’s wealthiest bosses reports Mr Murdoch’s pay pack is valued at $31.7 million with the value of his shares sitting at $12.6 billion.

The chief of Crown Resorts Limited (ASX:CWN) James Packer took the second spot. Platinum Asset Management Limited’s (ASX:PTM) Managing Director Kerr Neilson placed third. Shares in News Corp have firmed 0.39 per cent. 
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector, in fact the only major sector to trade up, was Materials adding 77 points to close at 10,103.The worst performing sector was Energy, losing 128 points to close at 13,508 points.

The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Ainsworth Game Technology Limited (ASX:AGI), rising 5.22 per cent to close at $3.83. Shares in Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) and Orora Limited (ASX:ORA) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was Southern Cross Media Group Limited (ASX:SXL), dropping 7.3 per cent to close at $1.27. Shares in Ten Network Holdings Limited (ASX:TEN) and Northern Star Resources (ASX:NST) also closed lower. 

Commodities

Gold is buying $US1,284 an ounce. Light crude is $0.09 down at $US101.58 a barrel.

The Australian dollar peaked over 93 cents earlier today but is buying $US0.9265 at the close.