Market Wrap: Aus shares close slightly higher

Market Reports

Australian shares closed slightly higher after being in positive territory all day, trading within a twenty point range. Strength in the miners was offset by weakness in the banks. 

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 7 points up to finish at 5,410. 
 
The value of trades was $3.81 billion on volume of 691 million shares at the close of trade. The top three stocks by value were BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP), Westfield Group (ASX:WDC) and National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB).
 
On the futures market the SPI is 9 points higher.

Economic news
 
Retail sales have risen 0.2 of a per cent in February after rising to 1.2 per cent in January, continuing a strong start to the year. Retail trade has been recording healthy rises since September, after several months of weak growth amid subdued consumer demand.
 
Australia’s trade data surpassed expectations as the surplus on goods and services in February 2014, rose $308 million or 33 per cent to $1.23 billion. Analysts do expect the number to decline in the months ahead as China pulls back commodity imports, though the persistent deficits of 2013 are not expected to reappear.
 
Company news 
 
Ramsay Health Care (ASX:RHC) has reportedly failed in its attempt to buy rival private hospital chains in the UK after the British competition regulator approved the purchase of only two hospital facilities by the company. 
 
The announcement came after the release of a report by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that called for larger players in the UK private hospital market to divest assets but limited the uptake opportunities of other players like Ramsay.  
 
Ramsay’s UK business grew 4.4 per cent in the first half of the 2014 financial year as the company took contracts from the country’s National Health System. Ramsay may still be interested in the two facilities, according to analysts, as they are both located in London, where Ramsay has a small market footprint. Ramsay Health Care closed 0.21 per cent down at $47.78. 
 
National Australia Bank Limited (ASX:NAB) has today announced the appointment of Andrew Thorburn as its new CEO. Mr Thorburn joined NAB in 2005 and will replace Cameron Clyne as the chief of the major bank in August. 
 
Mr Thorburn also replaced Mr Clyne when he took the reins of the Bank of New Zealand in 2008. NAB’s Chairman, Michael Chaney says Mr Thorburn has done a superb job leading the bank’s New Zealand division since 2008, where he lifted cash earning by more than 40 per cent. Shares in NAB closed 0.53 per cent down at $35.37. 
 
BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) has confirmed it will sell nickel and copper acreage just days after addressing speculation about divesting underperforming assets. 
 
Cassini Resources (ASX:CZI) will take control of the acreage in West Musgrave which is located between WA and Alice Springs and includes the Nebo-Babel sulphide deposits.
 
The cost will include $250,000 in cash, a 2 per cent smelter royalty and a $10 million production milestone payment due 12 months after production starts. Shares in BHP Billiton are trading up 0.43 per cent.
 
New Zealand dairy manufacturer Fonterra Shareholders' Fund (ASX:FSF) has sealed a deal with Woolworths to supply milk to Australian supermarkets. 
 
The deal will see Fonterra as the preferred supplier of Woolworths own brand milk in Victoria for the next ten years. The Victorian contract is believed to be worth about $60 million a year. Shares in Fonterra are up 1.9 per cent.
 
The best and worst performers

The best performing sector was Consumer Staples adding 71 points to close at 9,800.The worst performing sector was Utilities, losing 4 points to close at 5,507 points.
 
The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Goodman Fielder Limited (ASX:GFF), rising 7.37 per cent to close at $0.51. Shares in Aquila Resources Limited (ASX:AQA) and Platinum Asset Management Limited (ASX:PTM) also closed higher.
 
The worst performing stock was G8 Education Limited (ASX:GEM), dropping 3.98 per cent to close at $4.82. Shares in Atlas Iron Limited (ASX:AGO) and PanAust Limited (ASX:PNA) also closed lower. 

Commodities

Gold is buying $US1,293 an ounce. Light crude is $0.12 down at $US99.62 a barrel.

The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9215.