Market Wrap: ASX sees steady start to September

Market Reports

The Australian share market closed the first session of September just slightly higher after pulling back from the morning’s gains. With Augusts’ reporting season now largely wrapped up traders today absorbed a series of economic reports ahead of tomorrow’s Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) rate call. Today Chinese and Australian manufacturing data came in soft and local inflation was broadly unchanged but Aussie house prices were shown to have surged over Winter. Looking abroad Wall Street will remain closed on Monday for the Labor Day holiday and all eyes will be on the nation’s key monthly jobs report this Friday. 
The S&P/ASX 200 index put on 4 points to close at 5,630. 
The value of trades was $3.27 billion on volume of 565 million shares at the close of trade. 
The top three stocks by value were Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA), Woolworths Limited (ASX:WOW) and BHP Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP)
On the futures market the SPI is steady.
Chinese economic news 
China’s manufacturing sector grew at a slower pace last month. China’s National Bureau of Statistics reports the official PMI eased to 51.1 in August from 51.7 the month before but remained above 50 which indicates expansion. A competing indicator, the final HSBC/Markit PMI, hit a three month low of 50.2 in August.
Australian economic news 
Australia’s manufacturing sector activity dipped last month and dropped into contraction territory. The Australian Industry Group’s performance of manufacturing index dropped 3.4 points to a read of 47.3 points in August which sits under 50, indicating contraction. 
Company gross operating profits fell more than expected over the second quarter. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports profits dropped 6.9 per cent in the June quarter after rising 3.1 per cent in the March quarter. 
A monthly inflation gauge has printed at a seven month low. TD Securities and the Melbourne Institute’s gauge came in flat for August after firming 0.2 per cent the month before. The gauge is now 2.5 per cent higher in the year to August, down from 2.6 per cent in July.  
Australian house prices have posted the biggest Winter gain in seven years. RP Data and CoreLogic’s hedonic home value index shows capital city dwelling prices climbed 1.1 per cent in August, 4.2 per cent in the three months to the end of August and 10.9 per cent in the year to August. 
Company news 
Bank of Queensland Limited’s (ASX:BOQ) last CEO Stuart Grimshaw will leave the bank with about $6 million worth of shares as he departs to take on a job in the US. The Brisbane based regional lender says its chief operating officer Jon Sutton will act as its CEO from today and report the company’s annual results in October. Shares in Bank of Queensland rose 1.03 per cent today to close at $12.71. 
Graincorp Limited (ASX:GNC) is targeting a substantial increase in underlying earnings by the end of the next 2016 financial year. The grain handler has today outlined a number of strategic initiatives in an investor presentation ahead of releasing its annual results in November. Shares in Graincorp fell 0.88 per cent today to close at $8.98. 
Shares in Woodside Petroleum Limited (ASX:WPL) gained amid speculation Kerry Stokes' Seven Group Holdings Limited (ASX:SVW) has bought a $100 million stake in the oil and gas giant. 
Shares in APN News and Media Limited (ASX:APN) closed flat after the media group  revealed it is considering options for its New Zealand business, including a listing on New Zealand’s stock exchange.
Shares in Noni B Limited (ASX:NBL) entered into a trading halt today pending an announcement on a potential material transaction. The troubled women’s clothing retailer last traded at $0.45 and expects to return to trade on or before this Wednesday.  
Shares in Quickflix Limited (ASX:QFX) closed steady after widening its annual net loss by almost 60 per cent to $10.2 million over the same period revenue fell 6 per cent.
Best and worst performers
The best performing sector was real estate investment trusts, adding 0.8 per cent to close at 1,151. 
The worst performing sector was consumer staples, losing 0.5 per cent to close at 10,000 points.
The best performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Mesoblast Limited (ASX:MSB), rising 4.97 per cent to close at $5.28. Shares in Harvey Norman Holdings Limited (ASX:HVN) and Karoon Gas Australia Limited (ASX:KAR) also closed higher.
The worst performing stock was BC Iron Limited (ASX:BCI), dropping 8.96 per cent to close at $2.54. Shares in STW Communications Group Limited (ASX:SGN) and Spark Infrastructure Group (ASX:SKI) also closed lower. 
Gold is trading at $US1,288 an ounce.
Light crude is $1.41 higher at $US95.96 a barrel. 
The Australian dollar is buying $US0.9341.