Australian Stock Market Report – Afternoon 4/3/2012


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(4.15pm AEST)

The local share market had a positive lead from offshore markets overnight but managed only a modest gain by close. As expected the Reserve Bank of Australia left the official cash rate on hold at 4.25pct for the third month in a row, despite official data released today showing retail spending remains sluggish. By close, the All Ordinaries Index (XAO) was up just 8pts or 0.2pct to 4424.4.

Financial stocks added 0.1pct with shares in Macquarie Group (MQG) firmer by 1pct to $29.15.

Among the mining stocks, Rio Tinto ( RIO ) firmed by 0.9pct to $66.79 thanks to firmer commodity prices. Mining and mining consumables business Onesteel (OST) announced a name change to the market, to reflect the fact its business is no longer solely focused on the domestic steel industry. OST will hold an Extraordinary General Meeting on May 8, and if the name change is approved, will go by Arrium Limited from Monday 2nd July. Onesteel's new ASX code listing has not been formally announced. The company, which has been struggling financially, will spend about $1 million in the rebranding exercise. OST today closed up 0.4pct to $1.27.

Franklins owner and wholesale grocer Metcash ( MTS ) came out of a trading halt today, announcing a $43 million restructure which includes the loss of 478 jobs. Metcash will also close 15 regional Campbell's Cash and Carry stores as it tries to remain competitive in what it labelled ongoing difficult trading conditions. MTS shares fell 4.7pct today to $4.10 while Woolworths added 0.2pct to $25.70 and Coles owner Wesfarmers ( WES ) was firmer by 0.3pct to $29.99.

Official figures released today prove Australians remain reluctant to part with their cash. Retail spending rose by just 0.2pct in February after rising by 0.3pct in January. In the past four months total retail activity has increased by just 0.4pct. Annual spending growth totalled just two percent. Across the states, Queensland and Western Australia led the gains while significant weakness was recorded in NSW and Victoria. Excluding Queensland and Western Australia retail sales grew by just 0.9pct in annual terms. Non-food retailing was flat in February and up just 1.6pct over the year. Sales by chain stores and other large retailers rose by 0.3pct in seasonally adjusted terms in February. In annual terms sales at chain stores were up 1.9pct on a year ago, marking the weakest annual growth rate in 15 months.

Despite the sluggish retail sales the RBA left rates on hold today. The Reserve Bank Board has left the cash rate at 4.25 per cent for the third month after previously electing to cut rates at both the November and December meetings, each by 25 basis points. (The Reserve Bank Board doesn't meet in January). The Reserve Bank had previously lifted rates seven times from October 2009 to November 2010 - a total of 1.75 percentage points, from 3pct to 4.75pct.

In the last rate-cutting cycle the cash rate fell to a low of 3pct in April 2009. In the previous rate-cutting cycle the cash rate fell to 4.25pct in December 2001. In the two previous rate-cutting cycles, the cash rate fell to lows of 4.75pct.

The Reserve Bank now looks more closely at the variable housing rate to gauge how close rates are to "normal". Currently the average bank variable housing rate stands at 7.40 per cent, broadly in line with the long-term average or "normal" rate of 7.2pct.

The Australian dollar fell slightly following the interest rate decision and at 4pm AEDT was worth US104.02c, £0.6486 and €77.93c.

On the market overall, a total of 2.1 billion shares were traded, worth $4.38 billion. 515 were up, 480 were down and 414 were unchanged.

At 4.15pm AEDT On the ASX24, the share price futures contract was at 4343, up 10pts.

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This article appears in: Investing , Commodities
More Headlines for: MTS , RIO , WES

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