Shares held back by resources retreat
Australian shares posted modest losses as advances by financial stock were countered by falls by miners and energy producers.
The ASX200 has ended the day down 3.1 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4333.9 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index lost 5.4 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4419.
Underpinning the market was a 3.4 per cent rise in QBE Insurance Group after it said business was off to a "superb" start in 2012, with premiums set to rise by more than 7 per cent
Among the major sub-indexes, financial stocks rose 0.6 per cent while materials lost 1.1 per cent and energy stocks shed 0.8 per cent.
The Australian dollar hovered below $US1.03 after a worse-than-expected trade result for February increased expectations the Reserve Bank will cut its cash rate on May 1 to provide some stimulus for the economy.
The dollar was also buying 85 yen, 64.75 pence and just under 78 euro cents.
‘‘There was obliviously a knee-jerk reaction to the international trades and goods and services data,’’ said Options Xpress market analyst Ben Le Brun
‘‘We’ve seen the Aussie dollar fall, which has supported some ends of the market.
‘‘Certainly, the healthcare sector has been one of the best performers.’’
ResMed was up 2.67 per cent at $3.08, Ramsay Health Care gained 2.54 per cent to $19.77, Primary Health Care put on 2.52 per cent to $2.85, Cochlear was 1.62 per cent firmer at $62.55 and CSL appreciated 1.49 per cent to $36.00.
Mr Le Brun said a continuation of soft economic data should prompt the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut interest rates in May, having kept them on hold yesterday
Among the major banks, ANZ was up two cents at $23.01, Westpac gained 30 cents, or 1.37 per cent, to $22.12, National Australia Bank put on 18 cents to $24.79 and Commonwealth Bank eased 14 cents to $49.90.
Shares in Transfield Services closed down 11.65 per cent at $2.20 after the construction and maintenance firm cut its full year profit forecast by about a fifth.
In other headlines, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has suspended its clearance process for AGL Energy’s purchase of Australia’s largest brown coal power station.
AGL shares were steady at $14.83.
The spot gold price in Sydney at 1641 AEST was $US1,643.10 per fine ounce, down $US35.57 from Tuesday’s local close of $US1,678.67.
Newcrest, Australia’s biggest gold producer, gave up 69 cents, or 2.36 per cent, to $28.50.
National turnover was 2.1 billion securities worth $4.5 billion, with 427 stocks up, 592 down and 394 steady.
On the ASX 24 at 1636 AEST, the June share price index futures contract was seven points higher at 4,349 points, with 25,049 contracts traded.