Local stocks are trading in the red today, with most of the damage being done by Westpac (WBC and the National Australia Bank (NAB), which are trading without rights to their dividends. Overnight, US markets rose at the open then traded lower, as investors focused on the so-called "fiscal cliff" with tax increases and spending cuts to occur from the 1st January.
The struggle to breach 4300 level will still be there today and the challenge to surpass the 4309 level recorded on Monday. The markets will be looking forward to hints for future monetary policy direction to be undertaken by the Reserve Bank of Australia with the release of the February minutes of meeting.
At lunchtime in the East, the All Ordinaries Index (XAO) is down 28pts or 0.6pct to 4474.2.
$WBC is paying an 84c dividend to shareholders, and is trading down 95c or 3.7pct to $24.98. The $NAB is down 4.3pct or $1.06 to $23.81, after paying out a 90c dividend to shareholders. The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) is trading higher, up 0.9pct to $58.69 while the ANZ (ANZ) is virtually flat at $24.39.
Australia's biggest electricity retailer Origin Energy (ORG) has today claimed it won't need to raise capital despite issuing a profit downgrade after the close of trade on Thursday. $ORG has forecast underlying profit will come in around 5-10pct lower than in FY12 ($839M) after previously forecasting a 5-10pct increase. Origin has blamed the downgrade on a regulatory uncertainty including an unfavourable pricing decision in Queensland. Origin, along with partners ConocoPhillips and China Petrochemical Corporation, are spending US$20 billion building a liquefied natural gas export project in Queensland. ORG shares are down 5.3pct at lunchtime in the East to $10.48.
Elsewhere, healthcare stocks are looking strong on defensive buying. CSL Limited (CSL) is up 1.4pct to $48.40 while Cochlear (COH) is firmer by 1.4pct to $75.09.
The Australian dollar is worth US103.92c, £0.6504 and €81.56c.
In early trade, 605 million shares have changed hands, worth $3.76 billion. 268 are up, 434 are down and 320 are unchanged.
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