Australian Stock Market Report – Afternoon 2/20/2013

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Local stocks closed at fresh four and a half year highs today, boosted by positive momentum in offshore markets and generally strong earnings results. The All Ordinaries Index (XAO) rose by 14pts or 0.3pct to 5115, its best level since early September 2008.

Financial stocks rose by 0.9pct while the energy sector was up 1.3pct.

Index leader BHP Billiton (BHP) released its first half profit today, reporting a 58pct fall in 1H profit to US$4.24B. The company also announced that CEO Marius Kloppers is set to retire and will be replaced by the mining firm's base metals chief, 56 year old Andrew McKenzie. BHP shares fell 0.9pct today to $38.65.

Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) reported a 40pct fall in 1H profit to $478M. Revenue fell 2pct to US$3.3B and FMG will not pay an interim dividend. FMG shares fell 5pct today to $4.92.

Queensland based financial conglomerate Suncorp Group Limited (SUN) lifted its 1H profit by almost 48% to $574M due to lower insurance claims and stronger financial markets. SUN will pay shareholders a 25cps dividend. Its share price fell 1pct today to $11.56.

Transport and logistics group Toll Holdings (TOL) lifted its first half profit by more than 20pct to $192M and announced it expects stronger earnings for the rest of the year. TOL shares rose 4pct today to $5.85.

Seven West Media Limited (SWM) reported a $109.3M loss after tax for the 6 months till the end of December 2012. The loss was a result of weakness in the advertising market, restructure costs and a $195.2M cut in the value of its magazine business. Seven West met its Nov 2012 (EBIT) earnings guidance of ´´greater than $250M´´ reporting EBIT of $259.3M down 16.3%. Despite difficulties in the advertising market, Seven West Media said its Television unit continued to win television advertising market share. SWM shares fell 7pct today to $2.34.

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In economic data today, wages rose by 0.8pct in the December quarter, in line with expectations. Annual growth of wages eased from 3.7pct to 3.4pct and remains below the Reserve Bank's tolerance level of 4-4.5pct.

The Australian dollar ended the day's trade at US103.66c, £0.6717 and €77.28c.

On the market overall, a total of 1.9 billion shares were traded, worth $6.17 billion. 470 were up, 531 were down and 343 were unchanged.

At 5pm AEDT the SFE 200 Futures was at 5073pts, up 13pts.

In the US tonight; housing starts, producer prices and the FOMC minutes are released. The Dow Futures Index was flat at 5pm AEDT.

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