EVENING REPORT (4.40pm AEDT)
The Australian share market closed slightly firmer today, despite a negative start on the back of falls on Wall Street on Friday night and weaker than expected Chinese data.
By close, the All Ordinaries Index (XAO) was firmer by 8.1 points or 0.2 per cent to 5362.2.
The HSBC Flash Purchasing Managers index for China fell from 48.5 in February to 48.1 in March - an eight month low. A reading below 50 suggests a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.
The financial sector rose 0.4 per cent, with Macquarie Group (MQG) shares a standout. MQG gained 2.9 per cent to $56.42 after the investment firm announced it expects full year profit to be up 45 per cent on last year's result thanks to improved financial market conditions. MQG is seeing particular improvement in its fixed income, currencies and commodities businesses.
Outdoor wear retailer Kathmandu (KMD) lifted its first half profit by 10 per cent to NZ$11.4 million ($10.83 million) thanks to stronger sales and improved margins. Total sales lifted one per cent during the half while same store-sales rose 5.4 per cent at a comparable exchange rate. KMD shareholders will receive an interim dividend of NZ3c per share, fully franked for Australian shareholders.
Leighton Holdings (LEI) shares fell 0.7 per cent to $20.90 despite the construction firm winning more work in the Middle East. LEI will be involved in the construction of a US$1.7 billion highway project in Qatar, which is expected to take 36 months to complete.
Mineral sands miner Iluka Resources (ILU) added 0.4 per cent to $9.66. The company could be facing a class action over claims it misled shareholders in July 2012, leading to a 24 per cent one day fall in its share price.
In economic news, the national average Australian price of unleaded petrol fell by 1.7 cents per litre to 152.3 cents a litre in the week to March 23.
A total of 1.9 billion shares changed hands, worth $4 billion. 441 were up, 478 were down and 369 were unchanged
Ahead tonight, European PMI indices for March are due
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