Australian Stock Market Report – Midday 2/26/2013

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The Australian sharemarket is lower today following an uncertain Italian election result overnight. The All Ordinaries index (XAO) is down 0.6 per cent or 31 pts to 5041.7.

Globally, US sharemarkets traded on both sides of the ledger on Monday as investors monitored the Italian election results. But with the prospect of an inconclusive outcome, the Dow Jones slumped in afternoon trade, ending lower by 216pts or 1.6pct after trading higher by 81 points in morning trade. European shares rose on Monday but ended off the day´s highs, also on uncertainty about the Italian vote.

QBE Insurance Group (QBE) has posted a net profit of US$761 million for the full year to December 31. This is an 8 per cent rise from the previous corresponding period, however the result is lower than expected due to the impact of severe droughts and storms in the United States. The global insurance company plans to save around $A243.75 each year from the end of 2015 by rationalising its business. QBE will pay a fully-franked final dividend of US10c. QBE shares lost ground following the result and are down 3.34 per cent or 43.5 cents to $12.59.

Ramsay Healthcare (RHC) reported a first half net profit of $138.4 million in the six months to December 31, up 10.1% from the same half in 2011. The private hospital and medical centre operator continues its pursuit for acquisitions overseas, including in emerging markets. RHC also remains focused on opportunities in existing markets in both the private and public sectors. CEO, Christopher Rex, will continue to lead the company, his contract being extended a further three years until mid-2016. The group will pay a fully-franked interim dividend of 29 cents. Ramsay's shares are easing by 0.65 per cent or 20 cents to $30.39.

Flight Centre (FLT) has lifted its first half profit from the previous corresponding period by 6.7 per cent to post a net profit of $91.84 million. Australia and the UK are the company's biggest profit generators, both markets delivering record EBITDA. The travel company plans to maintain its expansion into specialist areas such as first class and business travel. A fully franked interim dividend of 46cps has been declared. FLT shares are down 3.45 per cent or $1.13 to $31.16.

Seven Group Holdings (SVW) has reported a surge of 392.45 per cent in first half net profit to $256.8 million. The result has been attributed to the $50.1 million gain from the company's sale of its stake in Consolidated Media Holdings to News Corp. WesTrac, the group's heavy equipment business, also aided this result by its large fleet deliveries, with strong demand for heavy equipment from the coal and iron ore miners. The media and industrials business has announced a fully-franked interim dividend of 20cps, up two cents. SVW shares are bucking the trend, rising by 2.99 per cent or 30 cents to $10.35. In economic news, Reserve Bank assistant governor Guy Debelle delivered a speech at UniBreakfast, University of Adelaide Business School, Adelaide. The governor pointed to further interest rate cuts by the RBA if required to counter the effects of a high Australian dollar. The Australian dollar (AUD) has fallen to US102.7 cents, despite the market only factoring in a 20 per cent chance of a rate cut in March.

Following the start of daylight savings in October, major markets in the region will be trading between the hours mentioned below until April 2013.

The Hong Kong sharemarket trades in two sessions each day and will now open for trade between 12.30pm (AEDT) and 3pm (AEDT) while the second session is between 4pm (AEDT) and 7pm (AEDT).

Out of Japan, the first session will be between 11am (AEDT) and 1pm (AEDT) while the second session is between 2.30pm (AEDT) and 5pm (AEDT).

The Singapore exchange will be open for trade between 12pm and 3.30pm (AEDT) for the first session and then between 5pm and 8pm (AEDT) for the second.

U.S futures are currently pointing to a slightly stronger start to trade tonight. The U.S market trades between 1.30am (AEDT) and 8am (AEDT).

So far in trade at lunch, 874 million shares have been traded worth just $1.94 billion. 458 shares are up, 278 are lower and 313 are currently unchanged.

The AUD is the world's fifth most traded currency behind the U.S dollar, the Euro, Japanese Yen and British Pound. The AUD accounts for around 7 pct of all foreign exchange trades.

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