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ASX CLOSE: Markets lower; materials sector does most damage

IG Markets Ltd

Friday 22nd January 2010

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Across Asia, regional markets are all lower after President Obama gave markets more to worry about overnight with a proposal for wide sweeping changes to the big banks proprietary trading desks. The Nikkei, Kospi, Hang Seng and Shanghai Composite are all down 2.5%.

Further south, the Australia 200 CFD Index fell 1.6%, the most since November 27, 2009 to finish at 4750.6 after trading as low as 4716 this morning. It was broad-based weakness across all sectors, with the materials, energy and financials detracting the bulk of the points.

The Obama led administration's proposed restrictions on big banks proprietary trading desks and hedge fund/private equity involvement clearly rattled the market as these have been significant avenues of growth for the banks over the last decade.

We see this as a US centric problem. And while our financials were down in sympathy today, it shouldn't be too long before sanity prevails and Australian banks are traded on their own merits.

Also, there are signs that people might now be realising the reaction to "the Chinese lending concerns" was seriously exaggerated. This Chinese theme has seen materials stocks decimated this week. As more rational thinking returns, we could potentially see a strong rebound in sentiment and share prices in the coming weeks.

The materials sector did the most damage today, down 2.6%. Positive sentiment around the current iron ore price negotiations wasn't enough to save the big miners today with Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and BHP Billiton all down between 2.8% and 4.8%.

In a note from ANZ senior commodity analyst, Mark Pervan, the overnight pullback in base metal markets on concerns the Chinese government may further tighten monetary policy, after strong 4Q GDP growth, represents a prime bargain hunting opportunity for Asian players. From ANZ's conversations with people in Shanghai, they're not concerned about the tightening or the potential for it. Lending this year is still set to be more than 50% higher than 2008. It'll be a bit lower than 2009, but still very healthy. There appears to be a "two-speed" market about interpretation of Chinese data, with Europe and the US reacting to headlines, without looking behind them too much. Chinese tightening is encouraging as it would help prevent another bubble environment from forming.

Also, Lihir Gold (-2.2%) posted full year gold production of 1.12 million ounces, up 27% on the year, to be in line with guidance for between 1 and 1.2 million ounces. 4Q09 production was 278,391 ounces, up 19% on 3Q09, thanks to a strong performance at Lihir Island. 4Q09 gold sales were 296,000 ounces at an average price of US$1,096 per ounce, delivering a healthy profit margin as cash costs were US$454 per ounce. Acting CEO, Phil Baker, said finding a replacement CEO after Arthur Hood's shock exit this week is expected to take a number of months. The fact that production was in line with guidance is positive but is unlikely to be a big driver for the stock.

The financial sector was the second worst performer, losing 2% following a very poor set of overnight leads. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank was the biggest decliner, falling 3.4% while Macquarie Group lost 3.2%. The big four banks also saw heavy selling, all down between 0.9% and 2.6%, with ANZ the underperformer.

In the industrials space, Brambles, Toll Holdings and Macquarie Airports led the sector lower, all down between 2.7% and 3.7%. Macquarie Airports reported strong 4Q earnings performance at Sydney Airport, with underlying EBITDA up 11.8% to $193.2 million, outstripping a 7.3% growth in passengers. Notwithstanding, their prior year comparables are a weak starting point given the impact of the global financial crisis. In particular, if you look at international passengers, a year ago, the full year underlying EBITDA growth was 5.6% vs passenger growth of just 0.4%. This suggests effective cost cutting measures even as airport undertook some significant re-developments, particularly in international terminal retail areas.

In the energy space, Woodside Petroleum was the biggest detractor, declining 3.3% following a sharply weaker oil price overnight. It also reported Q4 production numbers. The oil giant came in a fraction short of their 2009 annual production guidance, with the natural resource decline at Stybarrow Oil field and the shutdown at Vincent Oil field after a fire kept output at 80.9 million BOE, compared to downwardly revised guidance in December of 81 million BOE. Woodside hasn't mentioned 2010 production expectations today, although last month they forecasted an output of 70 -75 million BOE. Woodside reported their Stybarrow Oil field will be shut down for 35 days in 1Q10 while the Vincent will operate under revised production constraints in 1Q10, due to a gas compression outage (which is expected to be re-instated in 2Q). The steep fall in annual revenue was due to the sharp fall in oil prices, although their fourth-quarter revenue was hurt by reduced sales volumes and currency movements. The Northwest Shelf 4Q revenue for LNG slipped 53% on year, despite slightly higher output. There were no major developments announced with LNG, with final investment decisions for Pluto 2 and 3 reiterated. Concept selection for Sunrise LNG was pushed back to the current quarter, but the East Timor government isn't making things easy by still insisting on the plant being located on its own shores.


Prices are in AUD unless otherwise stated.
IG Markets Ltd, Australian Financial Service Licence No. 220440. ABN 84 099 019 851.
This information is provided for information purposes and should not be regarded as financial product advice. This information does not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation or needs. Therefore you should consider the information in light of your specific objectives, situation or needs before making any trading or investment decision. IG Markets recommends you take independent financial advice before any decision whether to trade with IG Markets in the products we offer.

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