Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Markets Live: ASX tepid, Billabong soars

5:16pm: Another day, another dollar, another Markets Live blog.

Thanks for being with us.

Click here for a full wrap of the day's session

4:37pm: Here's how blue chips performed:

BHP: +2.3% Rio: +1.1% ANZ: -1.2% CBA: -0.8% NAB: -0.2% Westpac: -0.9% Fortescue: +6% Woolworths: flat Wesfarmers: -0.1% Telstra: -0.6%

4:24pm: Here are the best and worst performers on the ASX200 today:

4:22pm: Well, some of the world may be focusing on other aspects of Bernake's address:

4:18pm: Here's how the sectors fared:

Consumer discretionary: -0.3% Financials: -0.7% IT: -2.9% Materials: +1.7% Gold miners: +1.6%

4:14pm: The market has closed flat again, with the benchmark S&P/ASX200 slipping just 4.3 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4981.7. The broader All Ords nudged down 2.1 points to 4966.5.

3:55pm:If there's one obvious beneficiary from the Billabong refinancing deal, it's the Altamont Consortium (Altamont with GSO Capital Partners, the credit arm of the Blackstone Group).

Altamont is a private investment firm based in San Francisco.

As part of the deal, the consortium will become between 36.25 to 40.49 per cent owners of the company and receive approximately 12 per cent per year payment on its debt offering, Commonwealth Bank analyst Jordan Rogers notes.

"We have assumed that the Altamont Consortium's options are eventually exercised (seven-year maturity) and that the proposed Redeemable Preference Shares (RPS) are converted," Mr Rogers said in a research note.

"This results in an expected 57 per cent increase in shares (to 751.3 million, used in our valuation). There may be even more shares issued to the Altamont Consortium (up to 53.5 million) if BBG chooses not to pay all of the RPS distributions in cash."

Billabong shares were trading at 33.5 cents.

3:47pm: Here's an interesting story from our friends on the Money desk, research and patience are vital when it's time to get a bigger and better home.

Mortgage broker Stephanie Cook says the most complicated transaction she has to deal with regularly is one where the client is selling a home and upgrading to a bigger one. Clients have to decide whether to sell or buy first, consider keeping the first home as an investment property and sort out their finances so they can move from their old mortgage to a new one without incurring extra cost.

''Buying the first home is relatively straightforward,'' says Cook, who owns a Mortgage Choice franchise in Sydney's Lane Cove. ''People get a shock when they realise how complicated things can get when they are selling to trade up.''

Other issues that can complicate the sale include setting the right price, deciding whether to put the house to auction, and sorting out the best agreement with a real-estate agent.

Read more

3:33pm:France's President Francois Hollande's government will today set out 3 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in spending cuts and close tax loopholes as he struggles to revive a stalled economy and his own slumping popularity.

The savings are part of Hollande's MAP program to modernize government services and range from trimming consular services to eliminating special low-tax rates on diesel fuel for farmers and fisherman, according to a presentation to journalists by officials yesterday.

For Hollande, cutting state spending is a priority as he seeks to reduce France's budget deficit after he and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy increased taxes by 70 billion euros over three years, helping to choke off growth in Europe's second-largest economy. Business leaders including Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie this month urged the government to shrink itself to give businesses room to grow.

3:17pm:More on Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony tonight, which, given recent experiences, is likely to shake up global financial markets one way or another.

Credit Suisse analysts Neal Soss and Dana Saporta said the rise in yields in recent weeks is something that Mr Bernanke would have to address, given the risks posed by tighter financial market conditions. Mr Bernanke might also comment on the risk of lower-than-desired inflation.

"We expect that Bernanke will describe several positive economic developments since his February testimony and communicate the FOMC's greater confidence in the outlook. But, as in recent years, he likely also will emphasise the mediocre nature of the economic recovery and, in particular, the continued inadequacy of US job growth," the analysts said.

"In addition, Bernanke probably will take this opportunity to remind Congress of the nation's need for a credible, long-term federal budget deficit reduction plan.

We assume this will be Bernanke's final semiannual testimony. Will he reveal his intentions regarding a third term? Possible, but not probable."

2:59pm:China must crack down on commercial bribery by multinational firms, the country's top state paper said today, two days after police accused British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline of the widespread bribery of Chinese officials and doctors.

In a commentary, the People's Daily newspaper accused some multinationals of using their market dominance to exploit gaps in regulatory systems in developing countries.

The article suggests Chinese authorities are not about to step back from a spate of investigations launched in recent months into how foreign companies do business in China, from the setting of prices to quality controls.

"A crackdown on commercial bribery by multinationals is deeply significant to safeguarding the order of the market economy and protecting an environment of fair competition," said the commentary in the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese police on Monday accused GlaxoSmithKline of bribing officials and doctors to boost sales and raise the price of its medicines in China. Police said GSK transferred up to 3 billion yuan ($530 million) to 700 travel agencies and consultancies over six years to facilitate the bribes.

In response, GSK said it was deeply concerned by the developments, which it called "shameful".

2:46pm: So what should we be looking out for in US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke's testimony on monetary policy to the US Congress, which will commenced about 12am AEST?

Nomura analysts say they expect Mr Bernanke to emphasise the need for monetary policy to remain accommodative, that the end of the stimulus program will be data dependent, and that the program would be independent of a possible future rise in interest rates.

The analysts said it was also important to watch out for Mr Bernanke's comments on these questions:

To what degree has the outlook of the FOMC been affected by the recent increases in interest rates and tightening of financial conditions? Is there any hint that the FOMC has reassessed the cost-benefit calculus of its asset purchase program? Is there any suggestion that the Committee is considering changes to forward guidance? How does the FOMC weigh recent trends in productivity and labor force participation? Is there any other potential risks to the outlook?

2:37pm:Gold traded little changed near a three-week high as investors weighed the US Federal Reserve's next move on monetary stimulus. Assets in the largest bullion- backed exchange-traded product resumed a decline.

Spot gold traded at $US1,291.46 an ounce from $US1,292.22 yesterday, when prices climbed to $US1,295.73 as the dollar weakened. Bullion rose to $US1,298.73 on July 11, the highest since June 24, after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke backed sustained asset purchases. Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust fell to 937.57 metric tons yesterday, after being unchanged for three days.

''Gold in the very near term will be driven by the performance of the dollar, which hinges on what Bernanke may say about the Fed's stimulus program,'' said Lv Jie, an analyst at Cinda Futures, a unit of one of four funds in China created to buy bad debt from banks.

2:24pm:Australia has been building more new homes, offices and shopping centres than previously thought, according to revised data from the government, a promising sign that a key area of the economy is on the path to recovery.

The new figures would be welcomed by the RBA which has been counting on a revival in home building to help offset the drag from a cooling mining boom.

The ABS today reported it had revised figures on home building work, dwelling starts and non-residential building going back for some years. The revisions were overwhelmingly higher.

For the fourth quarter of 2012, for instance, the total value of building work commenced was revised up by $1.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. That alone was equal to 0.3 percentage points of GDP in the quarter.

As a result it was possible that the level of GDP could also be revised higher, along with the pace of growth.

2:09pm: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke overnight is expected to balance a message of enduring central bank support for the US economy with a reminder that the Fed's ultra-easy policies cannot last forever.

The head of the US central bank will probably seek to use his testimony to Congress on monetary policy to calm the nerves of jittery investors worried about life without the Fed's $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.

"They are trying to finesse this idea of a possible near-term scaling back of QE with the message that they're going to stay super accommodative for a long time," said Robert DiClemente, managing director of economic and market analysis at Citigroup.

The hearing on the Fed's semiannual monetary policy report before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee begins at 10am (US time). But the panel plans to make Bernanke's prepared remarks public at 8:30am, an hour before US stock markets open.

A second hearing is scheduled for Thursday with the Senate Banking Committee, setting up a two-day communications challenge for a Fed that has struggled in the last couple of months to clarify its policy intentions - and that has even gone so far as to accuse financial markets of over-reaction.

1:51pm: BusinessDay's Malcolm Maiden takes a look at the news in this week's business market.

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Mal Maiden: Markets waiting on Bernanke

Business columnist Malcolm Maiden takes a look at the news in this week's business market.

1:38pm: Let's cast our eyes across the region:

Nikkei (Japan): -0.6% Shanghai: -0.1% Taiwan: -0.3% South Korea: +0.8% Singapore: -0.2% New Zealand: +0.2%

1:18pm:Iron ore has been in a purple patch over the last couple of weeks. In fact, it has only had one losing session since June 26 - that's 13 gains from 14 trading days.

In that time the bulk commodity has climbed from $US113.80 a metric tonne to $US129.00, a gain of 13.3 per cent.

In that time Fortescue shares has added 17.1 per cent, Rio is up 9 per cent and BHP has added 8.5 per cent.

1:03pm: CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said he believed investors were being cautious ahead of US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony to Congress on Thursday (Australian time).

''There's nothing really to shift market momentum,'' he said.

''It's been really flat and globally we're just waiting on Mr Bernanke's testimony.''

This is despite mining giant BHP Billiton reporting strong production growth on Wednesday which, Mr Sebastian, said had helped lift other miners.

''There's a lot of strength in the resources base,'' he said.

''Even the smaller or mid-tier miners have got a lift off the back of BHP's guidance, which was pretty upbeat.''

12:55pm: So what do we know about Billabong's incoming chief executive Scott Olivet?

Scott Olivet is a director at headphone maker Skullcandy, amusement park operator Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, and foreign policy organisation the Pacific Council on International Policy.

He was the former chairman and chief executive of sportswear manufacturer Oakley, and was a senior executive at Nike and Gap. He was also a partner at management consultants Bain & Co for 13 years.

Mr Olivet also served as chairman and director of Collective Brands, the parent company that owns footwear retailers and manufacturers Payless and Airwalk.

Mr Olivet has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Pomona College in Claremont, California and a Master of Business Administration from Stanford University.

New Billabong chief Scott Olivet, formerly head of sunglass company Oakley.

New Billabong chief Scott Olivet, formerly head of sunglass company Oakley.

12:51pm:The Australian dollar snapped its biggest consecutive two-day gain since November 2011 on speculation the Reserve Bank may cut interest rates to a record low next month and China's economy will slow.

"There are still some downside risks for the Aussie," said Janu Chan, a Sydney-based economist at St. George Bank.

"There's a number of factors supporting that -- the RBA is talking the currency down, the prospect for another rate cut, and additionally the uncertainty around China."

The Aussie fell 0.3 per cent to 92.30 U.S. cents as of 12:21 p.m. in Sydney following a 2.3 per cent, two- day gain. It fetched 91.79 yen from 91.69.

The Aussie surged yesterday after minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia's last meeting showed policy makers' inflation outlook is being affected by recent currency declines.

The nation's statistics bureau will release second-quarter inflation figures on July 24.

"There's very important inflation data next week, so there's limited scope for the market to unwind RBA expectations in the near term,'' said Tony Morriss, the head of interest-rate research at ANZ in Sydney.

12:30pm: More on Billabong.

UBS analysts Ben Gilbert and Paul Wong said they would wait on the outcome of an meeting between shareholders and the company before adjusting their estimates.

"The structure of the deal is complex and - depending on timing, shareholder approval and alternative financing options - could end in any number of outcomes," the analysts said.

Billabong's market value was about $120 million before a trading halt yesterday ahead of the refinancing announcement.

Billabong was created by Gordon Merchant in the 1970s and developed it into a retail brand that reflected Australia's surfing culture.

Last year, the surfwear firm dumped its then chief executive Derek O'Neill - who had been with Billabong for more than two decades - for Ms Inman. 

12:12pm: Engineering company Downer has had its blasting services contracts in the mining sector extended for $230 million.

Coal miners Yancoal and Sojitz and gold producer Saracen extended its contracts with Downer Blasting Services (DBS) by another three years.

DBS has been working with Yancoal since 2006 and operates at Yancoal's Moolarben, Ashton and Yarrabee mines, as well as the Duralie coal mine in NSW.

The contracts mean DBS will continue to work on Sojitz's Minerva mine in the Bowen Basin, as well as Saracen's Carosue Dam gold mine in Western Australia.

Downer shares were flat at $3.84.

12:04pm:ANZ economists Warren Hogan and Andrew Salter have crunched the numbers and declared Australia has only a slim chance of turning around the Ashes series. 

The economists use a "somewhat unorthodox action and appeal to a statistical relationship  between Australia's performance at the Ashes and exchange rates between the Aussie dollar and the pound.  "Comparing this to our exchange rate data for each calendar year suggests that when the AUD/GBP is high, Australia performs poorly," the economists said.

"When it is low, Australia performs well. What's more, this partnership seems to hold all the way back to the tail-end of our sample, which opened its innings more than a century ago," they said.

They believe the relationship between the Aussie and the pound strong enough to suggest 

that Australia will find the 2013 series difficult to  win. 

"Indeed, our model suggests that England will win the series by between one and three tests," they said. A challenge indeed. One Australian dollar was last buying a little over 61 pence.  

11:51am:Citi analyst Craig Woolford has upgraded Billabong to buy from neutral after the refinancing deal. He said while Citi never had concern with Billabong's brand potential, it had been concerned about its solvency.

"We believe that risk is now greatly diminished. It will be a difficult journey and there are no quick fixes, but the Board has avoided insolvency with an improved management team in our view," Mr Woolford said.

He noted that the complex refinancing deal would be costly for ordinary shareholders, with their interest in the business diluted to at best, 64 per cent of the company, and at worst, 50 per cent of shares.

"We believe the only consolation is the shares are not worthless under the new capital structure," he said in a research note. 

"The cost of debt is also significantly higher under the refinancing, representative of the limited options available to Billabong and its higher credit risk status."

11:43am: While not as enthusiastic as UBS and Deutsche, the analyst team at Macquarie were also broadly positive about BHP's results today.

"Overall, this was a slightly stronger quarter than we were expecting, with the strong Iron ore and Met Coal performances more than offsetting the weaker Petroleum production,'' said analyst Adrian Wood in a research note this morning.

11:34am: Moody's has given its seal of approval to bank moves to give their shareholders a bigger slice of the profits, saying current dividend payout ratios would survive a recession.

Commonwealth Bank, NZ and NAB have all impressed investors by increasing the share of profits payed out as dividends in recent months, as they generate millions in surplus capital.

Other types of ''capital management'' initiatives have included Westpac's special dividend of 10c and moves by ANZ and NAB to buy back their shares.

A new report from credit rating agency Moody's has crunched the numbers on whether these payout ratios are sustainable

It noted that households have much more debt than they did two decades ago, which would mean a recession would inflict significant losses on banks. On the other hand, banks have been working hard to build up capital as a buffer against losses.

''Our scenario analysis suggests that, in a cyclical economic downturn akin to that experienced during the 1991 recession, the banks would be able to sustain the modestly increased dividend payouts, and maintain capital ratios at strong levels,'' Moody's says.

In a more severe economic collapse such as the 2007-11 US housing meltdown, it says the big four would not be so fortunate. Under these circumstances, banks would suffer ''material'' declines in their capital levels and would have to cut dividends and raise extra capital, it says.

11:21am: UBS has joined Deutsche Bank and others in praising BHP Billiton's results this morning.

Led by Glyn Lawcock, the UBS analyst team said BHP had reported "a better than expected quarter overall".

UBS noted that BHP had hit an iron ore production rate in the June quarter that - if continued over the 2014 financial year - would easily beat the company's promise to produce 207 million tonnes of iron ore during the next 12 months.

UBS said BHP's iron ore division was "doing a great job of optimisation".

The optimisation push at BHP ramped up about one year ago when the company axed plans to build a $20 billion outer harbour at Port Hedland.

11:01am: Elsewhere with M&A activity, Macquarie was also wary of APA Group's $2 billion scrip bid for Envestra which values the target's shares at around $1.10.

"We have lowered our recommendation from Outperform to Neutral" for APA scrip it told clients today.

"APA is again using scrip for a potential takeover which creates a scope for additional dilution particularly before final merger terms are established.

"Beyond the transaction APA is trading at our valuation with limited yield growth."

In morning trading, APA was down another 6 cents at $6.17 as Envestra traded steady at $1.12.25 cents.

10:56am: Goldman Sachs is not alone in telling clients to avoid ALS, with Macquarie slapping an "under-perform" on ALS shares, pointing in particular to the trading headwinds the laboratory testing group is encountering, notwithstanding its support for the acquisitions finalised Monday.

"The extent of deterioration in Minerals earnings and ongoing challenging market conditions faced by this segment will likely see the stock Underperform in the near term," it told clients today.

"Hence we reduce our recommendation from Neutral, and lower our  target price to $8.45 ($9.40 previously)."

10:55am: The big banks are having a less positive time of it today:

CBA: -0.6% ANZ: -0.48% NAB: -0.4% Westpac: -0.8%

10:53am: As we've noted already today, BHP shares are higher after reporting a solid set of full-year numbers. Here's how they're going alonside the other big miners:

BHP: +2.06% Rio: +1.82% Fortescue: +2.86%

10:51am: Goldman Sachs told clients it is not willing to change its "sell" recommendation on laboratory testing group ALS following $490 million of oil and gas sector purchases Monday, along with an earnings downgrade.

Along with the acquisitions, ALS is undertaking a 1-for-11 rights issue at $7.80, a modest discount to its last traded price of $9.41.

ALS has typically traded around a market multiple but we continue to view a 10 per cent discount as appropriate given earnings are now late cycle and we are forecasting a declining capital returns profile," it told clients today.

"Our target price implies a total return (including dividends) of -12 per cent (at pre trading halt close). We maintain our Sell rating."

Goldman Sachs has a $7.85 target price for ALS shares.

10:45am:Tokyo stocks have opened 0.74 per cent lower, weighed down by the higher value of the yen and caution ahead of the US central bank chief's Congressional testimony.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index on Wednesday was down 107.32 points to 14,491.80 at the start.

''Many players will likely take a wait-and-see approach ahead of major events such as the US Federal Reserve chairman's congressional testimony, the G20 summit, and the Japanese upper house election,'' said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager of equities at SMBC Nikko Securities.

Investors are waiting for Bernanke's semi-annual testimony in congress on Wednesday and Thursday.

10:39am: And to the sliders on the ASX200:

Carsales: -4.83% Fairfax: -4.76% Discovery Metals: -3.12% Automotive Holdings: -2.92% SMS: -2.7% Flight Centre: -2.5% Lynas: -2.3%

10:37am: As you might expect, Billabong is way out in front on the ASX200, followed by a long list of gold minbers:

Billabong: +42% Kingsgate: +8.5% Oceanagold: +7.72% Medusa Mining: +7.19% Silver Lake Resources: +6.34% Northern Star Resources: +5.07% Beadell Resources: +4.55%

10:34am: Sector by sector on the ASX200 now:

Materials: +2.08% Energy: +0.16% Health: flat Industrials: -0.23% Telecoms: -0.26% Consumer staples: -0.36% Financials: -0.42% Info tech: -1.90%

10:27am:BHP Billiton has beaten its guidance for iron ore production but fallen short in its petroleum business, according to full-year results released this morning.

Iron ore remains BHP's biggest money spinner and today's numbers show that Jimmy Wilson's first year in charge of the division was a strong one.

BHP had previously forecast full-year iron ore production of 183 million tonnes, including third-party tonnes, but actually delivered 187 million tonnes.

That number is expected to jump to 207 million tonnes this time next year. BHP said expansion of its Jimblebar iron ore mine in the Pilbara was ahead of schedule, but the cost had blown out by $US340 million.

Full story.

10:27am:BHP shares are 1.8 per cent higher after reporting full-year results this morning. The company's stock was 60 cents higher to $34.03.

10:25am:Iluka shares are 3.8 per cent higher to $10.81 despite reporting revenue from its mineral and sands operations has dropped 42 per cent in the first half of 2013 after lower prices forced it to cut production.

Iluka said production so far this year was down 46 per cent on the previous six months, and that had contributed to the sharp fall in revenue.

Revenue for the six months to June 30 was $382 million, down from $663 million for the previous six month period.

10:23am:A bit more on Billabong. The shares went into a trading halt at 25 cents yesterday pending announcements by the company on asset sales and refinancing.

But after the news of a bridge loan and Ms Inman's departure, Billabong shares were up 11 cents, or 46 per cent to 36 cents shortly after the market opened on Wednesday.

Billabong has reached a deal with Altamont Capital Partners which will allow it to repay its existing debts.

10:21am:The Australian share market has opened flat to lower.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 7.1 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 4,978.9, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 8.1 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 4,960.5.

On the ASX 24, the September share price index futures contract was down 10 points at 4,937, with 5,026 contracts traded.

10:16am:Billabong shares are bounced as much as 46 per cent higher in opening trade today. They're currently sitting on a gain of 42 per cent, or 10.5 cents, to 35.5 cents.

10:08am:Early take - markets are flat to higher in opening trade. The ASX200 has eked out a 0.1 per cent gain.

10:03am:Forecasting demand for zircon and titanium dioxide remains "challenging" mineral sands producer Iluka Resources said, due to the volatile global and regional economic performance along with uncertain business conditions.

At the same time, sales of rutile and synthetic rutile are expected to closely match planned 2013 production of 200,000 tonnes, which is well short of 2012 production of 275,000 tonnes, it said.

In the June quarter, production of ilmenite rose to 173,000 from 160,900 tonnes in the March quarter, while output of zircon, rutile and synthetic rutile rose to 127,200 tonnes from 110,900 tonnes in the March quarter.

When compared with the year earlier period, output was down across the board as the company cut output to bring it into line with underlying demand, it said.

The prospects for a pick up in demand for zircon has prompted a slight rise in production with calender 2013 output now seen at 280,000 tonnes up from 220,000 tonnes forecast earlier it said.

10:02am: Billabong International chief executive Launa Inman could walk away from the Australian surfwear company with up to $4.6 million after 13 months on the job.

Ms Inman, who came to Billabong from Target and Officeworks, is set to be replaced by Scott Olivet, a former chairman and chief executive of US sportswear group Oakley. Billabong has entered a complex $294 million refinancing deal that will give the ailing company a lifeline.

According to the package outlined by Billabong when Ms Inman was appointed in May 2012 she was given:

Base salary: $1.3 million a year, subject to an annual review Short-term incentive: Up to 100 per cent of her base salary, subject to the board's assessment of her performance in achieving financial and non-financial targets Share investment: $100,000 to acquire shares in Billabong Long-term incentive: $614,000 for the financial year ending June 30, 2013, subject to shareholder approval Termination: Base salary of $1.3 million if "fundamantal change" in the company occurs

Billabong has yet to outline Ms Inman's termination package.

9:55am: Some analyst rating changes for today:

Billabong raised to neutral at JPMorgan Billabong raised to hold at Deutsche Bank Perseus cut to sector perform at RBC Capital SMS Management cut to buy at BBY Ltd Iluka raised to neutral at Credit Suisse Treasury Wine Estates raised to outperform at Macquarie Aurizon upgraded to overweight at Morgan Stanley Ansell cut to sell at Citi Origin cut to neutral at Citi AGL cut to neutral at UBS

9:53am:More on BHP. Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Young described the result as "very strong" and named the copper result at Escondida and the iron ore result in the Pilbara as the highlights.

"This is a very strong result, it was ahead of our forecasts for every single commodity with the exception of petroleum and that was just a miss on the conventional volumes,'' he said.

Mr Young said he believed BHP's forecast of 207 million tonnes of iron ore production next year was "very conservative".

"We think they will beat that," he said.

9:50am:Insurance Australia Group says it will beat its previous profit guidance for the recently-concluded financial year, thanks to lower-than-expected claims and favourable money market trends.

The insurer today said its profit margins would be between 16.8 per cent and 17.2 per cent- compared with previous guidance of 12.5 to 14.5 per cent.

Managing director Mike Wilkins said revenue from premiums had grown more than expected, thanks mainly the changes in the currency markets.

As well, claims from natural disasters were $470 million, compared with its assumption these claims would hit $620 million.

"Compared to our previously held assumptions, these factors have caused the Group's insurance margin to exceed our earlier guidance. Meanwhile, the underlying performance of the Group has
remained strong over the course of the financial year," Mr Wilkins said.

9:46am:Wesfarmers says production at its coal mines rose sharply in the June quarter after recovering from the effects of wet weather over the summer.

The company said 2.84 million tonnes of coal was produced from its coal mines over the quarter, up 25.2 per cent from the previous quarter, Wesfarmers said in a production report.

Metallurgical coal production increased by 28.9 per cent and steaming coal production was up by 17.5 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

The Perth-based conglomerate owns two coal mines, Curragh, in Queensland's Bowen Basin and Bengalla in NSW' Hunter Valley.

Wesfarmers said production at Curragh was diminished in the first quarter due to wet weather caused by Cyclone Oswald and a scheduled shutdown during the Christmas period.

As a result, metallurgical coal production for the year increased was up just 2.3 per cent to 7,380,000 tonnes.

9:43am:The Aussie dollar is sharply higher. It was recently buying 92.6 US cents, up from 91.88 late yesterday and a low on Monday of 90.33 US cents. The Aussie was also buying 91.7 yen, 70.3 euro cents and 61.1 British pence.

The gains in the local currency came after the RBA released minutes of its July policy meeting yesterday, which offered few clues about further interest rate cuts, and as the US dollar slipped on expectations that Ben Bernanke will reiterate previous remarks that US monetary policy will remain accommodative.

9:30am: For a comprehensive look at this morning's business news, check today's need2know. Here are this morning's key markets numbers:

SPI futures are 6 points lower at 4941
The $A is higher at 92.66 US cents
In New York, the S&P500 was lost 0.37% to 1676.26 In Europe, the FTSE100 lost 0.45% to 6556.35 China iron ore gained $US2.10 to $US129 a metric tonne Gold added 0.7% to $US1290.56 an ounce WTI crude oil lost 52 US cents to $US105.80 a barrel Reuters/Jefferies CRB index added 0.59% to 288.48

9:28am: Good morning folks. Welcome to the Markets Live blog for Wednesday.

Contributors: Thomas Hunter, Max Mason

This blog is not intended as investment advice

BusinessDay with agencies
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