Aust shares weaker at noon

Australian stocks have fallen sharply due to disappointing Chinese economic figures, jitters about corporate defaults in China, and renewed concerns about the Ukraine.

The market began the day more than one per cent lower following heavy falls on US and European markets overnight, and remained at similar levels by the early afternoon.

Official Chinese figures released late on Thursday showed a sharp decline in industrial output in February, adding to concerns about the economic outlook for Australia's biggest trading partner.

Bell Direct equities analyst Julia Lee said that had added to existing worries about corporate defaults and tightening monetary conditions in China.

Meanwhile, Russia's decision to put more troops near the Ukrainian border ahead of this weekend's referendum in Crimea has spooked investors globally.

"We're still watching China and the standoff between Russia and Ukraine," Ms Lee said.

"In terms of China there's the softer numbers coming through and comments from the Chinese Premier saying that China defaults are unavoidable, which seems to indicate that he's willing for some more corporate defaults, so that's sending some jitters through the market."

The Chinese data, like disappointing export figures earlier this week, could have been impacted by the timing of Chinese New Year.

Mining companies were among the weakest performers on Friday.

BHP Billiton was down 59 cents at $35.80, Rio Tinto had lost $1.05 to $62.02 and Fortescue had dropped 9.5 cents, or 1.9 per cent, to $5.02.

Among the banks, Westpac was down 53 cents at $33.72, Commonwealth Bank was down 65 cents at $75.31, ANZ had dropped 35 cents to $31.88 and National Australia Bank was 39 cents lower at $34.37.

Telstra was down seven cents at $5.01.


* At 1200 AEDT on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 77.9 points, or 1.44 per cent, at 5,336 points.

* The broader All Ordinaries index was down 75.6 points, or 1.39 per cent, at 5,353.5 points.

* The March share price index futures contract was down 81 points at 5,332 points, with 35,069 contracts traded.

* National turnover was 602 million securities worth $1.5 billion.

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