ASX Market Wrap: Weather, Retail Sales, and Court Cases

(SYDNEY) -- After a soft lead from Wall Street overnight, the Australian market spent most of Friday in negative territory, before the S&P/ASX 200 (INDEX: ^AXJO) slowly worked its way back to close about even at 4,366.5 points.

Retail sales were the big story of the day, with Woolworths (WOW.AX) announcing soft revenue numbers for the third quarter. The ongoing price war with competitor Coles, owned by Wesfarmers (WES.AX), is taking its toll, with price deflation of 4.4% in the company's eponymous grocery chain -- a strategy that seems to be helping Coles attract shoppers, but one that is crimping prices and restraining market growth in both chains, as well as the IGA supermarkets supplied by Metcash (MTS.AX).

A battle between major Internet service provider iiNet (IIN.AX) and a coalition of major Hollywood studios and local content providers was the other big news. The Australian High Court handed a unanimous and comprehensive victory to iiNet -- and by extension the other Australian ISPs including TPG Telecom (TPM.AX), Telstra (TLS.AX), Optus (a subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications (SGT.AX)), and M2 Telecommunications (MTU.AX)-owned iPrimus -- holding that the ISP had no case to answer against claims that it was responsible for illegal content downloaded by its subscribers.

In response, the content owners have announced their intention to lobby the federal government to strengthen Australian copyright law, claiming Australia was lagging copyright developments overseas.

Australia has had its share of extreme weather in the past few months, and yet another company used the unseasonably poor summer to explain a results shortfall. Hot on the heels of recent announcements from BHP Billiton (NYS: BHP) (BHP.AX), Rio Tinto (NYS: RIO) (RIO.AX), and Fortescue Metals (FMG.AX) that production volumes were affected by weather events in Western Australia, building materials company Boral (BLD.AX) cited rain and poor construction activity on the east coast of Australia for its profit guidance downgrade, wiping between 12% and 15% off its previous guidance.

The energy and health care sectors led gains on the ASX today, both up 1%, while utilities and industrials led the losers, down 0.7% and 0.4%, respectively.

Karoon Gas (KAR.AX) was the best performer from the ASX 200 today, with shares up 6.9%, while St Barbara (SBM.AX) and Senex Energy (SXY.AX) both posted gains of over 6%.

Bradken (BKN.AX) was the biggest ASX 200 loser, with shares off 10.8% as a result of an earnings guidance downgrade. Fletcher Building (FBU.AX) was among the strongest losers, dropping 3.8%, while Boart Longyear (BLY.AX) fell 2.6% on the day.

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