The market is in record territory – ASX 200 up 78. The SFE Futures suggested a 58 point rise this morning.

The Dow Jones closed up 134.7 on Friday – Wall Street finished the week in a positive mood on the back of Countrywide Financial’s bullish outlook and a strong profit result from Microsoft. Countrywide closed up a huge 32% despite announcing a $1.2bn quarterly loss, they told investors the worst is behind them and that they expect to be profitable in the 4Q and all of next year. There was also talk of corporate activity in the sector; The New York Times said Merrill Lynch (up 8.5%) was floating the idea of a merger with Wachovia Corp (which may involve their CEO being sacked for making the approach without telling the board). In other news, consumer sentiment fell to the lowest level in over a year and the Fed futures say there is a 92% chance the Fed will cut interest rates by 25bp when it meets tomorrow. It was a great week for all three major indexes; they all finished over 2% higher. The S&P 500 put on 2.3%, the NASDAQ climbed 2.9% and the Dow Jones added 2.1%.

The big news today is Xstrata’s $3.1bn bid for Jubilee Mines (JBM). Nickel stocks (and other resources) flying as a result. BHP up 121c or 2.6% to 4698c and RIO up 362c or 3.4% to 11062c. Merrill Lynch have research out on BHP and say they expect iron ore to play a big part in BHP’s future earnings. They say it currently comprises 16% of BHP’s 08 earnings, but they expect this to increase to 28% over the next 4 years as approved expansions come online and prices fall from current spot levels. BHP has huge potential in the area, despite having less than half the iron leverage of RIO. Metals all up on Friday, Copper up 1.3%, Zinc up 1.2% and Aluminium 1%. Nickel up 0.5%.

Zinifex up 33c to 1848c – Merrill Lynch has a SELL recommendation on the stock this morning after the IPO of Nyrstar for a slightly disappointing price.

Oil price down 36c to $91.73 (hit $92.22 mid session) despite a rebel attack on an oil rig in OPEC-member Nigeria shutting down 50,000 barrels per day of production. There are also serious concerns that supplies may come up short ahead of the Northern Hemisphere winter. Woodside up 26c to 5432c. Gold up $16.50 or 2.1%. Newcrest up 75c to 3200c. The stock is up 40% in the past 3 months.

We have a pretty full week ahead. Big week in the US on the economic front with the FOMC Meeting tomorrow and an interest rate decision on Wednesday. The consensus seems to be that the Fed will cut rates by 25bp one more time to alleviate the credit market concerns but will then hold off in the face of rising prices (oil price in particular up 50% this year) and the US$ falling (down 8% against the Euro this year). The Banks results season continues this week after some somewhat disappointing results from ANZ last week (ANZ down 3.09% last week compared to sector up 2%). We have St George Bank finals on Wednesday and Westpac on Thursday. In the retail sector – Harvey Norman has 1Q sales on Wednesday (expected to be up 14.5%) and JB Hi-Fi has its AGM on Tuesday. There is also a Brisbane Mining Conference all week.

  • Nickel comes Alive – Xstrata have bid for Jubilee Mines this morning – paying $23 share cash – JBM last traded at 1710c. Xstrata are paying a 35% premium to the market price. This has put some zest into the whole nickel sector this morning – Minara Resources (MRE) up 5.8%, Sally Mallay (SMY) up a big 12%, Mincor Resources (MCR) up 5.1%, Independence Group (IGO) up 9.7%. Main points of the offer: $3.1bn, unanimously agreed by JBM board, Xsrtata has entered into deal to buy 17.5% of JBM from shareholders and optionholders, $23 cash is a 34.5% premium to the JBM price on Friday. Jubilee Mines (JBM) up 40% to 2400c, 85c above Xstrata’s offer, on speculation other bidders including BHP or Norilsk will have a crack.
  • Insurance Australia Group (IAG) has told investors in a market briefing that they’re going to focus on expanding in Asia, particularly in China and India. The company said it has held “advanced discussions” with a numbers of Indian companies to establish joint ventures and is also looking at acquiring and integrating other Thai insurers. They maintained their 29.5c share dividend guidance and said they are likely to pay out 50%-70% of their earnings to investors next year. IAG doing well, up 14c to 500c.
  • Seek’s (SEK) joint CEO Paul Bassett says he isn’t losing any sleep over News Corp’s revamped CareerOne website and that he has seen it all before, but continues to remain “paranoid” about News Corp and Fairfax. Although new competitors, Fairfax’s Trade Me Jobs in NZ and JobsJobsJobs in Australia, have entered the industry, Seek is yet to feel an impact and still captures around 70% market share by revenue. Basset also told the AFR that they are looking at snapping up other overseas companies to add to Zhaopin, the Chinese online and print jobs ads company they have a 24% stake in. SEK is up 71% in the last year and up 3c today to 893c.
  • Equinox (EQN) up 4% on quarterly results.
  • Funtastic (FUN) have had the opposite of a speeding ticket and say they don’t why why their share price has fallen.
  • Peptech (PTD) up 7% on completion of phase I trials for PN 0621 (Rheumatoid Arthritis)
  • Companies to go ex-dividend today include: AAI, DSF, GPT, HMC, HOM and MSF.
  • A whole heap of companies are holding their AGM’s today: ARG, BCM, BEC, BEN, BLD, CEU, CSE, DWS, FZN, HLX, HST, RIC, RPX, SMX and TCL.
  • As a result of the 9.5% rise in Microsoft’s share price on Friday, Bill Gates, who owns a 9.3% stake in the company, is nearly $3bn richer.

Marcus has just spent two weeks in China trying to find the answers to some of the most obvious Australian investor questions. You can read those in the Marcus Today Newsletter today including: Do you keep buying resources in Australia, will there be some catastrophic social unrest to upset the economy, are economic numbers to be believed, will the government do something radical to upset the apple cart.

THE MORNING MARKET REPORT is provided by the MARCUS TODAY daily stockmarket newsletter. You can subscribe for a free five-day trial here.

Peter Fray

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