Australian shares closed lower, as mining-related plays were sold on worries about waning demand for commodities amid signs of slower global growth.

Losses mounted through the session, with investors reluctant to hold positions ahead of key US non-farm payrolls data later today.

5.04pm: Time to say goodbye for today and the week - thanks for reading this blog and hope you have a great weekend.

There won't be a live blog tomorrow morning, but we'll still have the main overnight action up on the website.

Here's a wrap of today's session.

4.47pm: Bank of Melbourne has moved to tackle National Australia Bank claim of being the lowest cost of the major banks matching the rival lender’s mortgage rate.

Bank of Melbourne this afternoon cut its variable mortgage 41 basis point to 6.99 per cent.

4.24pm: But generally investors are sticking to the sidelines today, ahead of US jobs numbers overnight and two important elections in Europe over the weekend - France and Greece.

The outcome of the elections could complicate the response to the eurozone debt crisis, with calls for less austerity growing.

4.23pm: It's not all doom and gloom around the region, with Japan closed for a holiday:

  • Hong Kong: -0.7%
  • Shanghai: +0.2%
  • Taiwan: +0.5%
  • South Korea: -0.3%
  • Singapore: -0.25%
  • New Zealand: -0.85%

4.21pm: Meanwhile, European stock index futures are pointing to a lower open as investors braced for US monthly jobs figures following a raft of disappointing macroeconomic data.

Futures for Euro STOXX 50, for Germany's DAX and for France's CAC are down between 0.3 and 0.5 per cent.

However, S&P500 futures are up 0.1 per cent, indicating a flat start on Wall Street.

4.18pm: Here's how some of the blue chips performed:

  • BHP: -0.6%
  • Rio: -1.1%
  • ANZ: -0.85%
  • NAB: -0.2%
  • CBA: -0.1%
  • Westpac: unchanged
  • Woolies: +0.2%
  • Telstra: +0.55%

4.14pm: Losses were led by the gold sector (-3.1%), energy (-2.3%) and materials (-1.1%). Financials lost 0.5 per cent, while telcos gained 0.5 per cent.

4.11pm: The market has closed just above the day's lows. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 lost 33 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 4396, while the broader All Ords fell 35.1 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4459.4.

4.04pm: Economists are pretty sure the budget will deliver a surplus.

In an AAP survey, all 11 economists said they expected a surplus. The median forecast for the surplus came in at $1.5 billion, while GDP growth in the coming fiscal year was predicted to be 3.25 per cent.

3.59pm: While awaiting the closing numbers, worth a sneak peek at next week's calendar of business and finance events (according to AAP.)

Highlights obviously include: the federal budget on Tuesday. Surplus or not?

There's also some key economic news, such as retail sales on Monday (expected to gain 0.2 per cent for March) and jobs on Thursday (jobless rate tipped to edge up to 5.3 per cent with 5000 jobs lost for April).

And News Corp will be reporting results (and who knows, perhaps some word about Rupert Murdoch's retirement plans.)

3.55pm: Local nergy stocks, in fact, are down about 2.3 per cent as we head into the final minutes of trade for the day. At that rate, it's the worst day for the sub-index in almost six months.

3.45pm: This blogger, as it happens, just spent a couple of weeks in China. A couple of observations:

  • Compared with previous visits in recent years, Beijing is almost craneless. True there's the subway line extensions, but within the Fifth Ring Road, much of the construction work is done.
  • Locals say don't expect commodity prices to rise. It will be a struggle for China to increase its demand for key minerals, etc. Major mineral exporters (eg Australia) are gearing up to increase supply significantly.
  • It won't be so easy to ramp up growth even if the Chinese government has a lot of ammo. Export growth will be difficult with Europe, US economies still weak. The private housing market is facing falling prices. And local governments blew so much money during the GFC to keep the economy growing, the central government has to be wary about giving them a second excuse to splurge.
  • (In sum, Ross Garnaut might well be right in his pessimism about China's growth prospects.)

3.36pm: Here's a reason for weak energy stocks lately:

Coal for Asia’s power stations, trading at the lowest price in 18 months, is unlikely to get a summer boost from China as the nation’s slowing economy eases the strain on its generators and curbs imports of the fuel, Bloomberg reports.

Thermal coal at the port of Newcastle fell below $US100 a metric ton last week for the first time since October 2010. China’s power output in March rose at the second-slowest pace for that month in a decade.

“End-user demand isn’t looking good,” said Helen Lau, an analyst at UOB-Kay Hian in Hong Kong who nonetheless forecasts Newcastle prices will average $US112 this year.

3.22pm: Despite today's losses, the ASX200 is still headed for a weekly gain of about 0.7 per cent, thanks to three days of advances at the start of the week.

3.09pm: Bendigo Bank has also cut its standard variable home loan rate, lowering by 35 basis points to 7.10 per cent.

2.56pm: Facebook’s initial public offering will cement the status of 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg as one of the world’s richest men and put his social network among the highest-valued companies in the US.

Facebook is offering about 337.4 million shares for $US28 to $US35 each, according to a regulatory filing yesterday.

At the upper end of that range, the co-founder’s stake would be $US17.6 billion ($17.15 billion), making him richer than Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Russian steel billionaire Vladimir Lisin, who are both twice his age, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

2.49pm: Investors don't have a problem with Westpac holding back some of the RBA's rate cut, sending the bank's shares up 0.3 per cent - the only one of the big banks still in the black today.

2.48pm: A cheeky tweet by MacroBusiness on the perceived dwindling influence of the RBA when it comes to setting rates:

2.45pm: The market has just plumbed the day's lows, with the energy sector down 2.3 per cent and materials off 1.2 per cent.

2.41pm: Companies such as Alcoa, BHP Billiton, Boral and La Trobe University are among about 250 companies who will pay the carbon tax when it is introduced on July 1.

However, a further 80 companies have also notified that are likely to face the new tax in the 2012-13 financial year.

2.31pm: Here's the latest Work in Progress blog from James Adonis:

Perhaps it was cool a long time ago – and maybe not even then – but today the “what do you do?” question conjures cringe-worthy memories of pushy self-promoters with tacky ‘elevator speeches’.

2.24pm: IG Markets strategist Stan Shamu says a decline in risk appetite in all equity markets overnight is influencing local trading.

"With a key economic reading, US non-farm payroll data, due out in the US session later today, we are seeing investors exercise some caution going into the end of the week," he says.

2.19pm: After bottoming out in the first hour of trade this morning, the market has traded in a tight range for the bulk of the session. The ASX200 is now down 26.9 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 4402.1.

2.12pm: Oil prices have bounced back after yesterday's sharp losses as traders await a key job market report in the United States, analysts say.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for delivery in June, is up 13 cents to $US102.67 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for June gained 17 cents to $US116.25.

2pm: Asian stocks are lower for a second day, with a regional benchmark index paring its weekly advance, after the RBA cut its economic growth forecast and US service industries rose less than forecast, sparking concern the global recovery may be faltering.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Excluding Japan Index fell 0.5 percent, while South Korea's Kospi Index is down 0.5 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index is down  0.7 percent and China's Shanghai Composite Index has swung between gains and losses on speculation the central bank may take steps to avoid a deeper economic slowdown. Japanese markets are closed today for a holiday.

1.50pm: Shopping centre owner Centro Retail Australia, meanwhile, expects lower interest rates to improve sales in its centres.

Centro Retail released its first quarterly performance figures after its creation in late 2011 following the restructure of the debt laden Centro Group.

Annual sales growth was 1.2 per cent across its 87 properties, a slower rate than in previous years due to falling prices in supermarkets, chief operating officer Mark Wilson says.

"Despite retail sales continuing to be pressured by increased household savings and overseas travel, the recent cut in official interest rates should provide for a more stable sales outlook."

1.38pm: Interesting about Westpac's cut is that the bank notes the link between the cash rate and the actual cost of money for banks is shrinking.

In the bank's statement, Westpac group executive retail and business banking Jason Yetton downplayed the influence of the RBA's rate cut in the bank making the decision.

“It is now widely acknowledged that the link between the RBA’s cash rate and the actual cost of money to banks – in effect our own borrowing costs – plays an increasingly small role," he said. "Other ones, such as the relatively high cost of deposits and wholesale funding, have assumed critical importance.

“In particular, the price of deposits including term deposits has a major impact on our decision making."

1.22pm: Westpac has lowered its standard variable rate by 37 basis points to 7.09 per cent, holding back 13 basis points from the RBA's rate cut.

Variable rate business loans were cut by 50 basis points.

1.10pm: Queensland miner Cuesta Coal has made its debut on the ASX today, but the champagne won't be flowing too generously.

Shares are down 43 per cent from their listing price, trading at 17 cents.

Cuesta Coal is the 88th IPO this financial year, bringing the number of ASX-listed entities to 2223.

1.05pm: The dollar is poised for its biggest weekly drop this year as investors increase bets the Reserve Bank will reduce its benchmark rate another time after officials cut forecasts for growth and inflation.

The dollar is trading at $US1.0266, poised for a 1.9 per cent drop this week, the biggest since December 16. It was also buying 82.29 yen, having fallen 2 per cent since April 27.

12.57pm: Speculation is shifting from what might happen to ConsMedia's quarter-stake in Foxtel to whether James Packer may sell his half share of ConsMedia itself, BusinessDay's Kirsty Simpson writes.

The new owners would then get their hands on the 25 per cent of Foxtel.

Anyone who bought Packer's half share in ConsMedia would be required under corporate law to mount an immediate takeover offer for the rest of the company.

If such a move succeeded, it would then hand the new owner ConsMedia's stake in Foxtel and a half share of Fox Sports, the business which produces Foxtel's premium local sports channels.

12.42pm: JPMorgan economist Ben Jarman says the RBA’s next move on the cash rate is still unclear.

‘‘This is fairly consistent with when they cut by 50 basis points early in the week. They didn’t give you any guidance on what is going to happen next.

‘‘So, they’re not giving you any strong hints on where policy is going from here. I think it will pretty much be a data watching exercise.’’

12.31pm: China's services sector enjoyed its busiest month in half a year in April with business expectations at their highest level in 12 months, a private sector survey of purchasing managers shows.

The seasonally adjusted HSBC China Services Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) rose to 54.1 in April from 53.3 in March, its strongest reading since October 2011, and followed an uptick in HSBC's manufacturing PMI released earlier this week.

12.21pm: AMP's Shane Oliver sees an implied easing bias in the RBA's quarterly monetary statement:

12.11pm: The RBA's monetary statement reveals how recent data has changed the RBA’s mind on how the economy is progressing, but it doesn't give clear signs of future rate decisions, CMC markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy says:

  • They’ve been very swish on their interest rate outlook, but they do acknowledge that their view on demand shifted over the last few months.
  • So at the end of 2011, it looked as if we were having above-trend growth, indicators have shown that that demand was in fact weaker than expected.
  • That’s been the biggest change in their thinking.

12.01pm: The ASX 200 is hovering near the day's lows, with a slump in the energy sectors (-2.1 per cent) leading the falls.

More defensive counters including phone companies and supermarkets are holding up despite the broader weakness.

"Stock rotation seems to be going on in earnest now," says Arnhem Investment Management dealer Simon Twiss.

He says high-yielding and defensive stocks such as Telstra and the banking sector were benefiting from investor rotation, while miners and mining services companies that support them are being sold as global miners scale down on capital investment.

11.49am: Funding costs for banks continue to rise since the global financial crisis, the Reserve Bank of Australia says, leading commercial banks to change the way they fund their loans.

The funding costs for for existing bank loans have increased by about 20 basis points since mid-2011, the RBA says in its Statement on Monetary Policy.

"‘This party reflects effects of ongoing competition for deposits,’’ the RBA says.

RBA data shows that the use of short-term debt by commercial banks to fund loans fell to 20 per cent in 2012 from just above 30 per cent in 2008.

Meanwhile, domestic bank deposits, a more expensive source of funding, make up over 50 per cent of the funding for the banks loans, significantly higher than just below 40 per cent in 2008.

11.43am: For anyone wondering what hyperactive billionaire Clive Palmer is up to next, here's the answer:

Palmer says he plans to build and operate a fleet of four freighters to import nickel ore to a nickel refining plant purchased from BHP Billiton.

The decision by the billionaire, who made much of his fortune buying and selling coastal real estate, comes days after announcing he would build an "unsinkable" version of the Titanic to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the original ocean liner.

The shipping business, called Asia Pacific Shipping Enterprises, will operate out of Singapore and be majority-owned by the Queensland Nickel Group of Companies, according to a statement issued by Palmer.

The fleet will consist of four 64,000-tonne vessels to be built by the state-owned Chinese company, CSC Jinling Shipyard, the same ship builder commissioned to build the new "Titanic", according to the statement.

11.37am: The growth and inflation revisions reflect RBA governor Glenn Stevens’ decision three days ago to slash the benchmark rate by half a percentage point to a two-year low, even as most economists polled forecast a quarter-point reduction.

The RBA is trying to buttress a housing market in which prices have fallen for five straight quarters, bolster employment as a high currency hurts non- resource industries and boost confidence that has weakened among consumers who are saving more.

‘‘The assumed high level of the exchange rate and a weak short-term outlook for building construction are expected to result in subdued growth outside of the mining sector in the near term,’’ the RBA said.

‘‘Growth in household spending moderated at the end of 2011 and partial indicators suggest that it remained soft in early 2012.’’

11.34am: The dollar inched up on the RBA's monetary statement, trading at $US1.0270, from $US1.0260 before the release.

11.32am: Consumer prices will rise 2.5 per cent in the year to December, from a previous prediction of 3 per cent; underlying inflation is predicted at 2.25 per cent from a previous 2.75 per cent, the central bank said.Both figures are well within the RBA's inflation target of 2-3 per cent.

The estimates are based on the overnight cash rate target remaining at 3.75 per cent, it said.

11.30am: The RBA has cut its growth forecast for calendar 2013 to 2.5-3.5 per cent, from 3-4%. The economy is tipped to grow 3 per cent this year, down from an estimated 3.5 per cent in February, the central bank said in its quarterly monetary statement.

Read the full story.

11.29am: Investors are also sticking to the sidelines ahead of the release of the US payrolls report, which could revive hopes of a third round of US Federal Reserve bond buying.

Market expectations for today's non-farm payrolls report have fallen this week, with dealers now suspecting the economy added 125,000 to 150,000 jobs in April, below a Reuters consensus forecast of 170,000.

11.23am: The energy and the materials sectors are leading losses again, falling 1.9 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively. Financials are down 0.2 per cent, while consumer staples have risen 0.5 per cent.

Rio is down 1.5 per cent, while BHP has lost 1 per cent.

11.06am: Asian shares are down for a second day as another batch of lacklustre US data stoked concerns that the recovery in the world's biggest economy is faltering.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan is down 0.2 per cent. Tokyo markets are closed for a holiday.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi gave a more upbeat assessment of the region's battered economy, reducing hopes of further monetary stimulus measures in the pipeline.

"Investors were hoping to see stronger hints of further easing from the (European Central Bank) to offset the weak data, but came out empty-handed," said Kwak Jung-bo, an analyst at Samsung Securities in Seoul.

10.50am: At $US1.0257, the Aussie dollar is poised for its biggest weekly drop this year before the Reserve Bank publishes its quarterly monetary policy statement following its unexpected decision to cut interest rates by half a point on May 1.

The so-called Aussie has fallen versus all but one of its 16 major peers since April 27 as investors increased bets that policy makers will push the benchmark rate to a low.

10.38am: Both the All Ords and the ASX200 now down 0.5 per cent. The majority of voters in this morning's poll forecast the ASX200 would close up to 0.5 per cent lower. Looking at the current trajectory, it could slide a bit further before it hits the floor.

10.34am: Here are the best performed companies on the ASX200 in a weaker market:

  • Bathurst Resources - up 3.31%
  • Carsales.com - up 1.6%
  • BlueScope - up 1.25%
  • TabCorp - up 1.03%
  • Qube Logisitics - 0.97%
  • Tatts Group - up 0.96%

10.29am: To the early sliders on the ASX200:

  • Alacer Gold - down 4.83%
  • Panoramic Resources - down 4.29%
  • NRW Holdings - down 4%
  • Coalspur Mines - down 3.93%
  • Perseus Mining - down 3.42%

10.23am: Looking at the sub indices on the ASX200, which is now 0.3 per cent lower:

  • Energy - down 1.31%
  • Materials - down 0.9%
  • Industrials - down 0.64%
  • Health - down 0.24%
  • Consumer staples - up 0.77%
  • Info tech - up 0.52%
  • Telecoms - up 0.4%

10.16am: The Australian Financial Review reported today that Mr Packer may in fact offload his half stake in Consolidated Media - including the quarter stake of Foxtel - as he completes his exit from the struggling media sector.

Mr Packer is seeking as much as $1.1 billion for his ConsMedia holding, the AFR reported. The company has held ''preliminary and informal discussions'' with other parties including Telstra and rival media magnate Kerry Stokes.

Mr Stokes controls Seven Group Holdings, which in turns owns 24 per cent of ConsMedia.

10.13am: In early trade, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 16.6 points, or 0.37 per cent, at 4,412.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 16.8 points, or 0.36 per cent, at 4,477.7.

10.10am: Qantas shares are 0.9% per cent higher on news it will slash spending by $400 million next year by delaying deliveries of A380 aircraft.

10.06am: Cons Media shares are unchanged at $3.30 following news today the Packer business does not plan to sell its 25 per cent stake in Foxtel.

9.55am: Where are local markets headed today? Daryl Conroy of Suncorp says today could be flat while investors await some key unemplopyment data from the US.

"Market sentiment remained pretty dour with participants sweating on tonight’s payroll data out of the US," said Mr Conroy.

9.46am: There is still no signal from Westpac about what time the bank will let its mortgage customers know how much of Tuesday's 50 basis rate cut it will pass on. But we do expect it today.

9.47amThe Aussie dollar is now firmly below $US1.03, recently trading at $US1.026.

HiFX senior trader Stuart Ives said the Australian dollar had been pushed down by weak commodity price performances overnight.‘‘Commodity currencies overnight have come under an immense amount of pressure,’’ he said.

‘‘Gold, copper and oil were all significantly lower overnight, as the world weighs up this situation with global growth. That said, we had weekly employment data out of the US which was better than expected, and the expectations for non-farm payrolls remain the same.’’

9.44am: James Packer's Consolidated Media Holdings says it is not considering a sale of its 25 per cent stake in pay TV operator Foxtel, as widely reported yesterday.

Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH) said that while it had held preliminary talks about its stake in Foxtel, no offers had been made.

‘‘CMH has had very preliminary discussions concerning a possible control proposal,’’ it said in statement.

‘‘No control proposal or other form of offer has been made to CMH and CMH can give no assurance that a control proposal will be made. CMH is not considering a sale of its Foxtel interest.’’

9.41am: In Europe, stocks also fell after the European Central Bank held interest rates at historic lows but insisted it was up to governments to find ways of boosting growth without busting fiscal rules.

ECB chief Mario Draghi refused to give any indication when the bank might take further anti-crisis measures.

Instead, Draghi said the onus was firmly on governments to find ways of boosting growth without easing up on crucial efforts to get their finances in order.

9.38am: Looking at what moved offshore markets overnight, Wall Street slipped after service industries in the US expanded less than projected and consumer confidence weakened, signaling the world's largest economy may be cooling.

The Institute for Supply Management said today its non- manufacturing index fell to a four-month low of 53.5 in April from 56 in March. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was 55.3. A reading above signals expansion.

9.35am: Qantas shares will be in the spotlight this morning after the airline said it cut spending by a further $400 million next financial year by delaying delivery of new A380 aircraft.

A review of the airline’s maintenance operations had concluded, but a decision would not be announced until mid-May, Qantas said in a statement today.

9.32am: For a comprehensive look at this morning's business news, check today's need2know and the business press digest. Here are this morning's key market links:

9.30am: Hi folks. Welcome to the Markets Live blog for Friday.

This blog is not intended as investment advice

Contributors: Thomas Hunter, Peter Litras, Peter Hannam, Jens Meyer

BusinessDay with agencies