Australian shares post modest gains after world markets gained on new data showing US jobless claims last week fell to the lowest level in more than four years.

4.59pm: That's all from us here at blog central, enjoy your weekend. We'll be back Monday from 9.30am.

Click here for a full wrap of today's session.

4.33pm: The dollar inched higher on today after Singapore's central bank surprised markets by sounding more upbeat on its economy than many had feared, enough to skip a chance to ease policy.

Singapore also managed to dodge a technical recession with upward revisions to growth, which combined to lift the Singapore dollar while knocking the US dollar down across the board.

That helped the dollar nudge up to $US1.0274, from an early low of $US1.0247. It hit a 10-day high of $US1.0294 on Thursday, a solid recovery from the $US1.0149 trough touched early in the week. Chart resistance was put at $US1.0325, with support at $US1.0240.

4.25pm: Materials held the market higher today, adding 0.7 per cent while the other winning sectors traded almost flat. Health lost 1.1 per cent, and IT fell 0.7 per cent.

4.20pm: For the week, the ASX200 lost 7.8 points, or 0.2 per cent.

4.12pm: The market has closed higher, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 added 3.1 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4486.6, while the broader All Ords rose 4.9 points, or 0.1 per cent. 4510.1.

3.52pm: A senior Chinese banking executive has warned against the proliferation of off-book wealth management products, comparing some to a Ponzi scheme in a rare official acknowledgement of the risks they pose to the Chinese banking system.

China must "tackle" shadow banking, particularly the short term investment vehicles known as wealth management products, Xiao Gang, the chairman of the board of Bank of China , one of the top four state-owned banks, wrote in an op-ed in the English-language China Daily today.

"Unsurprisingly, although Chinese banks' non-performing loans are at a low level of 0.9 per cent, the potential risks are worse than the official data suggest," Xiao wrote, adding that a problem could come as indebted borrowers face cash flow problems or enter default, straining the banking system.

3.40pm: Turning to the US, no doubt many of you watched the Vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan earlier today, the Washington Post takes a look at who would be best for markets, Romney or Obama? 

3.31pm: Australia’s love affair with credit card debt continues to sour, bucking the steady growth in spending on plastic that has occurred in previous years, even during the global financial crisis.

Figures published today by the Reserve Bank show the value of national credit debt fell by 1 per cent in August to $49.2 billion, its lowest level since January.

Over the past year, the number of credit card accounts has grown by just 1 per cent, and the average balance has barely moved.

In stark contrast, the number of debit cards has grown by 5.7 per cent, as shoppers rely more on their own money to fund spending.

3.22pm: Cooking the books seems all too common, according to The Wall Street Journal, which is reporting a study that estimates 20 per cent of listed American companies are “managing,” or misrepresenting, their earnings figures, and that the typical misrepresentation is about 10% of the reported earnings per share.

3.15pm: With just a short while to go before the close of trade here in Australia, here's what markets around the region are doing:

  • Nikkei(Japan): -0.1%
  • Shangahi: -0.3%
  • Taiwan: -0.4%
  • South Korea: -0.2%
  • Singapore: +0.3%
  • New Zealand: +0.4%

2.58pm: Here's more on ANZ's rate cut announcement from a few minutes ago.

2.54pm: Too much debt is never enough for Fortescue Metals Group, but it seems most investors and analysts will be happy to see the iron ore miner increase the size of its debt refinancing over the next 24 hours, Peter Ker reports.

Fortescue is expected to announce that its $US4.5 billion refinancing plan has been upgraded to at least $US5 billion when the terms are completed in New York tonight.

There were reports that the company had negotiated lower interest rates on the facility as well, reflecting a 30 per cent improvement in the iron ore price over the past month.

The $US4.5 billion refinancing was announced in Septemeber as a solution to a near-term debt crisis that emerged when the iron ore price slumped.

The $US4.5 billion included a $US900 million tranche that was essentially spare and unallocated.

2.47pm: The bank says the rate cut will be effective from October 19, and blamed increased competition for deposits for the need to hold on to some margin. The bank's variable rate is now 6.6 per cent.

“Recent stability in wholesale funding markets has been offset by the impact of intense competition for retail deposits as banks seek to improve their funding mix in response to market and regulatory pressures," says ANZ's CEO Australia Philip Chronican.

“While this increase in competition is benefiting the majority of our customers through historically high deposit rates relative to the cash rate, last week’s decision from the RBA has provided some scope to once again reduce our variable lending rates.”

2.43pm: ANZ's rate cut matches the moves of rivals CBA and NAB, while Westpac delivered only 18-basis-points of cuts after the RBA's recent rate cut.

2.38pm: In breaking news, ANZ has cut its standard variable interest rate by 20 basis points. We'll have more on this in a moment.

2.36pm: The dollar, like stocks, is little moved from where it started today. The currency is at $US1.0269, up from $US1.0266 this morning. Click here to compare the dollar with other currencies.

2.26pm: Not the CEO just yet? Don't despair, it's OK to be one of the 'sheeple', writes blogger James Adonis.

2.19pm: Oil has gained for a second day after US claims for jobless benefits dropped to the lowest level in four years and rising tension in the Middle East prompted concern crude supplies may be disrupted, Bloomberg reports.

Futures have advanced as much as 0.6 per cent and are headed for the first weekly gain in a month. Brent oil is trading near the highest premium to West Texas Intermediate in a year after Turkey said a Syrian plane that it grounded contained munitions, while Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi says Europe is prepared to tighten sanctions on Iran.

“The potential for a blow-up in the Middle East is being reflected in that persistently wide spread between Brent and WTI,” says Michael McCarthy, a chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Jobless claims were better-than-expected.”

Crude for November delivery climbed as much as 53 cents to $US92.60 a barrel in on the New York Mercantile Exchange and is at $US92.38. The contract yesterday rose 82 cents to $US92.07 a barrel. Prices are up 2.8 per cent this week and down 6.5 per cent this year.

2.10pm: Singapore's economy shrank by 1.5 per cent in the third quarter but avoided a technical recession after growth in the previous three months was adjusted, government figures show.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said the export-driven city-state was still on track to achieve annual growth of 1.5-2.5 per cent in 2012.

"Economic growth in the second quarter was better than expected, resulting in an upward revision of quarter-on-quarter annualised growth from the preliminary estimates of -0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent," it says.

2.01pm: While Japanese carmakers struggle with sales in China amid a territorial dispute among the two countries, Volkswagen and its China joint ventures have sold 18.3 per cent more vehicles in mainland China and Hong Kong in the first three quarters, Reuters reports.

Sales came to nearly 2 million vehicles during the nine-month period, compared with 1.69 million a year earlier, Volkswagen says.

Volkswagen makes vehicles in China in partnership with FAW Group and SAIC Motor Corp.

1.47pm: The market, meanwhile, continues to trade in a tight range - the ASX200 is now up just 6.6 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4490.1.

As dramatic as the highest point on the chart above appears, the session high for the index is 4496.1.

1.32pm: Hong Kong stocks have opened 1.07 per cent higher, reflecting gains on European markets and in Tokyo.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index jumped 224.74 points to 21,223.79 in in early trade.

1.23pm: A bitter feud over plans to import potatoes from New Zealand is escalating, with growers accusing Australia’s biosecurity body of fudging the science and lacking the knowledge to prevent a major pest outbreak.

Australian growers are convinced a devastating pest disease known as ‘‘zebra chip’’ could cost them millions in destroyed crops if the federal government lifts a ban on potato imports from across the Tasman.

It’s a risk they’re unwilling to accept, and one they say the government’s biosecurity unit at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) isn’t taking seriously.

But the department rejects this, pointing to its track record on managing biosecurity risks and assuring farmers it has the best available scientists conducting Import Risk Assessments.

1.09pm: If you're wondering why air freight charges have risen recently - and let's face it, who isn't? - it's all thanks to Apple:

Transport experts said the launches of Apple products have become such big business for the air cargo industry that delivery firms and airlines have chartered dozens of extra planes, cancelled scheduled routes and ditched staff training during "operation iPhone drop".

In the latest quarterly health check on the US economy, published yesterday, the Federal Reserve said: "Air cargo companies saw an increase in cargo volume tied to the launch of various smartphones and computer tablets, which favour shipment by air over other modalities." Full story.

12.57pm: Adele Ferguson takes a look at the uncertainty confronting investors after TPG ditched its bid for Billabong and offered no explanation. She writes:

Both parties have decided to keep tight-lipped about why TPG decided to pull out, which leaves investors whispering in the dark about what on earth has prompted two private equity groups to decide to withdraw from non-binding conditional offers within weeks of each other without an adequate explanation.

Was it the stock, the US sites, or was it something else? Or was it a difference on price? Or maybe it was something related to the private equity groups. Markets hate uncertainty and this morning's announcement by Billabong has created a breeding ground for uncertainty. Full story.

12.46pm: ANZ foreign exchange strategist Andrew Salter said the Australian dollar has rallied since yesterday's good local jobs data, and got further support overnight on a weekly US jobless report showing the number of people applying for unemployment benefits had fallen to its lowest level since February 2008.

Mr Salter said the Australian Dollar had edged higher since Monday after losing more than three US cents in the previous seven days.

‘‘There’s been positive signs out of China with infrastructure announcements being announced or brought forward and there has been constructive indications on monetary policy from the central bank,’’ he said.

‘‘So, there is a positive international backdrop for the Aussie.’’ Mr Salter said the key event for the Australian dollar over the weekend would be the release of Chinese trade figures on Saturday.

12.43am: Fortescue Metals are 2.1 per cent higher at $3.83, representing a 28 per cent hike in the last few weeks, rewarding shareholders who held their nerve during the falls that led up to it refinancing its heavy debt load.

As we reported earlier today, the iron ore miner announced that the $US4.5 billion debt restructuring it completed last month is likely to be upgrade to $5 billion. The company said the change was due to strong demand.

12.38pm: Commsec market analyst Juliette Saly said the ASX was definitely heading in the right direction after the lows it hit in June. The ASX200 has just reached a fresh peak for the day - up 12 points, or 0.3 per cent, 4495.6.

However, she said more clarity and hope was needed out of the euro zone to stop the volatility and get investors to be more willing to keep their cash in the share market longer term.

‘‘What happens today will depend on what happens in Asia this afternoon,’’ she said.

‘‘The banks are still looking pretty good after a good run yesterday and more encouraging is the comeback in the mining players after a big rebound in iron ore prices."

12.29pm: Does anyone want to have a guess at how much ANZ will cut by? Put your prediction in the comments field. For background, NAB and CBA cut by 20 basis points, and Westpac went by 18.

So will ANZ go the full 25 and make some positive headlines ahead of the weekend? Will they go 15 and strike a blow for the bottom line? Or will they choose the safety of the pack and follow the other three?

12.25pm: The big banks are mixed as we await the ANZ's decision on rates:

  • CBA is 0.12% higher to $56.81
  • ANZ is 0.7% higher to $25.79
  • NAB is 0.19% higher to $26.30
  • Westpac is 0.08% lower to $25.78.

12.10pm: Leyland Asset Management senior portfolio manager Rohan Schmidt said investors were justified in their worries about the Billabong's business after Bain and TPG threw in the towel.

"It sounds like TPG doesn't like what they've seen," he said. "It raises questions and the longer Billabong stays quiet, the more concerned the market becomes."

Billabong stock will eventually find a level of support in coming months, however, said Mr Schmidt.

"For the brave investor, you could potentially look over the next few weeks to buy the stock and could be well-rewarded over the long term," he said.

12.05pm: Chief economist at the Commonwealth Bank Michael Blythe has give us some key events for next week:

  • Chinese Q3 GDP will be the focus in financial markets.  We expect Q3 GDP to increase by 1.9% (7.4%pa).
  • Australian data includes August housing finance and the October RBA Board Minutes.
  • Q3 NZ CPI is expected to increase by 0.5%. The tradables component of the CPI could provide hints to Q3 Australian CPI (released 24th October).
  • The Euro debt crisis will be in focus when European leaders hold a two day summit in Brussels on the 18th October.

11.54am: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos confirmed that the online retailer sells its Kindle e-reader "at cost", with profit coming instead from sales of online content.

Bezos' remarks, in an interview with the BBC, marked the first time the company had confirmed long-held Wall Street assumptions that it did not make a profit on sales of the popular tablet.

The aggressive pricing furthers Bezos' goal of getting Kindle tablets into the hands of as many buyers of Amazon's online content -- from games and books to video -- as possible.

Apple, by contrast, makes much of its profit from hardware sales. It sells a single-sized iPad at costs ranging from $399 to $829, depending on storage capacity, screen resolution and wireless connectivity.

11.45am: Under the Radar Report writer Richard Hemming takes a look at television companies in today's column. He writes:

Channel 9 could well be boned in the next month or so, but you only have to look at the state of the two other major free-to-air commercial networks to know that debt is a millstone around all their necks.

Many now say that Channel 9 was always doomed to fail, with debt representing five times its operational earnings when it was first bought by the private equity fund CVC Asia Pacific, but the other two stations have debt hanging over their heads in the region of 3.5 to 4 times operational earnings.

And for Ten Network shareholders there is the added distress that the station is in ratings freefall. For nine weeks in a row to 23 September, its ratings were behind the national broadcaster, the ABC, according to OzTAM, an official source of television audience measurement. The station is in danger of being stuck in fourth position among the broadcasters and getting boned itself.

Channel 7 is mired in a structure that contains print assets (The West Australian) that have even more problems than broadcast media.

There is much more to the equation than simply debt levels, but it begs the question, would you invest in broadcast media?

Click here for the full story.

11.34am: Singapore defied expectations by sticking to its tight monetary policy stance today, warning of persistent inflation pressure as data showed a quarterly contraction in the economy but a narrow escape from recession due to a revision in the April-June period.

"Core inflation receded recently but will face upward pressure from higher food and services costs. CPI-All Items inflation will remain elevated for some time," the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in its half-yearly monetary policy statement.

"MAS will therefore maintain the policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the S$NEER (nominal effective exchange rate) policy band. There will be no change to the slope and width of the policy band, as well as the level at which it is centred," the central bank said.

11.22am: Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest mobile-phone maker, won its bid to continue selling its newest Galaxy Nexus smartphone in the US while it battles patent-infringement claims filed by Apple.

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday granted Samsung’s request to lift a lower court’s ban on sales. Samsung wants to continue selling the phone while it challenges a federal judge’s June 29 ruling that Apple was likely to win its suit claiming the Galaxy Nexus infringed four patents and that sales were hurting Apple’s business in the meantime.

11.16am: The dollar was 0.4 per cent from its highest level in more than a week as gains in commodity prices boosted demand for the currency.

The dollar strengthened versus most of its 16 major counterparts this week after prices for iron ore, Australia’s top export, climbed to the most in more than two months. 

The Australian dollar bought $US1.0265. Yesterday, it reached $1.0294, the highest since October 2. 

11.02am: Billabong shares fell as much as 18.5 cents to 82 cents in opening trade, but have now settled back to a loss of 14 cents. They're currently at 86 cents per share.

10.58am: While we’re on the subject of the miners, too much debt is never enough for Fortescue Metals Group. The iron ore miner announced this morning that the $US4.5 billion debt restructuring it completed last month is likely to be upgrade to $5 billion. The company said the change was due to strong demand.

Fortescue will update the market on the final terms of the debt raising over the weekend.

10.55am: The big miners are doing their part to haul the market higher:

  • BHP is 0.54% higher to $33.43
  • Rio is 1.5% higher to $56.25
  • Fortescue is 1.87% higher to $3.82

10.49am: CORRECTION Billabong shares are not trading as yet. They are due to start trading at 11am. The prices we quoted early (embarrassingly) are for yesterday. Cue red face.

10.45am: Stocks are now touching a gain of 0.2 per cent on the day, but the ASX200 remains 0.2 per cent down for the week.

10.41am: Now for the early sliders on the ASX200:

  • Mirabela Nickel: -2.38%
  • Independence Group: -2.14%
  • WorleyParsons: -2.11%
  • Westyern Areas NL: -1.91%
  • Lynas: -1.37%

10.36am: BusinessDay's Chris Zappone has spoken to Morningstar retail analyst Tim Montague-Jones about Billabong. He said:

We've had Bain Group pull out and also TPG to pull out and the company hasn't provided any colour or information on exactly what the issues are.

How do you invest in a company knowing that these organisations have been given significant information - more than is available through the public markets - and they decide to walk away?

There is obviously something they have seen which is fundamental to the valuation of the business. But the company is not prepared to disclose what those issues were, which I think is pretty worrying.

10.33am: Now for some of the early gainers on the ASX200:

  • Coalspur: +5.23%
  • Imdex: +3.47%
  • Energy World Corp: +2.7%
  • Bathurst Energy: +2.35%
  • Arrium: +1.96%

10.26am: CORRECTION Billabong shares are not trading as yet. See post at 10.49am.

10.20am: Here's how the various sub indices on the ASX200 are performing:

  • Materials: +0.33%
  • Consumer staples: +0.14%
  • Telecomms: +0.13%
  • Consumer disc.: +0.5%
  • Health: -0.42%
  • Utilities: -0.16%

10.17am: On Billabong, Here's more on this morning announcement.

10.14am: In early trade, the All Ordinaries index is 1 point higher to 4506.2, while the benchmark S&P/ASX200 is flat at 4483.5.

On the ASX 24, the December share price index futures contract was up two  points at 4,478, with 5,731 contracts traded.

10.06am: Early take - stocks are flat in early trade.

9.59am: Local investors are likely to be defensive today, said Juliana Roadley, markets analyst at CommSec.

Ms Roadley said a poor result from US-based chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, while not having a direct impact on the Australian market, could have a flow on affect through Asia.

“We don’t have a lot of chipmakers on our market but it’s the fact that will impact Asia, especially South Korea and Japan today, so we’ll probably see a flow on affect from that,” Ms Roadley said.

“This is the world’s second-largest PC processor maker. There is going to be a flow on affect because they’re saying the demand has fallen dramatically for their product, their sales are down, their shares are down 10.6 per cent in after hours trade,” she said.

Commodities are unlikely to have much of a swing on the local market today, but Ms Roadley said the energy sector could benefit from the oil price being at $US92 a barrel.

Ms Roadley said volumes were low in US trade overnight as investors wait for some key earnings reports, with banks JPMorgan and Wells Fargo due to report.

9.57am: The ANZ today announces how much - if any - of last week's cut to official interest rates it will pass on. In recent months, the bank has made its announcement around lunchtime.

9.55am: China iron ore ran out of puff overnight ending a three-day run of gains. The bulk commodity lost $US1.90 to $US115.80. BHP added 0.81 per cent in US trade and Rio added 2.09 per cent.

9.51am: Some analyst rating changes for today:

  • WorleyParsons cut to 'sell' at Duetsche Bank
  • Iluka cut to 'underperform' at RBC Capital
  • BHP Billiton cut to 'hold' at Canaccord Genuity
  • Lynas cut to 'underperform' at Macquarie

9.49am: In offshore news overnight which was cheered by investors, the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits slid last week to the lowest level in more than four and a half years, according to government data that may provide a boost to President Barack Obama a month before voters go to the polls.

The Labor Department report was the latest data to suggest improvement in the jobs market, though the surprisingly large 30,000 drop in new claims may have reflected distortions due to seasonal adjustments that are likely to be smoothed out in coming weeks.

9.45am: BREAKING Troubled surf retailer Billabong confirmed that private equity group TPG has withdrawn their offer for the company. Billabong shares could slide heavily in early trade as a result.

Last month, Bain Capital had made a competing offer at nearly the same $1.45 price only to rescind it two weeks later, after conducting initial due diligence. More soon. 

9.39am: World markets rose overnight but Aussie stocks on better news about the US jobs market, and the local currency is holding onto gains following yesterday's official jobs data. But the futures market points to a flat start and iron ore eased off towards the end of a strong week.

For a comprehensive look at this morning’s business news, check today’s need2know. Here are this morning’s key market links:

  • SPI futures are 1 point higher at 4477
  • The $A is lower at $US1.0266
  • In the US, the S&P500 rose 0.02% to 1432.88
  • In Europe, the FTSE100 rose 0.92% to 5829.75
  • China iron ore lost $US1.90 to $US115.80 a metric tonne 
  • Gold rose $4.20 to $US1769.30 an ounce
  • WTI crude oil rose $1.21 to $US92.46 a barrel
  • Reuters/Jefferies CRB index is down 0.68% at 307.01

9.36am: Good morning folks. Welcome to the Markets Live blog for Wednesday.

Contributors: Thomas Hunter, Jens Meyer, Peter Litras, Max Mason

This blog is not intended as investment advice

BusinessDay with agencies