Australian shares were dragged down by local mining and banking shares and disappointing US corporate earnings on Wall St as investors scrambled for any positive economic indicators ahead of US GDP data due later today.

4.49pm: That's all from us here at blog central, have a great weekend, we'll see you Monday from 9.30am.

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

4.30pm: Blue chip stocks offered little safety for investors today:

  • BHP: -1.5%
  • Rio: -1.8%
  • ANZ: -0.6%
  • CBA: -0.8%
  • NAB: -0.4%
  • Westpac: -0.3%
  • Fortescue: -2.4%
  • Woolworths: -0.4%
  • Wesfarmers: -0.7%
  • Telstra: +0.2

4.18pm: Among the sectors, material stocks were a significant weight on the market, down 1.4 per cent. Consumer discretionary and energy also posted heavy losses, down 1.3 per cent and 1.2 per cent respectively. Telecommunications, the only sector to post gains, added 0.2 per cent.

4.13pm: The market has finished lower for the week, down more than 2 per cent. A poor showing Friday saw the benchmark S&P/ASX200 fall 38.1 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4472.4, closing at its lowest point since October 4.

The broader All Ords fell 37.2 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4496.3.

4.03pm: Mitsubishi Electric and Sumitomo Heavy Industries fell in Tokyo trading after an official report said the companies had overcharged Japan’s defense ministry since the 1970s.

Mitsubishi Electric dropped as much as 5.2 per cent, the most since January 30. Sumitomo Heavy fell as much as 5.8 per cent, the biggest decline in almost three months.

The two companies, both based in Tokyo, have admitted to overcharging and said they are cooperating with the investigation.

The companies billed the defense ministry for more hours than they worked on projects, according to a report by Japan’s Board of Audit. The ministry and other organizations affected by the overcharging have yet to decide on compensation claims, it said.

3.51pm: Shares are in reverse gear to end the week with traders adopting a guarded approach after another round of disappointing US corporate earnings, CMC Markets trader Tim Waterer says:

  • The ASX200 was unable to maintain its status above the 4500 level given the negative headwinds which hit our market from offshore this week.
  • How US GDP data shapes up this evening will likely shape sentiment heading into next week, but if recent indicators are anything to go by the result on US growth will likely not be fantastic so the recent weakness may extend to next week.
  • The cupboard is starting to look a little bare when it comes to positive economic drivers for financial markets, and the effect is a stalling of upside momentum.

3.46pm: Still only one direction for the ASX200: down. By now the only sector to post gains is telecommunication, up 0.3 per cent, with Telstra shares rising 0.5 per cent.

The losses are being led by the materials and energy sectors, down 1.5 and 1.4 per cent respectively.

3.43pm: Some more on the Banksia saga:

Westpac announced this afternoon it would have to close its presence in Tatura, which was an in-store kiosk inside the Tatura branch of Banksia Financial Group.

The in-store presence had been there for several years and was operated and staffed by Banksia employees.

3.37pm: The RBA will (and should) – on balance – cut again, to give the economy the best chance of remaining on an even keel through 2013 as it rebalances, and remind currency markets that the Australian dollar is not simply a one-way bet, UBS economist Scott Haslem says:

  • It’s clearly a closer call given recent better global data and a ‘confusing’ Q3 CPI print.
  • But the path of least regret remains to add another increment of insurance –at a time when there’s little risk of firing up the domestic economy – in the hope of avoiding a more reactive and ‘behind the curve’ policy further down the track.
  • Our strongest view remains that the RBA cash rate will trough at 3 per cent, because we believe domestic policy still works and the world is at a key (positive) inflection point.

3.29pm: As the market extends hits a new low for the day, Arab Bank Australia treasury dealer David Scutt says the late drop is due to disappointment about the Bank of Japan's stimulus package and as investors turn cautious ahead of US growth data.

Japan has approved a 423 billion yen ($5.15 billion) economic stimulus package to fend off recession amid signs the recovery in the world’s third biggest economy is faltering.

Also, there is "a bit of caution before the GDP figures [to be released] in the US and also the lacklustre result from Amazon and Apple we saw overnight".

The US will release its third quarter GDP number tonight, with the market expecting a 1.8 per cent annualised increase, up from 1.3 per cent.

"Generally on Fridays, particularly before big numbers in the US, there are very thin volumes that go through," Scutt says.

3.24pm: Here's the full version of the NYT investigation into the Wen family's hidden riches we promised earlier.

Riveting read - but at several thousand words it may be worth bookmarking or printing out and reading this evening.

3.18pm: Investors haven't had much to cheer about around the region today:

  • Nikkei(Japan): -0.8%
  • Shanghai: -1.7%
  • Taiwan: -1.1%
  • South Korea: -1.4%
  • Singapore: +0.4%
  • New Zealand: -0.2%

3.09pm: Melbourne Cup Day may not be a lock for an interest rate cut, the market is tipping just a 50 per cent chance of a cut, down from more than 80 per cent at the beginning of the week.

Meanwhile, 21 of 28 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, or an overwhelming majority, are expecting a cut. Ahead of this month's RBA meeting it was the other way around: the market was pretty sure of a rate cut, while most economists thought the central bank would hold. As we all know, it ended up cutting.

2.57pm: As we near the final hour of trade the ASX200 has been slipping a little bit.

Looking at the sectors, the drag could be attributed to materials, energy and consumer discretionary all being down 0.9 per cent.

Also, Health is down 1.2 per cent and financials are down 0.4 per cent.

2.43pm: The dollar is heading for a third weekly advance as traders pared back bets the nation’s Reserve Bank will reduce interest rates to prop up the economy.

Overnight index swaps data indicate about a 64 per cent chance of a 0.25 percentage point reduction in the Reserve Bank of Australia’s key rate next month, down from more than 90 per cent a week ago. The odds have fallen since data this week showed a faster-than-expected gain in the nation’s consumer price index.

The dollar is trading around $US1.0350. 

2.33pm: Japan has announced 750 billion yen of stimulus to shore up growth as consumer prices slide and gridlock in the legislature threatens to disrupt sales of government debt.

With lawmakers blocking financing legislation, some of the extra money will come from tapping discretionary budget funds, the government said in Tokyo today. The Ministry of Finance will meet this afternoon with so-called primary dealers amid doubt over scheduled bond sales.

2.24pm: Samsung topped Nokia and Apple as the world’s biggest seller of mobile phones for the third straight quarter, according to an industry study.

Samsung shipped 105.4 million phones in the three months ended September, 21 per cent more than a year earlier, researcher IDC said in an e-mailed statement today.

That gave it 23.7 per cent of the market, compared with a 20.1 per cent share a year earlier, the Framingham, Massachusetts-based research firm said. Samsung ended Espoo, Finland-based Nokia’s 14-year run as the global leader in the first quarter of this year.

2.03pm: Interestingly, and not completely surprisingly, the Chinese government swiftly blocked access early this morning to the Chinese-language website of The New York Times from computers in mainland China after the NYT posted the afore-mentioned story on the wealth accumulated by the family of the country’s prime minister, the newspaper reports.

Internet users in mainland China were occasionally able to load the home page of the English-language website and sometimes the article itself about the prime minister, Wen Jiabao. But many attempts to visit any part of either site were greeted with error messages reading ‘‘connection timed out.’’

The authorities were also blocking attempts to mention The Times or Wen Jiabao in postings on Sina Weibo, an extremely popular mini-blogging service in China that resembles Twitter.

1.58pm: This investigation by the New York Times on the hidden billions of Chinese PM Wen Jiabao's family is causing quite a stir:

The mother of China’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind - she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

We'll have the full story up on our website shortly.

1.40pm: Canon shares had their biggest drop in more than two weeks after cutting its annual profit forecast on slowing demand as consumers switch to taking pictures with smartphones.

The stock dropped as much as 2.5 per cent to 2,580 yen, heading for its biggest decline since October 10.

Yesterday the company  cut its projection for net income this year by 6.4 per cent to 234 billion yen while also lowering its sales estimate for compact cameras by 9.5 per cent and for professional-grade models by 4.3 per cent.

That’s the second time chief executive Fujio Mitarai reduced compact-camera estimates since taking over the top job in March as Apple and Samsung Electronics unveiled smartphones that can take high-definition photos.

1.27pm: Unfinished financial reforms are hampering recovery in key parts of the global economy and weighing on economic growth, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned.

In a speech in Toronto, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde urged world leaders to "do whatever it takes" to rebuild the world's financial system, which is still recovering from the 2007-2009 financial crisis and has been further weakened by the euro zone debt crisis.

Lagarde said the global financial system was still not functioning well and there were powerful industry groups working against the implementation of the new rules.

1.22pm: BusinessDay's Michael West gives an interesting insight into a feud between Empire Oil & Gas and the Australian Shareholders Association:

As hostilities between the board and the rebel shareholders of Empire Oil & Gas veer towards a bloody showdown at next week's vote, Empire and its lawyers have now turned the screws on the Australian Shareholders Association.

To the dismay of ASA chief Vas Kolesnikoff – who was just a tad busy this week with the likes of Billabong, Fairfax, Amcor, IAG, Newcrest and a host of other large corporate occasions - this pushy little ankle-biter from Perth had the cheek to tie him down with a volley of legal demands.

The sheer aggression from Empire may have rankled Kolesnikoff, who surely had better things to do than fend off haughty claims by a tiny oil explorer – that the ASA, among other things, “considers itself above the laws of Australia” – but they would come as no surprise to anyone who had followed this most bitter of corporate sagas.

Click here for the full story

1.08pm: A major construction company with four large projects in NSW has collapsed owing at least 600 creditors millions of dollars.

Uncertainty surrounds $230 million worth of commercial and residential projects in NSW after Southern Cross Constructions (NSW) was placed in voluntary administration today by chartered accountants Cor Cordis.

The company’s collapse would not affect the Victorian part of the business, Icon Southern Cross, which merged with its NSW counterpart in a $400 million deal earlier the middle of this year, Cor Cordis said.

Southern Cross’ NSW projects include a new Woolworths and Bunnings Warehouse on the corner of Condamine Street and Balgowlah Road, Balgowlah, and the headquarters for Yalumba Estate at 90-96 Bourke Road, Alexandria.

12.59pm: In the early hours of this morning, the dollar peaked at a one-week high of $US1.0398, but then fell away as traders took profits.

It is now trading around $US1.0351, down from $US1.0376 on yesterday.

It also hit 83.48 yen, which was a two-month high against the Japanese currency.

12.50pm: US President Barack Obama said in an interview released overnight that the next important step for making the US financial sector safer is to make sure executive pay is less closely tied to risky bets.

In an interview to be published on Friday in Rolling Stone magazine, Obama said that despite passage of Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, there is more to be done to make financial markets safe after the damage caused by the crisis of 2007-2009.

"The single biggest thing that I would like to see is changing incentives on Wall Street and how people get compensated," Obama said. It's questionable, even after enactment of Dodd-Frank reforms, that those incentives have completely been changed, he added.

12.37pm: Retirees, schools, sporting clubs and even a local Baptist church are in shock and fearful about the fate of their investments following the collapse of Banksia Securities.

Receivers McGrathNicol took charge of the non-bank financial firm, based in Kyabram in central Victoria, and froze investments on Thursday after the Banksia board found the company faced insolvency.

The Kyabram Baptist Church, in the Goulburn River Valley, has all of its investments in Banksia, Pastor Robert Arnold says.

12.33pm: Toll's remuneration report has been widely endorsed by shareholders, with only 3 per cent voting against the report, BusinessDay's Georgia Wilkins writes.

Toll Holdings chief executive Brian Kruger has defended the company's performance despite shareholder complaints that the share price has been "consistantly low" over the last several years.

"I think we'd all acknowledge that it's not performing as we'd like it to," Kruger said. "But we have been growing the business in what has been one of the toughest times for global firms generally."

Toll Holdings chairman Ray Horsburgh dismissed questions from truck drivers over safety issues at the company's AGM. "This is not the time and place for an industrial relations debate," he said.

12.22pm: The ASX200 has just plumbed the day's lows, down 0.3 per cent. Losses are led by the consumer staples sector, down 0.6 per cent, and IT, down 1.6 per cent, while gold stocks are up 1.2 per cent.

Macquarie Private Wealth division director Lucinda Chan says the market is consolidating recent gains.

‘‘We’ve had a pretty good run,’’ Chan says. ‘‘I don’t think markets can continue to keep going up without a bit of a pull back.‘‘I suppose the local market in some ways is probably still awaiting, perhaps, the outcome of what is happening in the European markets.’’

11.59am: Japan's biggest savings institution, Japan Post Holdings, has drafted a privatisation plan enabling the government to raise up to 7 trillion yen ($85 billion) to fund reconstruction from last year's quake and nuclear disaster, the Nikkei newspaper reports.

State-owned Japan Post, which also runs the country's postal service and a large insurance arm, would become a listed holding company in late 2015 under the plan, with the government selling down a two-thirds stake in stages, the Nikkei added.

The plan is to be submitted to the government today, the business daily added. If approved, it would be the biggest listing in Japan of a government-owned company since the 1997 sale of shares in Central Japan Railway Co. Japan Post has net assets of roughly 11 trillion yen.

11.54am: Gold miner Noble Mineral Resources favours a plan by China's Zhongrun Resources Investment to buy a stake in the company over a rival offer from Resolute Mining.

Noble said Zhongrun's $85 million offer for a 42 per cent stake in the company, made last month, continued to be in the best interests of all shareholders.

"Noble has a number of fundamental concerns regarding the unsolicited and incomplete proposal put forward by Resolute," Noble managing director Wayne Norris says.

Resolute on Thursday said it had reached agreement with some Noble shareholders to acquire just under 20 per cent of the company in exchange for Resolute shares and offered Noble $85 million in financing through two issues of convertible notes.

11.30am: Apple's underwhelming results were out earlier, now we hear from arch-rival Samsung, who's announced that third-quarter net profit has nearly doubled to a record high.

The South Korean company says its July-September net income totalled 6.56 trillion won ($A5.81 billion), compared with 3.44 trillion won a year earlier.

More than half of Samsung's profit came from the mobile communications business that sells Galaxy smartphones and tablet computers.

11.35am: The big banks, on the other hand, are all up - even if only a little:

  • CBA is up 0.7% at $57.34
  • ANZ is up 0.47% at $25.50
  • NAB is up 0.42% at $26.11
  • Westpac is up 075% at $25.45

11.25am: The big miners are a bit mixed this morning:

  • BHP is down 0.03% at $34.36
  • Rio is up 0.02% at $57.51
  • Fortescue is up 1.45% at $4.21

11.19am: Shares in sleep apnoea groiup Resmed were pushed to new highs this morning, on the back of strong September quarter earnings, which beat analyst forecasts. Resmed posted a quarterly net profit of $US71.26 million.

This easily topped forecasts, with Credit Suisse, for example, pencilling in a $US63 million forecast for the net profit on revenue of $US334 million.

In fact, revenue came in at $US339.7 million, buoyed by 15 per cent growth in the US, ahead of analyst forecasts of 12 per cent growth, which helped to lift earnings a share to US49c from US33c a year earlier.

Its shares were up 1c at $4.00 after being pushed to a new high of $4.11 earlier.

11.15am: Macquarie Group shares have gained more than 4 per cent after cost cutting helped to deliver a rise in the company’s first half profit.

The result may have come in under analysts' expectatuions but the shares are still doing very well this morning, they're up $1.22, or 4.1 per cent, at $31.03.

11.00am: We’re heading toward the end of the first hour and, after an uncertain start, the markets seem to have decided to go up - but only a little. The All Ordinaries index is 12.2 points highr, or 0.3 per cent, to 4545.7, while the benchmark S&P/ASX200 is 13.3 points higher, or 0.3 per cent, to 4523.8.

RBS Morgans Ipswich manager Tony Russell said investors were still reacting positively to the recent RBA cash rate cut which had offset mixed overseas leads.

‘‘The local market has held up pretty well considering the recent volatility in the US market in particular,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s still a reaction to the cut in interest rates this month and the expectation of a further cut.’’

10.52am: The strongest performers on the ASX200 this morning include:

  • Coalspur Mines: +9.50%
  • Billabong: +4.32%
  • Evolution Mining: +4.01%
  • Macquarie Group: +3.22%
  • Iluka Resources: +3.10%

10.49am: Whitehaven Coal is looking for a replacement for managing director Tony Haggarty as part of its succession planning, BusinessDay’s Paddy Manning writes.

Chairman Mark Vaile confirmed the hunt in a statement released to the ASX this morning in response to media reports yesterday that a recruitment process was underway.

‘‘In recent months, with the implementation of the new Whitehaven organisation structure, succession planning has been refocused,’’ Mr Vaile said. ‘‘This process is in its early stages.’’

Whitehaven shares have come out of trading halt and are one of the worst-performing stocks on the ASX200 this morning. Shares are down 3.8% - 12 cents - at $3.08.

Read the full story here

10.42am: Here are some of the worst-performing members of the ASX200 this morning:

  • Carsales.com: -5.05%
  • Whitehaven Coal: -5.00%
  • Arrium: -3.45%
  • AMP: -3.41%
  • Echo Entertainment: -2.74%

10.34am: Back to the ASX200 and today's improving sectors:

  • Telecoms: +0.33%
  • Energy: +0.30%
  • Materials: +0.28%
  • Finance: +0.12%

10.30am: Whitehaven Coal says there is little sign of a rebound in coal prices, although it’s hopeful there will be renewed demand from China in early 2013.

The coal miner has posted a rise in coal production and a slight drop in sales for the first three months of the 2012/13 financial year.

It is clearly difficult to have a high degree of confidence in predicting future coal prices for financial year 2013, particularly at this stage of the financial year. There is currently little sign of a market rebound, although forward markets are showing improving prices and there is the prospect of renewed demand growth from China in early 2013.

Whitehaven shares are out of a trading halt it requested on Wednesday after a threat from Nathan Tinkler - its largest shareholder - to spill the board.

10.28am: Stocks are back up again, so while we wait for them to get some direction, let's take a look at the sectors on the ASX200 that are heading backwrad this morning.

  • Information technology: -1.04%
  • Health: -0.62%
  • Consumer discretionaries: -0.47%
  • Utilities: -0.22%
  • Consumer staples: -0.19%

10.21am: New Zealand’s trade deficit has narrowed as imports and exports across the Tasman shrank.

The trade deficit of $791 million in September was narrower than a revised $809m a month earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Trade flows with Australia shrank in September, with exports falling 8.3 per cent to $824m and imports down 13 per cent to $586m from the same month a year earlier.

Statistics NZ said New Zealand sold less unwrought gold, cheese and crude oil to Australia, and bought less cane sugar, aluminium oxide and fertilisers.

10.15am: Oh no they're not. In very early trade the the All Ordinaries index is 3.4 points  lower, or 0.1 per cent, to 4530.1, while the benchmark S&P/ASX200 is 3.3 points ower, or 0.1 per cent, to 4507.2.

10.12am: Stocks seem to be heading upward in early trade.

10.01am: Miners may get some support this morning after the iron ore spot price edged up to a three-month high as Chinese steel producers bought the raw material amid signs that demand is recovering in the world's top steel market.

9.59am: For a quick look at this week's most newsworthy deals and initiatives, watch this.

9.55am: Back to Macquarie and its first-half profit which, at $361 million was an improvement on the $305 million from last year but still came in below the $375 million expected by analysts.

Macquarie, which reported its lowest full-year net profit in eight years in April, says it has no plans to sell its Asia cash equities business, deputy managing director Greg Ward says.

"We have been in the (Asia cash equities) for a long, long time," Mr Ward said this morning

9.50am: AGM season rumbles on and this morning it's the turn of Toll Holdings, who are holding their meeting in Melbourne 

The transport and logistics group says it still expects to increase earnings this financial year despite weaker economic conditions impacting some of its businesses.

Managing director Brian Kruger said conditions in the manufacturing and retail sectors remained tough, creating some margin pressure for parts of Toll’s operations, though the parts of the business  exposed to oil and gas project construction activity were doing well.

‘‘So, at this stage, we still expect to deliver an improved underlying earnings result in the current financial year, compared with last year,’’ he said.

9.48am: St George senior economist Jo Heffernan believes the market is becoming more optimistic as US company earnings reports turned out to be better than anticipated.

The US stock market drifted higher, following days of losses. We are almost halfway through the [US] earnings season and, so far, 62.3 per cent of companies have topped expectations, which is a little better than the 62 per cent average.

9.45am: Macquarie Group has increased its first-half profit, with its investment businesses benefiting from improved financial market conditions.

Macquarie made a net profit of $361 million in the six months to September 30, up 18 per cent from $305 million in the previous corresponding period.

Chief executive Nicholas Moore says Macquarie still expects to make an increased profit in the current year, as long as trading conditions are no worse than this year's.

Read the full story here

9.42am: Apple’s quarterly profit has climbed to $8 billion based on revenue from hot-selling iPhones and iPads - but the news was met with a fairly tepid response

After-hours trading of Apple's stock was briefly halted but soon resumed after the earnings result was posted with the stock falling as much as 4 per cent. It was recently down 1.4 per cent to $US600.71.

Equity futures fell on the news, with S&P 500 futures dropping 3 points to 1,405.20, signalling a possible fall in stocks on Friday.

9.39am: For a comprehensive look at this morning’s business news, check today’s need2know. Here's this morning’s key market data:

  • SPI futures are up 5 points at 4506
  • The $A was trading at $US1.0345
  • In the US, the S&P500 added 4.22% to 1412.97
  • In Europe, the FTSE100 was flat at 5805.05
  • Gold fell 0.07% to $US1711.25 an ounce
  • WTI crude oil rose $US0.35 to $US85.68 a barrel
  • The RJ/CRB commodities index was flat at 297.69

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

Contributors: Jens Meyer, Richard Hughes, Max Mason

This blog is not intended as investment advice

BusinessDay with agencies