RTTNews - The Australian market opened on a weak note Monday with energy and materials stocks posting some sharp losses, weighed down by lower commodity prices. Cues from Wall Street are not any encouraging either.

Though the market has come off its earlier low, it is still seen trading in the red. The benchmark index S&P/ASX 200, which had slipped to 4,037 in early trading, is currently down by 8.3 points at 4,053.9. The All Ordinaries index is currently trading at 4054.3, down 7.2 points from its previous close.

On Friday, the S&P/ASX 200 had ended up 15 points or 0.37% at 4,062 while the All Ordinaries ended slightly lower at 4,045.

Materials stocks BHP Billiton and Newcrest Mining are trading sharply lower. Fortescue Metals is down nearly 4% on heavy selling at the counter after recent strong gains. Rio Tinto is up with a modest gain.

Bank and healthcare stocks are trading mixed. Industrials, telecommunications and utilities are trading modestly higher.

Australian ports operator Asciano Ltd plans to raise at least A$2 billion in a deeply discount rights offer, rejecting purchase offers for the whole company, as it seeks to cut a pile of debt. The company, which had A$4.9 billion in bank debt as at May 2009, put itself up for sale last year and was aiming to announce an outcome by end of this month. But a recent rebound in its shares encouraged it to opt for a share sale.

The one-for-one rights offer is being sold at A$1.10 a share. That would be a 40 percent discount to its last traded price. Trading in its shares was halted to undertake the placement.

In other corporate news, Atlas Iron Limited announced that it will raise up to A$116.7 million to help fund the expansion of its Pilbara operations. The resource stock is currently trading with a hefty gain of 17%.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will release lending finance data for April today. In Canberra,the Committee of Economic Development of Australia will host the 2009 State of the National Conference today.

According to reports, the Business Council of Australia has made an ambitious pitch for the company tax rate to be halved, with the cost to be covered by a hike in the GST rate from 10 per cent. The council, the leading big-business lobby group, reportedly wants tax on capital gains and interest income to be slashed to 15 per cent as it feels the reforms would attract international investment and raise economic growth.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is currently trading at 0.8072 to the U.S. dollar.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Korea are trading lower, while New Zealand is trading with modest gains.

Stocks finished on a mixed note amid thin volumes on Wall Street on Friday with participants not reacting any positively to some economic data. While the Nasdaq closed down 3.57 points or 0.2 percent at 1,858.80, the Dow closed up 28.34 points or 0.3 percent at 8,799.26 and the S&P 500 closed up 1.32 points or 0.1 percent at 946.21.

The stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region had ended Friday's session largely on the upside. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed up by 1.6 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng finished up by 0.5 percent.

Major European markets closed on the downside. The German DAX Index finished down by 0.7 percent and the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.3 percent. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index also declined, finishing lower by 0.5 percent.

On Friday, crude oil finished lower despite recovering most of an early slump. Oil came under early pressure as OPEC lowered its demand forecast and moved off of a multi-month high. Light sweet crude oil finished at US$72.04, down 64 cents on the session. Oil hit as low as US$70.80 in early trading.

For comments and feedback: contact editorial@rttnews.com