Movers and shakers on the ASX

ASX rises 0.2% today, as gold stocks recover from horror year

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The S&P/ASX 200 index (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) has ended at 4,383.7, a rise of 0.2%, after flirting with the 4,400 level briefly this morning.

Chinese manufacturing data, as depicted by the HSBC “flash” purchasing managers index (PMI) has fallen to a nine-month low of 47.8, suggesting Chinese manufacturers are struggling with global headwinds. That news was likely to have pushed our markets lower, as China is our biggest trading partner, and given the mass of resources Australia ship there.

The Australian dollar has risen slightly against the greenback, currently buying 105.1 US cents.

Australia’s largest independent music retailer has been placed into receivership. Australian Music Group Holdings, trading as Billy Hyde and Allans owes creditors around $13.5 million, plus employees an additional $3 million. That could be good news for JB Hi-Fi Limited (ASX: JBH), as the company recently moved into selling guitars, keyboards and accessories.

Company News

Railroad group QR National (ASX: QRN) has surprised the market by announcing a buyback of its shares worth up $850 million. The company also announced a full year net profit of $441 million, and plans to axe 900 jobs as part of its restructure program.

Origin Energy Limited (ASX: ORG) saw its shares fall 5.5% to close at $12.24, after CEO Grant King forecast a flat profit in financial year 2013, which was lower than consensus estimates.

The flying Kangaroo, Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) has posted its first loss in 17 years, after writing off costs associated with turning its loss-making international operations around. Shares in the company rose 2.6% to close at $1.20.

A $2.8 billion writedown of its assets has seen Fairfax Media Limited (ASX: FXJ) post a statutory loss of $2.7 billion. Investors didn’t appear happy with the result (who would be?), and shares in the company plunging by 10% to 51 cents.

Winners and losers

Gold stocks were the big winners today – the ASX Gold sector climbed by 4%, likely on the back of comments out of the US suggesting further quantitative easing is more likely in the near-term. Of the top ten performing stocks in the ASX 200 index today, most were gold miners, and all ten posted rises over 5.7%.

From the majors, Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM) was the best performer, rising 4.3%. Qantas, Suncorp Group (ASX: SUN) and Toll Holdings (ASX: TOL) also posted strong rises.

Apart from Origin mentioned earlier, AGL Energy Limited (ASX: AGK) posted the worst result from the top 50 stocks, falling 1.7% to close at $15.43.

The Foolish bottom line

As my colleague  Tim McArthur mentioned recently, there are ‘headline’ earnings and then there are cash earnings. Beware of management burying ‘real’ results deep in their presentations, and talking up their EBITDA numbers. As Charlie Munger has said , “Every time you see EBITDA earnings, you should substitute ‘[censored] earnings’.”

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King owns shares in JB Hi-Fi. The Motley Fool‘s purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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