SYDNEY -- For the first time in a while, the Australian market finally followed the overseas leads with a strong gain today.
Our market finished last week flat in the face of a 1.5% gain on the Dow Jones (and more on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq). The U.S. markets finished last week with gains, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 indexes closing up 0.2% while the Nasdaq finished 0.6% ahead.
The Australian market managed to trump its U.S. counterparts, with the S&P/ASX 200 (INDEX: ^AXJO ) and the All Ordinaries (INDEX: ^AORD ) both closing 0.8% higher to reach 4,396.6 and 4,467.2 points, respectively.
NAB profit pops
There was quite a bit of corporate news out today, led by National Australia Bank's earnings. Profits were up on the prior year, but somewhat less than bank shareholders are used to, growing by 5.7%. The bank is restructuring its UK operations, closing some branches and back offices as it seeks to put the UK division on sounder financial footing.
Shareholders seemed unmoved by the result, as NAB shares underperformed the broader market slightly. It was the weakest of the four big banks, however, with Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, and Westpac (NYSE: WBK ) all seeing gains in excess of NAB's.
The long-term takeover stoush for Spotless Group seems to have been settled, with the board agreeing to accept a takeover offer from Pacific Equity Partners, despite a lower price than the board had previously demanded.
In more corporate moves, Ansell today announced the purchase of Swedish industrial protection group Trelleborg, while struggling Kagara Mining today appointed administrators after securing further funding and selling its last operating mine last week.
Gaming business Tabcorp announced it had successfully refinanced $450 million of debt that was due in June 2013 to now mature in June 2015.
Media Convergence Review released
After bad news from Seven West Media last week, the media industry are this afternoon digesting the federal government's media Convergence Review. Some of the recommendations are considerably different to the current regime, and News Corp has already given the thumbs-down to the proposed complaints body. Time will tell what recommendations will be taken up and how it will affect those companies or Southern Cross, Ten Network, and Fairfax.
In the mining sector, Fortescue Metals' Andrew Forrest hit back at renowned hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, who announced he was short Fortescue but long BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) . Forrest invoked the competition, reported in The Herald Sun as saying that Chanos was using Fortescue to be short China, while Fortescue, BHP, and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO ) were positive on the country's future demand for resources.
Rates decision tomorrow
Economic data -- and expectations -- were also the talk of the market. Despite a small increase in inflation, as measured by the TD Securities-Melbourne Institute survey and private-sector credit growth, the market is almost universally expecting the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut the official cash rate by 25 basis points, with a few economists calling for a 50-basis-point cut.
No one wanted to miss out on gains today, with every sector of the ASX gaining ground. The increases were led by the materials sector, up 1.4%, the property (Australian REIT) sector up 1%, and the telecom sector up 0.9%. While all sectors went up, the weakest were the health-care sector, which was flat after rounding (up 1.4 points); utilities, up 0.3%; and info tech, up 0.4%.
Winners and losers
The ASX 200 constituents were mostly positive today, with more than 70% of the companies in that index showing gains, while 22% were down on the day.
Five companies saw share-price increases of more than 5%, led by Integra Mining, up 8.3%; Saracen Mineral, gaining 6.4%; Intrepid Mines, picking up 5.5%; a win for the airlines with Virgin Australia rising by 5.3%; and Charter Hall, rounding out the top five with a 5% gain for the day.
At the other end of the spectrum, the five biggest losers all fell by 3.5% or more, with Imdex down 5.3% as investors digested last week's quarterly announcement, Dart Energy falling 5%, JB Hi-Fi and Bathurst Resources both off 3.8%, and Coalspur Mines losing 3.5% during today's trading.
While one day's trading can seem like forever when you're losing and feel wonderful when your portfolio is gaining, it's just one day. As Benjamin Graham would remind us: "In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it is a weighing machine."
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Scott Phillips is an investment analyst with The Motley Fool. You can follow him on Twitter @TMFGilla. Take Stock is The Motley Fool Australia'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, while it's still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).