Miners mixed on flat market

AUSTRALIAN stocks inched slightly lower today, with mining companies delivering an uninspired show.

Justin Niessner

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed just 0.01% lower than yesterday at 5445.

The basic materials sector lost 0.06% on the session as the major miners set a lacklustre tone.

BHP Billiton was down 0.4% to $A37.66 and Rio Tinto closed 0.3% lower at $64.58.

The gold space offered some of the more volatile movements of the day, despite the price of the yellow metal stagnating around $US1337 on mixed signals from the US Federal Reserves and unfolding geopolitical tensions.

Newcrest Mining was one of the better performing heavyweights with a 2% hike to $A12.02 while Bassari Resources gained 11.1% to 1c and Indophil Resources gained 11.8% to 19c.

Gold losers included Bulletin Resources (down 11.1% to 1.6c), Austral Gold (down 18.2% to 9c) and gold-base metal player Anglo Australian Resources (down 20% to 2c).

Standouts performances around the industry were highlighted by mineral sands company Mineral Commodities which gained 47.8% to 17c and Ventnor Resources while closed 27.5% higher at 5.1c.

Ferrum Crescent lost 12.5% to 3.5c while Rox Resources gained 35.1% to 5c on high-grade nickel hits at its Fisher East project in Western Australia.

Trading coincided with surprisingly upbeat economic reports including a lift in the Australian dollar (last trading at about US90.1c) and new government data marking an unexpected national trade surplus of $A1.4 billion for the month of January.

This compares to a $591 million surplus recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for December and marks a 4% seasonally adjusted increase in exports over the month.

Syrah Resources and Copper Strike (which owns 11 million Syrah shares) both called for trading halts today pending an announcement expected by March 10 on an offtake deal.

Botswana Metals, meanwhile, requested a trading halt before a statement on advice from the Botswana government regarding a licence extension.