Sydney, July 25, 2008 AEST (ABN Newswire) - The Australian share market closed in the black again yesterday, driven by a stronger financial sector, but weaker resource stocks capped the gains.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 38.8 points or 0.76% to 5144.1, while the broader All Ordinaries gained 26.8 points or 0.52%, to 5188.4.

The financial sector was up more than 3%, adding to Wednesday's 5.5% gains in the sector. But weaker commodity prices had dragged down resource stocks.

US stocks declined as a weaker-than-expected report on the US housing market raised fresh fears about an economic recovery and ended a rush into banking stocks. Data showed that sales of existing US homes dropped to a 10-year low. Mining firms may also decline following falls in base metals prices including copper, nickel and zinc.

Key Economic Facts and Figures

A senior Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) official yesterday exhibited the central bank's increasing confidence that inflation can be contained, said that commodity prices were likely to be less stimulatory compared with previous terms of trade increases.

Home loan lender Wizard, which estimates that 837,000 Australian households are already experiencing some form of mortgage stress, yesterday predicted the figure would top the million mark by December. Mortgage stress occurs where more than 30 per cent of gross income is spent on rent or home loan payments.

Rents have jumped by as much as 25 per cent in the past year as a result of higher mortgage rates and a weak building sector, a new report shows. The Australian Property Monitors (APM) June quarter rental survey shows double-digit rent increases in most of the major cities in the past 12 months, with the biggest rises in Perth and Sydney.

IPO and M&A News

Kerry Stokes's Seven Network (ASX:SEV) has increased its stake in West Australian Newspapers to 22.3 per cent as the billionaire continues to increase his hold on the publisher.

The race is on for Origin Energy (ASX:ORG) to strike a deal with one of 10 parties believed to be conducting due diligence on its coal seam methane assets, in a move that would either derail BG Group's A$15.50-a-share hostile takeover offer or force it to increase its bid to more than A$16.50.

Australia's Telstra Corp (ASX:TLS) shelved plans for an initial public offering of its real-estate Web site in China, SouFun Holdings. Telstra bought the 51% stake in SouFun for US$254 million in August 2006. At the time, Telstra said it might consider an IPO in 2008.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd (ASX:CBA) chief executive Ralph Norris says the group will know whether it will complete a transaction with ABN AMro Holdings Pty Ltd within the next three to four weeks. CBA has entered takeover talks with ABN Amro Holdings on Wednesday.

South Australian oil and gas company Santos (ASX:STO) yesterday confirmed that it had been paid US$2 billion (A$2.1 billion) by Malaysian gas group Petronas for a 40 percent stake in a major Santos project.

Important Corporate News

The climbing cost of funding for banks on global financial markets could yet trigger a further rise in mortgage rates, Commonwealth Bank (ASX:CBA) chief Ralph Norris warned yesterday. Despite clear signs the economy was slowing and that the Reserve Bank of Australia's next move would most likely be a rate cut some time in 2009, CBA may not rule out the possibility of lifting its current standard variable mortgage rates.

Santos (ASX:STO) achieved record second quarter sales revenue of A$749 million, up 18 per cent from A$634 million in the March quarter.

Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ASX:ERA) has reported a strong rise in first half profit, after the price of uranium rose. The world's fourth largest uranium producer said output for the six months ended June was lower than for the same period last year. But net profit still grew to A$38.95 million, from A$5.67 million.

Related Companies

Telstra Corporation Limited.         
Seven Network Limited         
Santos Limited         
Origin Energy Limited             
Energy Resources Of Australia Limited       
Commonwealth Bank of Australia        

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