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Aussie shares are slipping for a second day, with the ASX 200 index down ~20pts or 0.3 per cent to 6,771.8 as we reach the business end of the week. Highlights so far today have been the Federal Reserve wrapping up its two-day monthly meeting and a stronger February labour market report in Australia. The ASX 200 is only just holding onto a third straight weekly advance.

Early this morning the Federal Reserve (the US central bank) kept interest rates on hold near zero as widely expected by the market. The Fed sharply upgraded its growth forecasts for the US economy to 6.5 per cent this year (from its 4.2 per cent forecast it made in December). This follows Joe Biden’s US$1.9 trillion stimulus package and the continued vaccine rollout. Importantly, the Fed reiterated its intention to keep rates close to zero until at least 2023 and made its patient stance on rising inflation clear. The US sharemarket hit another record higher this morning while the USD softened.

At 11:30am AEDT the ABS’ latest employment report was released, with most of the headline numbers above Bloomberg consensus. Employment rose by 88,700 in February; almost three times above the market’s forecasts, with 89,100 full-time jobs added. The unemployment rate improved from 6.4 per cent to 5.8 per cent. The 22 economists surveyed by Bloomberg were expecting the jobless rate to ease to 6.3 per cent. The Australian dollar strengthened on the report while the ASX 200 has been volatile.

Losses from healthcare stocks, some banks, property and utilities are weighing on the market. Gains from gold miners, retailers and some travel companies are helping offset the weakness.

Austal (ASB) has announced the delivery of its ninth Guardianclass Patrol Boat to the Australian Department of Defence. The vessel was then gifted by the Australian Government to the PNG Defence Force.

Monadelphous (MND) has been awarded a five-year crane services contract with Fortescue Metals (FMG), valued at approximately $150m.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) completed the disposal of the Village 3, 4 and 6 office buildings, located in La Defense (a business district in Paris).

Spark New Zealand (SPK), PWH Holdings (PWH) and Peet (PPC) are trading ex-dividend today. Computershare (CPU), ResMed (RMD), Accent Group (AX1), 1300 Smiles (ONT), Platinum Asset Management (PTM), IOOF (IFL) and Breville Group (BRG) are paying eligible investors dividends today.

3.5bn shares have changed hands so far worth $3.5bn, with 665 stocks higher, 550 down and 358 unchanged.

Published by CommSec