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Mixed messages put end to days of gain

14 Dec 2012 THE AGE - MAX MASON



FOUR straight days of gains came to an end with the sharemarket finishing just below Wednesday's 17-month high close, as investors failed to find direction amid mixed leads from overseas.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 1 point to 4582.2, while the broader All Ords gained 1 point to 4592.9.

The sectors were mixed, with materials extending their recent rally, rising 0.38 per cent, energy adding 0.23 per cent, but financials slipping 0.06 per cent and consumer staples down 1.13 per cent.

Despite the lack of direction, there were positives to be found across the market, said RBS Morgans senior trader Luke McElwaine.

"Even though the market hasn't moved much at a macro level, [it] is starting to show some signs of some significant moves within it, with things that have underperformed for a little while, like the materials sector, starting to show signs [of recovery]," he said.

The major miners both closed at near seven-month highs, with BHP up 0.7 per cent at $36 and rival Rio Tinto 0.9 per cent higher at $62.75.

Iron ore miner Fortescue failed to come to the party, dropping 0.7 per cent to $4.25.

The materials sector is still trading down around 1.2 per cent for 2012 while the broader market is trading about 13 per cent higher for the year.

The Australian dollar pushed to new three-month highs on Thursday, hitting $US1.0586 before slipping down to $1.0553 in late trading, on the back of an increased monetary stimulus plan for the US economy.

The high dollar put increased pressure on consumer staples stocks, as Wesfarmers fell 1.2 per cent to $35.85, Woolworths dropped 1 per cent to $29.53, Coca-Cola Amatil slipped 1.7 per cent to $13.33 and Treasury Wines lost 2.4 per cent to $4.90.

Media stocks enjoyed a strong rally, led by Fairfax Media, owner of The Age, which was the biggest winner for the day, up 11.3 per cent to 54¢.

Elsewhere in the media, APN surged 10.5 per cent to 31.5¢, Seven West Media jumped 3.1 per cent to $1.64, while Network Ten traded flat at 26¢ and News Corp slipped 0.9 per cent to $24.18.

Virgin shares failed to gain any traction after the company announced a doubling of its marketing partnership with Tourism Australia, in the wake of rival Qantas severing its ties with the official tourism agency. Virgin shares fell 2.3 per cent to 42.5¢, while Qantas jumped 1.1 per cent to $1.41.

Results among the banks were mixed, Westpac added 0.3 per cent to $25.98 and CBA rose 0.1 per cent to $61.28, while ANZ dropped 0.1 per cent to $24.68 and NAB fell 0.2 per cent to $24.60.