$A fall gives first aid to healthcare sector

THE sharemarket closed almost unchanged yesterday despite a selloff triggered by disappointing trade balance numbers.

THE sharemarket closed almost unchanged yesterday despite a selloff triggered by disappointing trade balance numbers.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 3.1 points at 4333.9.

Options Xpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said the market was resilient in afternoon trade following official figures on Australia's trade deficit, which had narrowed though not as much as hoped.

The trade deficit fell to $480 million in February, from $971 million in January.

"There was obliviously a knee-jerk reaction to the international trades and goods and services data," Mr Le Brun said.

"We've seen the Aussie dollar fall, which has supported some ends of the market. Certainly, the healthcare sector has been one of the best performers."

ResMed was up 2.7 per cent at $3.08, Ramsay Health Care gained 2.5 per cent to $19.77, Primary Health Care put on 2.5 per cent to $2.85, Cochlear was 1.6 per cent firmer at $62.55 and CSL appreciated 1.5 per cent to $36.

Mr Le Brun said a continuation of soft economic data should prompt the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates next month, having kept them on hold on Tuesday.

QBE held up the financial sector, rising 47?, or 3.4 per cent, to $14.37. QBE said it expected premiums to rise by 7 per cent in 2012 after one of the worst years for catastrophic events in 2011.

The major banks were mixed. ANZ was up 2? at $23.01, Westpac gained 30?, or 1.4 per cent, to $22.12, NAB put on 18? to $24.79 and Commonwealth eased 14? to $49.90.

Shares in Transfield Services closed down 11.7 per cent at $2.20 after the construction and maintenance company cut its full-year profit forecast by about a fifth.

AGL shares were steady at $14.83. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has suspended its clearance process for AGL Energy's purchase of Australia's largest brown-coal power station, Loy Yang.

A tumble in the gold price wiped 69? off Newcrest, Australia's biggest gold producer, which closed at $28.50. At the Sydney close, spot gold was down $US41.72 at $US1636.95 an ounce.

The dollar dropped to an 11-week low in response to the surprise trade deficit, which further fuelled expectations of a rate cut in May.

It sank to $US1.0262 after the data's release, adding to earlier falls caused by indications from the Reserve Bank on Tuesday that it was willing to cut interest rates at its next meeting. It closed at $US1.0282. AAP