Aust stocks open sharply lower

Local market follows weaker Wall St leads as Fed gives no more clarity on stimulus.

The Australian stock market opened more than 1% lower following falls on Wall Street after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting gave no more clarity on the central bank's plans for its stimulus program.

At 1015 AEST official market open, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index fell 1.26% to 5,035.7 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index lost 1.21% to 5,028.8 points.

IG analyst Stan Shamu said the Federal Reserve gave no fresh clues on when tapering may begin but showed broad support for the timeline already given by chief Ben Bernanke.

"The Fed certainly seems to have mastered the art of keeping the market guessing," Mr Shamu said.

"The only way forward is to continue closely watching US economic data for clues on how soon we can expect tapering to start."

Materials fell, with the major miners in the red.

BHP Billiton lost 2.29% to $34.92, while Rio Tinto fell 1.95% to $58.44.

Fortescue Metals dropped 2.69% to $3.98.

Whitehaven Coal lost 2.22% to $1.985 and Newcrest dropped 3.51% to $12.09.

In the energy sector, Santos fell 2.99% to $14.30, Oil Search lost 1.45% to $8.13 and Woodside dropped 1.57% to $37.50.

Financials also fell.

Commonwealth Bank fell 1.17% to $70.27, while ANZ Banking Group lost 1.04% to $29.42.

National Australia Bank slipped 0.87% to $31.86, while Westpac Banking Corporation dropped 0.97% to $30.985.

In the insurance sector, QBE slid 0.19% to $15.73, Insurance Australia Group rose 0.17% to $5.94 after almost tripling full-year profit and Suncorp rose 0.24% to $12.63.

The retail sector was mostly lower.

Wesfarmers fell 1.16% to $39.17, while Woolworths lost 0.16% to $33.615.

Myer dropped 0.76% to $2.62 while rival David Jones fell 1.47% to $2.69.

Harvey Norman lost 1.42% to $2.77 and JB Hi-Fi slid 0.81% to $18.35.

In media, Fairfax Media added 0.43% to 58.25 cents after narrowing its full-year loss, while 21st Century Fox lost 1.31% to $34.955.

Ten Network rose 0.86% to 29.25 cents.

Southern Cross Media lost 1.74% to $1.69, while Seven West fell 1.29% to $2.29 after swinging to a full-year loss on impairments.

Meanwhile, Qantas dropped 1.39% to $1.2375, while Telstra fell 1.02% to $4.87.

Tatts Group was flat at $3.17 after reporting lower full-year net profit but tipping solid growth in its wagering division.

Echo Entertainment fell 1.47% to $2.68 after posting an improved profit and warning its 2014 earnings will be impacted by general macro-economic conditions.

Origin Energy rose 2.28% to $12.55 despite reporting a slump in full-year net profit and warning heavy discounting will delay a recovery in earnings.

ASX Ltd fell 0.65% to $35.39 after booking a slight rise in full-year profit.

Pacific Brands fell 4.09% to 82 cents after warning challenging market conditions will weigh on earnings.

Toll fell 1.13% to $5.23 after posting a rise in full-year net profit and saying it will shelve acquisitions until returns improve.

Alumina fell 2.25% to 97.75 cents after warning market conditions for aluminium remain challenging and narrowing its first-half loss.

PanAust dropped 3.12% to $2.17 after posting a fall in first-half profit.

No major economic news is expected.

In Australia, the market yesterday closed higher as strong gains among the major banks offset falls by several major resources companies.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 21.8 points, or 0.43%, at 5,100.

The broader All Ordinaries index was up 21.5 points, or 0.42%, at 5,090.3.

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