Bad news from Europe, China hurt stocks

THE sharemarket yesterday followed negative overseas leads to edge lower after disappointing economic data from debt-riddled Europe.

THE sharemarket yesterday followed negative overseas leads to edge lower after disappointing economic data from debt-riddled Europe.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 6.9 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 4286.2.

IG Markets strategist Stan Shamu said soft manufacturing and services data out of Europe dampened risk sentiment among investors.

It came hot on the heels of disappointing export and manufacturing data from China a day earlier.

"Investors are still hesitant . . . due in part to persistent concerns about how bad things can go in Europe, and partly due to uncertainty on how China will manage in its attempt to engineer a soft landing," Mr Shamu said.

Energy stocks rose after world oil prices jumped to a nine-month high, driven by concerns about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons activities.

Oil Search was up 11?, or 1.6 per cent, at $7.07, while Woodside gained $1.22, or 3.3 per cent, to $38.08.

Origin was up 26?, or 1.9 per cent, at $14.05, after the integrated energy company posted an interim net profit of $794 million compared with a $136 million loss for the previous corresponding period.

Among other companies that released earnings results yesterday, department store chain David Jones reported a 3.1 per cent fall in total sales in the December quarter to $598.5 million, better than the expected $557 million, Mr Shamu said. David Jones was 2? softer at $2.55.

Insurance Australia Group's first-half profit fell by 10.6 per cent as insurance claims exceeded its allowances, but the company upgraded its forecast for full-year revenue growth. The report was well received, with the stock gaining 24?, or 8.3 per cent, to $3.14.

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood said the company's first-half results were disappointing and difficult trading conditions were expected to continue.

Fairfax inched 0.5? lower to 82?.

BHP Billiton was down 18? at $36.23, while fellow miner Rio Tinto backtracked $1.02, or 1.5 per cent, to $67.51.

The big four banks were down by between 0.24 per cent and 1.02 per cent, with National Australia Bank the worst performer.

Steel maker and miner OneSteel surged for the third consecutive day in the wake of its first-half results on Tuesday, in which it flagged an improved second-half and job cuts following a $74 million interim net loss.

OneSteel was up 20?, or 21.1 per cent, at $1.15.

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