Banks lead financial sector charge as Moody's gives big four the thumbs up

The sharemarket closed flat with gains in bank stocks - which rose after international ratings agency Moody's endorsed Australian banks - offset by falls in mining stocks.

The sharemarket closed flat with gains in bank stocks - which rose after international ratings agency Moody's endorsed Australian banks - offset by falls in mining stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 4.2 points, or 0.1 per cent to 5357, while the All Ordinaries index rose 4.5 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5350.6.

Moody's said its outlook on the big four banks was stable.

"As the investment boom in the resources sector moderates, and the decline in the terms of trade weighs on national income disruption, our outlook on the banks' credit standing remains stable because of their improved balance sheet strength, funding profiles and financial flexibility," Patrick Winsbury, a senior vice-president of Moody's, said.

Financial services was the best-performing sector, up 0.4 per cent, as the big four closed higher. Commonwealth Bank led the market, gaining 0.8 per cent to $76.85. Westpac rose 0.7 per cent to $32.76, National Australia Bank 0.9 per cent to $34.40 and ANZ 0.5 per cent to $31.95.

Wealth management and insurance group AMP rose 1.3 per cent to $4.73, while Insurance Australia Group rose 1.3 per cent to $6.21.

Woolworths rose 0.4 per cent to $34.08 as it assured shareholders its loss-making home improvement business Masters would break even or make a profit in 2016.

Materials and mining was the worst-performing sector, down 0.5 per cent, as BHP Billiton fell 0.2 per cent to $37.80. Rio Tinto fell 0.6 per cent to $65.04. It was reported Rio Tinto is likely to close its loss-making Gove alumina refinery in the Northern Territory. It is the biggest employer in Arnhem Land.

Uranium miner Paladin Energy was the best-performing stock, up 11.4 per cent at 44ยข.

Junior gold stocks were mostly higher as the spot price recovered to $US1253.31, although Australia's biggest goldminer, Newcrest Mining, fell 1.9 per cent to $8.10.

Sentiment towards companies servicing the resources sector is generally negative after a series of recent forecast downgrades from industry players including WorleyParsons and Ausdrill.

Poker machine maker Aristocrat Leisure fell 2.9 per cent to $4.63 after reporting it had boosted full-year net profit by 17 per cent despite a 3.5 per cent fall in revenue.

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