Benchmark closes flat in wait for leads

THE sharemarket had its slowest day in 2 months yesterday, based on the value of shares traded, as investors waited for the results of key policy meetings in Europe and Britain that were held last night.

THE sharemarket had its slowest day in 2 months yesterday, based on the value of shares traded, as investors waited for the results of key policy meetings in Europe and Britain that were held last night.

The lack of investor interest was compounded by a weak lead from Europe, and no lead at all from the US (closed for the July 4 holiday), so the market lacked direction from the opening bell.

The benchmark drifted lower on falls in the materials and energy sectors, a response to weaker commodity prices overnight.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 3 points, or 0.07 per cent, closing at 4169.2.

Shareholders stayed on the sidelines waiting to see what would come of policy meetings of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. The ECB announced an interest rate cut, and the BoE unveiled a stimulus package to help recession-hit Britain.

Unwillingness to buy stocks without knowing the outcome of those meetings meant just $2.9 billion of value passed through the market: the least since the Monday before the Anzac Day holiday ($2.75 billion) this year.

At 5pm, the dollar was trading at US102.69?, down from US102.91? on Wednesday. It reacted only slightly to the release of trade figures that showed a slightly lower than expected trade deficit.

The balance on goods and services was a deficit of $285 million in May, seasonally adjusted, compared with a deficit of $26 million in April.

Economists' forecasts had centred on a deficit of $500 million in May.

ANZ foreign exchange strategist Andrew Salter described the day's trading as one of consolidation.

"The release of the trading figures had a marginal impact and they weren't out of line with market expectations," he said.

The big miners gave up early gains, with BHP Billiton slipping 5? to $32.42 and Rio Tinto losing 29? to $58.68.

The banks kicked the trend, ANZ rising 11? to $22.48, National Australia Bank 2? to $23.85, Westpac 22? to $21.75 and Commonwealth 22? to $53.81.

Fairfax was the most heavily traded by volume and 12th highest by value, closing up 0.5? at 58.5? after Gina Rinehart reduced her stake in the company to 15 per cent. With AAP

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