Bourse slips into red as euro debt fears return

THE local market gave up earlier gains to end lower as renewed concerns about the European debt crisis took the steam out of a retailer-driven rally.

THE local market gave up earlier gains to end lower as renewed concerns about the European debt crisis took the steam out of a retailer-driven rally.

A CMC Markets trader, Ben Taylor, said growing concern that Portugal may soon follow Greece in being unable to finance its sovereign debt had scared off investors in the run-up to the local earnings season.

"I have the feeling that the blowout in Portuguese [bond] yields and falls in commodities will see a drop off in the funds flooding back into the markets," he said.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 10 points, or 0.23 per cent, at 4262.7, while the broader All Ordinaries fell 8.7 points, also 0.2 per cent, to 4325.7. The March share price index futures contract was down 19 points at 4226.

Retailers were the day's top performers, with consumer staples adding 0.7 per cent and consumer discretionary adding 0.2 per cent.

JB Hi-Fi led the push, rising 78?, or 6.6 per cent, to $12.60, while David Jones rose 14?, or 5.71 per cent, to $2.59. Woolworths rose 34?, or 1.29 per cent, to $24.74 after it reported first-half sales had risen 5 per cent to $29.7 billion, despite it facing subdued consumer confidence and falling prices.

"There's already been a lot of bad news priced in to the [retail] sector after the race to downgrade ahead of Christmas," the director of Burrell Stockbroking, Richard Herring, said. "This could be a reasonable opportunity to buy in."

Wesfarmers rose 13? to $30.30 after the owner of Coles announced it would cut its fruit and vegetables prices by up to 50 per cent.

BHP Billiton was down 19? at $37.48 and fellow miner Rio Tinto was up 16? at $69.16.

Telstra shares rose 2? to $3.33 after it said it would shed 99 administrative roles from its operations division.

Shares in Lynas Corporation rose 1.5? to $1.325 after the rare earths miner said its Mount Weld plant is recovering ore ahead of targets.

Financial stocks fell 0.3 per cent after ratings agency Fitch put the big four banks on a credit downgrade watch on Monday because of their strong reliance on overseas funding.

Westpac was the only bank to finish higher, rising 5? to $21.15, while the other big banks all shed between 0.3 and 0.7 per cent.

The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1736.20 per fine ounce, up $US5.94.

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