European dampener on sales increase

THE sharemarket closed slightly higher yesterday, boosted by better than expected retail sales and trade balance figures.

THE sharemarket closed slightly higher yesterday, boosted by better than expected retail sales and trade balance figures.

But investors remained cautious before a meeting overnight of the European Central Bank, where it was hoped efforts to deal with the European debt crisis would be announced.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index was up 6.7 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 4269.5.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data released yesterday showed retail spending rose for a second consecutive month in June, up 1 per cent, which was better than market forecasts of 0.6 per cent.

Other ABS figures showed that Australia's trade balance had returned to surplus, albeit a modest one, due mainly to a sharp fall in the value of imports.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said the positive session was surprising, given negative leads from overseas markets and the nervousness before the ECB meeting. "But we did get some reasonable economic data as well, in the form of the retail sales figures and trade balance figures," Mr Le Brun said.

He said the retail sales figures might have lifted general market sentiment but had not helped many of the retail stocks.

Mr Le Brun said the figures largely reflected the federal government's carbon price compensation payments, interest rate cuts and a lower petrol price.

In the resource sector, BHP Billiton was 32? richer at $32.02 as it said no decision had been made on expanding its Port Hedland harbour, in response to a leaked internal email to staff detailing a review of the plans.

Rio Tinto improved 88? to $54.41.

Sundance Resources remained in a trading halt amid reports that China's Hanlong Mining had lowered its $1.65 billion takeover offer. Sundance last traded at 33.5?.

Among the big banks, ANZ dipped 2? to $23.50, Westpac rose 28? to $23.53, NAB firmed 4? to $25.15 and Commonwealth gave up 68? to $56.59.

Crown was 8? lower at $8.39 after the casino operator said it would build a six-star hotel at Sydney's Barangaroo development if it could incorporate a VIP gaming facility.

The price of gold in Sydney was $US1600.39 an ounce, down $US16.85.

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