European debt auctions hearten market

THE sharemarket ended the week at its highest point this year after a round of positive debt auctions in Europe and gains in commodity-driven stocks.

THE sharemarket ended the week at its highest point this year after a round of positive debt auctions in Europe and gains in commodity-driven stocks.

Shares closed the week up 2 per cent after yields on government debt issues by Spain and Italy fell to their lowest in months and the European Central Bank held interest rates steady at its first meeting of 2012.

Energy, miners and industrials led the market higher, with most sectors ending in positive territory. Even the embattled retail sector managed to edge higher over the week.

But investors pointed to a note of caution before more US earnings out overnight and after US oil giant Chevron reported a significant fall in third-quarter results on declining production.

"We're looking pretty cautious and volumes are thin ahead of the long weekend in America," one institutional dealer said. "We had a reasonable result from Alcoa but a downgrade from Chevron, so sentiment is mixed."

At the close yesterday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was up 14.9 points, or 0.4 per cent, at 4195.9, while the broader All Ordinaries rose 17 points to 4255.4. The March share price index futures contract was up 28 points at 4180.

Shares in Linc Energy rose 17.7 per cent to $1.33 on speculation that it had found a buyer for its Teresa coal asset in Australia.

Woodside Petroleum ended up 1.5 per cent at $32.85, while Santos gained 0.8 per cent to $12.85 after it confirmed it would develop the $490 million Fletcher Finucane oil project in the Carnarvon Basin off Western Australia.

Financial stocks remained in focus before the release of earnings results from JP Morgan in the US, and after a surprise profit downgrade from insurer QBE dragged the market lower on Thursday. QBE shares fell another 3.5 per cent to $11 yesterday. "With a company like QBE, it could take them nine months before they crawl back up again," Ord Minnett equities consultant Ian Merrick said.

All of the big four banks closed higher despite news ANZ could trim hundreds of Australian jobs in the first half as part of an "aggressive cost reduction program" to keep the bank afloat.

ANZ left interest rates for its home and business loans on hold at its monthly rate review meeting.

Commonwealth Bank rose 0.3 per cent to $50.07, National Australia Bank added 1 per cent to $23.80, and ANZ gained 0.5 per cent to $21.20.