False start as shares give ground again

THE sharemarket lost ground for the third straight day yesterday, compounding a rough couple of weeks for shareholders, as traders remained anxious about the fate of Greece and the prospects for Chinese growth.

THE sharemarket lost ground for the third straight day yesterday, compounding a rough couple of weeks for shareholders, as traders remained anxious about the fate of Greece and the prospects for Chinese growth.

For the week, the S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 16.6 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4029.2.

Europe's troubles have certainly caught up with Australia this month: so far the S&P/ASX 200 has lost more than 360 points, or 8.2 per cent, and the dollar has fallen about US6.65? in three weeks.

Yesterday the Aussie closed down fractionally at US97.64?, from US97.73? on Thursday, after reports that Greek police were urging residents to trust the local banking system and keep their money in the bank rather than put it at risk of theft by carrying it around.

Investors will now be waiting to see how European and US markets round off their week.

After two days of falls on the local sharemarket, things started positively yesterday after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Greece was likely to stay in the eurozone. His comments had tipped Wall Street's Dow Jones Industrial Index and S&P 500 into positive territory.

But by midday things turned south after reports that China's biggest banks might miss their loan targets for the first time in seven years.

Resource stocks struggled, with market heavyweight BHP Billiton falling 38?, or 1.2 per cent, to $31.61, and Rio Tinto declining 43? to $55.93.

The continuing uncertainty about global financial markets saw financial stocks slip backwards, with the major banks all closing down. Westpac was the worst performer, shedding 27?, or 1.3 per cent, to $20.12.

"The fear of fallout from Greece [investors] are connecting that with [Australian] banks and everything else," said Bell Potter Securities senior client adviser Stuart Smith.

"The market is now pitching to the retail investor to keep their money in the bank by virtue of the yield."

Myer shares were down 18?, at $1.97, after the retailer said it would offer discounts of up to 60 per cent this winter, forcing shareholders to cringe but bargain hunters to celebrate.

Qantas rose 2.5? to $1.45 after the airline said it would boost the number of its east-coast flights.

For the week, BHP Billiton rose 15? to $31.61, side-stepping the market's slide, even though more than 3000 coalminers have started a week-long strike in Queensland's Bowen Basin as an 18-month dispute rolls on.

Iluka Resources climbed 62?, to $12.80, despite backing away from earlier pledges to increase its dividend.

Orica slipped 16?, to $25.03. The chemicals company is part of a joint venture that will build a $815 million ammonium nitrate plant on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.

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