Fears on Greek election add to investor jitters

THE sharemarket closed lower yesterday as nervous investors looked ahead to Sunday's Greek elections.

THE sharemarket closed lower yesterday as nervous investors looked ahead to Sunday's Greek elections.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 21.6 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 4042.2.

IG Markets' Stan Shamu said investors were trading cautiously in the run-up to the elections. "Europe continues to be a pivotal point," he said.

Investors feared that the Greek election might have the same result as the previous one the inability to form a government creating further uncertainty and instability, Mr Shamu said.

He also noted disappointing data out of the US overnight that showed retail sales down 0.2 per cent in May and April.

In the resource sector, global miner BHP Billiton retreated 12? to $31.80 and Rio Tinto lost 33? to $54.27.

Gloucester Coal gained 9? to $7.29 after it said it would pay out more than $95 million in a special dividend to shareholders later this month, following court approval of its merger with China's Yancoal.

The big banks all closed lower. National Australia Bank fell 9? to $22.06, Westpac 20? to $20.29, ANZ 21? to $21.36 and Commonwealth 5? to $50.57.

Elsewhere in the financial services sector, wealth manager Perpetual surged $2.15 to $23.79 on media reports that a private equity player might make a takeover offer of about $30 a share.

Among other stocks, Fairfax scraped off 1? to 60? after more than $25 million of its shares were bought in one transaction, fuelling speculation that mining magnate Gina Rinehart was increasing her stake in the media company.

Satellite communications company NewSat edged up 1? to 80? after the company signed a $30 million deal to provide communications coverage in Afghanistan.

Despite a lift in the gold price, Newcrest slipped 22?, or 0.9 per cent, to $24.42. At the close of Sydney trading, the spot gold price was up $US9.23 at $US1619.93 an ounce.

National turnover was 1.48 billion securities, worth $2.9 billion, with 595 stocks down, 366 up and 385 steady.

The dollar was virtually unchanged, with cautious traders keeping to the sidelines as markets waited for developments in Europe.

At the 5pm close, the Aussie was trading at US99.48?, down slightly from US99.52? on Wednesday.

Easy Forex currency dealer Tony Darvall said the dollar was trading in a tight range.

"It has been quite resilient given that there is a lot of risk events coming up," he said.

Markets see Sunday's poll as a referendum on Greece's membership within the eurozone, with the two main contenders, centre-right New Democracy and far-left Syriza, divided over whether to stick with Brussels-imposed spending cuts.

Mr Darvall said the Greek elections, as well as a meeting of G20 nations over the weekend, could see the dollar move sharply on Monday. AAP

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