Flat day as all await outcome of Sandy

THE sharemarket has pushed up off mid-afternoon lows to finish marginally higher as investors await the outcome of hurricane Sandy on the US east coast.

THE sharemarket has pushed up off mid-afternoon lows to finish marginally higher as investors await the outcome of hurricane Sandy on the US east coast.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index inched up 8.8 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4485.7.

Among the major sectors, financials added 0.3 per cent, materials gained 0.1 per cent, while energy stocks slipped 0.1 per cent.

The New York Stock Exchange was closed overnight and will probably remain closed for at least another day. As a result, local investors erred on the side of caution, with trading volumes on the ASX 200 well below average.

"It's going to be very hard for people to trade aggressively when the world's No.1 economy is closed [apart from futures]. Profit results are still being reported, but there were no major companies reporting last night," said Tony Farnham, a strategist at Patersons Securities.

The US December-quarter GDP figure would likely be affected by hurricane Sandy, Mr Farnham said, simply because of the sheer number of people affected by the storm.

"From a calendar 2013 perspective, depending on the extent of the damage, construction will add to GDP," said Mr Farnham.

Local insurance stocks have already started wavering in expectation of US claims. QBE slipped 1.3 per cent to $13.02, IAG dropped 0.4 per cent to $4.54 and Suncorp fell 2 per cent to $9.30.

Commonwealth Bank held its annual meeting on Tuesday. Although chairman David Turner said the bank expected demand for credit to remain low, investors were confident with the bank's outlook.

"[CBA] seems to have passed that one with flying colours, there were no nasty surprises and, as a result, it was up around 50?, a reasonable result for a major bank on the back of an AGM," said Mr Farnham.

CBA finished up 52? at $57.31. National Australia Bank reports its full-year earnings on Wednesday. NAB recently issued a market update saying it had increased provisions to cover losses from bad debts, mainly in Britain. NAB shares were flat at $25.88.

Among the other big banks, ANZ added 15?, or 0.6 per cent, to $25.38, while Westpac gained 9?, or 0.4 per cent, to $25.34.

Mr Farnham said China's purchasing managers' index, due out on Thursday, would be playing on investors' minds.

"The [Chinese Communist Party] leadership has hinted that while things are not going to take off again, they're not going to madly splurge like they did post financial crisis, and that they've got enough momentum at this stage to deliver the soft landing that everyone is hoping is going to unfold," said Mr Farnham.

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