Good overseas leads no help to stocks

POSITIVE developments in the US and Europe failed to impress investors this week. Despite a mid-week bump to the sharemarket, thanks mainly to a huge loan issue from the European Central Bank, the benchmark index drifted lower.

POSITIVE developments in the US and Europe failed to impress investors this week. Despite a mid-week bump to the sharemarket, thanks mainly to a huge loan issue from the European Central Bank, the benchmark index drifted lower.

As the reporting season wound down and thoughts turned to next week's Reserve Bank board meeting, the ECB agreed to pour a further ?529.5 billion ($A656 billion) through the region's troubled banks.

According to fund managers, the multibillion-dollar loan issue failed to excite because most people expected it, so the "hot" money that drove momentum in the markets last year when the ECB's first round of money printing took investors by surprise, had nowhere to go this time.

The other highlight came from the lips of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, who sparked a free fall in the price of gold after he said, among other things, that the US labour market was showing signs of improvement.

Traders took that to mean the US economy might not need a quick shot of money printing to jolt it back to life, so the party was ruined for those who had bet it would.

The spot price of gold collapsed $US66.47 an ounce, or 5 per cent,

to finish Thursday's session at $US1720.82, after hitting a

one-month low of $US1688.40.

It was little changed yesterday.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 17.6 points to 4273.1. For the week,

it lost 33.68 points, or 0.8 per cent.

NAB this week released its inaugural Online Retail Sales Index, showing Australians spent

$10.5 billion with online retailers last year. Although that represented just 4.9 per cent of Australia's

$216 billion retailing industry sector, the sector grew at an annual pace of 29 per cent compared with 2.5 per cent for bricks and mortar retailers.

Harvey Norman yesterday was down 4?, or 2 per cent, at $1.98.

The Australian dollar, meanwhile, continued to appreciate against its major trading partners through the week. It strengthened against the greenback, closing at $US1.0788 and rose against the yen, closing at 87.86.

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