Housing troubles but market still up

THE sharemarket closed higher yesterday, despite a worrying slump in new home sales, as investors prepared for an important speech by the US Federal Reserve chairman on Friday.

THE sharemarket closed higher yesterday, despite a worrying slump in new home sales, as investors prepared for an important speech by the US Federal Reserve chairman on Friday.

Every sector made gains, except resource and energy stocks, as the last week of the profit-reporting season rolled on. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 15.7 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4359.4.

Analysts said investors appeared to be waiting for the Federal Reserve's annual conference. Last year, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke used the event to foreshadow a second round of bond buying.

Figures showed new home sales for July fell 5.6 per cent. It was the first decline in four months, coming after a 2.8 per cent rise in June, but the decline was big enough to wipe out all the gains since April.

It was the second-lowest monthly total of new home sales in 11 years, according to the Housing Industry Association. Economists said the figures suggested demand was more tenuous than people thought, with persistent weakness in the detached-home market.

"We would have expected a decline in Victorian sales after the ending in June of the state first-home bonus, and that indeed occurred," NAB senior economist David de Garis said. "But that fall was in fact eclipsed by larger detached-home-sale declines in all but one of the other states."

Aristocrat Leisure rose 19? to $2.76 after the gaming machine supplier reported a better than expected 40 per cent rise in first-half net profit to $34.7 million.

Flight Centre climbed 10? to $23.70 after reporting a 43 per cent boost to full-year profit.

GrainCorp was put in a trading halt and last traded at $9.85 after troubled food group Goodman Fielder sold its oils business Integro for $170 million to a consortium comprising GrainCorp and Gardner Smith.

Lend Lease rose 9? to $8.20 after the federal Skills Minister Chris Evans said more than 100,000 jobs and training for 500 apprentices and thousands of other workers would spin off from Sydney's Barangaroo development.

Seven Group Holdings climbed 45? to $8.05 after the media and earthmoving machinery company more than doubled full-year profit, but said it remained cautious about China's growth and Australia's media industry.

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