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Icahn prediction puts pressure on markets

The sharemarket closed lower for a second straight day after investors took their cues from a late slide on Wall Street.

The sharemarket closed lower for a second straight day after investors took their cues from a late slide on Wall Street.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 31.8 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 5352.9, while the broader All Ordinaries fell 30.1 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 5347.8.

Local shares fell at the open after a late sell-off on Wall Street, where the S&P 500 closed lower at 1791.5 points after hitting 1800 points during the session, while the Dow Jones closed at 15,976 points, having touched 16,000 points for the first time.

Comments from billionaire investor Carl Icahn suggesting Wall Street is set for a big drop dampened investors' mood after China's new reform plans had boosted sentiment.

A speech from outgoing US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke after the local market opens on Wednesday will be scrutinised for clues as to when the central bank might start reducing its unprecedented levels of stimulus. Most economists expect no change before March, after a new chairman is installed.

"The local sharemarket is still likely to be driven higher by improving global macro-economic conditions, which have been getting better over the past six months after being mostly negative over the past five years," Avoca Investment Management portfolio manager John Campbell said.

At the local close, the dollar was buying US93.86¢ compared with US93.96¢ at the previous close.

Strategists are anticipating further clues to the direction of monetary policy when RBA governor Glenn Stevens delivers a speech about the currency on Thursday evening.

In local stock market trade, the big four banks all fell. Westpac dropped 1 per cent to $32.54, while National Australia Bank lost 0.8 per cent to $34.07. ANZ fell 0.6 per cent to $31.92 and Commonwealth Bank of Australia shed 0.2 per cent to $77.20.

Telstra fell 0.8 per cent to $5.11.

Wesfarmers, owner of Coles, fell 0.6 per cent to $43.75, while Woolworths declined 0.7 per cent to $33.86. Westfield Group dropped 2.4 per cent to $10.52.

Plasma and vaccine maker CSL was the only S&P/ASX top 10 stock to close higher, up 1.1 per cent at $68.35. That in turn helped push the healthcare sector 0.8 per cent higher; it was the only sector to end in the black.

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