Index ends volatile week with small loss

THE week seemed to start positively for investors on news that Europe's finance leaders had agreed to lend Spain up to ?100 billion to prevent a collapse of its banking system.

THE week seemed to start positively for investors on news that Europe's finance leaders had agreed to lend Spain up to ?100 billion to prevent a collapse of its banking system.

But the anticipated rally on Tuesday (Australian shareholders had Monday off for the Queen's Birthday holiday) turned into a fizzer after investors in the US (down 1.3 per cent) and London (flat) failed to get excited.

That set the tone for the week. As it wore on, local investors lost more enthusiasm as attention turned from Spain to Greece, with uncertainty about the outcome of the Greek elections to be held this Sunday.

"It used to be after one of these bailouts you'd get a month's worth of good reaction, now $100 billion buys you 24 hours," Russell Investment Group's chief investment strategist, Andrew Pease, told a markets blog this week.

Yesterday morning stocks were buoyed by reports that Europe's leaders were willing to steady financial markets if Greece's elections produced market turmoil.

The Australian dollar enjoyed a little support from the boost in sentiment.

"This [was] not a promise to loosen monetary policy, but at least it provides fresh hope for those wanting to punt on a near-term bounce in equities and risk currencies," said Westpac currency strategist Sean Callow.

Australians will have to wait until 4am on Monday to get preliminary results of the election. By 11am the outcome should be clearer.

For the week, the S&P/ASX 200 slipped 6.4 points to 4057.3 despite gaining 15 points yesterday.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said the value of shares traded was about half the daily average.

"We're up but it's on absolutely no conviction whatsoever," Mr Le Brun said. "Overall, we are very much on hold for the Greek elections."

Mr Le Brun said there was potential for good news from the elections in that it could inspire some swift policy action in relation to the troubled eurozone and see Greece stay with the euro.

"But no one is prepared to take a bet on it at this stage that's why share volumes are so absolutely miserable at the moment," he said.

In the resource sector yesterday, BHP Billiton firmed 4? to $31.84 and Rio Tinto was up 23? at $54.50.

Coalworks was 2? richer at $1.005 after it said it would

recommend to its shareholders an improved takeover offer from Whitehaven Coal.

Among the big banks, ANZ was 8? lower at $21.28, Westpac climbed 5? to $20.34, National Australia Bank was up 6? at $22.12 and Commonwealth Bank found 32? at $50.89.

Share registry Computershare reversed 23? to $7.57 after it said it would sell British-based Flag Communication to interests associated with the chairman Chris Morris for #400,000 ($A625,000).