Index slips on renewed debt-crisis fears

STOCKS yesterday added to Thursday's losses in slow trading, on resurfacing fears over Europe's debt crisis.

STOCKS yesterday added to Thursday's losses in slow trading, on resurfacing fears over Europe's debt crisis.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index finished down 34.2 points, or 0.8 per cent, at 4108.5 just above the low of the day. Almost three shares fell for each one that rose.

However, the benchmark index managed to gain 1.3 per cent for the week, snapping a four-week losing streak, after stronger economic data from the US and Europe encouraged investors early in the week.

But the optimism wore off on the realisation that Europe's debt problems were likely to persist.

On Thursday night, European markets closed lower and the euro tumbled after a rise in borrowing costs at France's latest government debt auction sparked concerns over the health of the region's second-largest economy.

"There are the usual concerns about the European banking and debt situation," said EL & C Baillieu Stockbroking director Richard Morrow. "The reflection of all that is equities are pretty soft."

Mr Morrow said investors would be looking to US aluminium company Alcoa's results, due for release last night Australian time, to get the first glimpse of how the materials sector was going.

Also due out last night were the US non-farm payroll figures, which could set the tone for markets early next week.

Materials stocks pushed lower after a selloff in commodities overnight. BHP Billiton shed 1.6 per cent to $35.24 while Rio Tinto lost 0.5 per cent to $62.52.

Goldminers were among the stocks that bucked the trend as gold continued to climb. Newcrest firmed 25?, or 0.8 per cent, to $30.75. At the close of Australian trading, spot gold was up $US5.90 at $US1625.15 an ounce.

Suncorp led financial stocks lower, dropping 28?, or 3.2 per cent, to $8.42. Other general insurers also fell, IAG losing 2.3 per cent to $2.93 and QBE 0.2 per cent to $13.12.

The big banks declined, with ANZ the hardest hit, finishing 1.4 per cent lower at $20.45.

Goodman Fielder was the biggest loser, falling 3?, or 7.1 per cent, to 39.5?. Qantas gave up 6?, or 3.9 per cent, to $1.465.

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