Investors sell banks on risk of euro implosion

THE local sharemarket finished a choppy session slightly lower yesterday, partly recovering from four-month lows hit earlier in the day but unable to fully overcome weakness in banks.

THE local sharemarket finished a choppy session slightly lower yesterday, partly recovering from four-month lows hit earlier in the day but unable to fully overcome weakness in banks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index fell 8.1 points to 4157.4, posting its third straight day of losses, while the broader All Ordinaries dropped 6.2 points to 4208.5.

Among the main sectors, materials rose 0.8 per cent, energy gained 0.4 per cent, but financials dropped 0.7 per cent.

Investors remained cautious after the European Central Bank said it had stopped providing liquidity to some Greek banks.

"The heightened threat of Greece is still a thorn in the side of traders," Ben Taylor, of CMC Markets, said. "There will be a point when value presents itself in this market, however I believe there is more downside risk to be played out."

European stocks were mixed in early trade last night, with London's FTSE100 falling 0.3 per cent and Paris and Frankfurt mostly unchanged. The dollar recovered modestly from five-month lows struck yesterday, trading at US99.45? in late trade, but persistent fears of a possible Greek exit from the eurozone meant it remained vulnerable to further falls.

A City Index analyst, Peter Esho, said the local market had not performed too badly and Asian markets were trading in positive territory. "There's been a bit of a shift towards optimism," he said. "We've seen some steep losses recently, and maybe there's a case for things to bounce a little bit."

Mr Esho said investors still had Greece on their minds but at least that country was headed towards elections.

Locally, the rebalancing of portfolios saw banks and property stocks sold for an increased exposure back into the mining sector.

BHP Billiton was 28? higher at $32.77 as it turned its back on a silver, lead and zinc joint-venture project in north Queensland amid doubts over its potential. Rio Tinto rose 17? to $58.16.

Coalworks was steady at $1.02 as it stepped up its calls for shareholders to reject a $142 million takeover offer as well as a separate bid to dump its chairman and chief executive.

Among the banks, Commonwealth Bank fell 75?, or 1.45 per cent, to $51.02 as it announced a cash profit for the third quarter of $1.75 billion, from $1.7 billion for the prior corresponding period.

Westpac fell 46?, or 2.1 per cent, to $21.22, ANZ fell 4? to $21.57 and National Australia Bank fell 5? to $24.35. Elsewhere in the financial services sector, Insurance Australia Group rose 4? to $3.38 after it said it would review its business in Britain for a possible sale.

Among other stocks, the owner of the Star casino, Echo Entertainment, rose 1? to $4.43 as it welcomed a report clearing the casino of wrongdoing over its investigation of sexual harassment claims against former boss Sid Vaikunta.

Construction firm Leighton Holdings rose 13? to $18.05, and appointed an external consultant to review its disclosure procedures after breaching laws earlier this year.

Building materials producer Adelaide Brighton fell 2? at $2.89 after it said it expected sales to improve slightly this year but there were still challenges because of weak construction activity.

There were 460 stocks up, 484 down and 398 unchanged. Market turnover was 1.95 billion shares worth $5.13 billion.

with agencies

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