Investors take breather after a hard run

The sharemarket finished flat on Thursday, as investors decided to ignore a record high on Wall Street and lock in profits.

The sharemarket finished flat on Thursday, as investors decided to ignore a record high on Wall Street and lock in profits.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index slipped 7.6 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5109.2, while the broader All Ordinaries lost 7.8 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5123.1.

The market has been performing well since the better than expected reporting season and the slow day was no surprise to Macquarie Private Wealth division director Martin Lakos.

"The market has run hard, in particular post-reporting season; it's probably a bit exhausted at the moment," he said.

Also cooling investors' urge to buy, Australia's trade deficit widened to $1.057 billion in January, from $688 million in December.

This was due to a 0.7 per cent decline in exports and an equivalent rise in imports. The drop in exports was largely attributed to coal, iron ore and other commodities affected by bad weather.

"The weather disruptions in early 2013 should be viewed as a short-term setback," said St George economist Janu Chan.

"A partial recovery in commodity prices should help support export values. Demand for Australia's commodity exports is likely to remain intact given China is expected to post solid growth this year," said Ms Chan.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were little moved, finishing flat at $35.82 and $63.23 respectively. Fortescue dropped 2.2 per cent to $4.40.

Westpac, after reaching a record high on Thursday, eased 1.2 per cent to $31.29. Westpac is close to becoming Australia's third listed company to reach a market cap of $100 billion.

ANZ finished down marginally at $29.01, while CBA rose to a record high at $69.68 and NAB inched up to $31.06.

Mr Lakos said analysts had been upgrading their outlooks for banks. "They've run hard, CommBank is up 38 per cent in 12 months, ANZ is up 31 per cent in 12 months, they've all had stellar performances. We don't see huge downside but they'll need a breather to consolidate," he said.

Wesfarmers also hit a record high, adding about 0.5 per cent to $42.33, while Woolworths finished flat at $35.14.

Nufarm shares finished down 3.9 per cent at $4.96 after the agribusiness announced it had lost exclusive rights to sell pesticide Roundup.

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