Investors take breather in lethargic day

THE sharemarket ended slightly lower yesterday, taking a breather from last week's strong rally as investors stuck to the sidelines.

THE sharemarket ended slightly lower yesterday, taking a breather from last week's strong rally as investors stuck to the sidelines.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index slipped 5.8 points to 4364.3.

Solid gains for defensive shares offset the drag from heavyweight stocks Telstra and CBA, which were trading without the rights to their dividends.

Telstra fell 20?, or 5.1 per cent, to $3.70 after paying a final dividend of 14?. CBA was down $1.55, or 2.7 per cent, at $55.80 after paying a final dividend of $1.97. CommSec analyst Steve Daghlian said the index would have closed in positive territory if both, which make up about 10 per cent of the index, had not gone ex-dividend.

"It comes down to weakness in Commonwealth Bank and Telstra," Mr Daghlian said. "The rest of the market didn't do too badly."

The other big four banks were higher. Westpac was up 47? to $24.97, National Australia Bank was 28? higher at $24.91 and ANZ was 17? higher at $24.78.

The resource sector was mixed, with BHP up 3?, or 0.1 per cent, to $33.03 and Rio Tinto down 85?, or 1.5 per cent, to $54.50.

BlueScope Steel was down half a cent at 39.5? after posting its second consecutive $1 billion loss, and predicting another loss-making year this financial year.

Among other companies to post financial results, contract miner and builder Macmahon Holdings was the best performer, with its shares up 3.5?, or 6 per cent, to 66?. Macmahon reported a 45 per lift in full-year net profit to a record $56.1 million for the year to June 30, thanks to its strong exposure to the resource sector.

Defensive shares were strong, with blood products maker CSL gaining 2.4 per cent, hearing implant maker Cochlear up 2.9 per cent and hospitals operator Ramsay up 1.5 per cent.

The market traded lethargically, in contrast to the run higher to end the previous week, CMC Markets trader Tim Waterer said.

"Enthusiasm has been reined in a little given the lack of new market drivers to start the new week," Mr Waterer said.

"A push towards 4400 on the ASX 200 is on hold with investors awaiting a fresh reason to hit the 'buy' button." He said investors were waiting for September to find out what stimulus, if any, would be provided by the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve.

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