Investors wait on news of China and EU

THE sharemarket closed slightly lower yesterday as investors mulled over mixed earnings results, the Greek debt crisis and whether China would cut its benchmark interest rate.

THE sharemarket closed slightly lower yesterday as investors mulled over mixed earnings results, the Greek debt crisis and whether China would cut its benchmark interest rate.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 7.8 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 4282.9.

"It's been a very volatile day, today," said OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun.

Earnings reports from Telstra yesterday and BHP Billiton on Wednesday had fallen short of investors' expectations and weighed on the market, he said.

A higher than expected inflation figure from China also dampened hopes it would cut interest rates. Mr Le Brun said lower rates in China would boost the Australian resource sector.

Investors were still waiting for announcements from the European Union about measures to stem the region's debt problems.

Greece is expected to announce another round of spending cuts so it can secure bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and its neighbours.

Shares in Telstra fell 7? to $3.37 after it reported a half-year profit of $1.47 billion, below market expectations.

News Corp closed 17? higher at $18.91 after it unveiled a strong rise in second-quarter earnings, driven mainly by its cable television and film businesses.

Tabcorp improved 5? to $2.91 after the wagering and gaming company lifted its first-half underlying profit by 14.1 per cent and said it expected a similar performance for the rest of the year.

Property group Stockland eased 6? to $3.21 after the company posted a 28 per cent fall in first-half net profit due to tough economic conditions.

Scrap metal recycler Sims Metal Management surrendered $1.06 at $14.20 after it wrote down the value of its North American business by $614 million.

BHP Billiton was off 59? at $37.16 after it reported on Wednesday a drop in first-half profit of 5.5 per cent, to $US9.941 billion.

Rio Tinto was down 16? at $71.60. Rio released its full-year results after the market closed yesterday.

It booked a 59 per cent slump in full-year net profit, due mainly to a write-down of its aluminium business, but underlying earnings rose 11 per cent.

National turnover was 2.11 billion shares worth $4.97 billion, with 506 stocks up, 487 down and 392 unchanged. On Wall Street on Wednesday night, the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index edged up 0.04 per cent.

The dollar was marginally lower after economic data showed Chinese inflation at its highest in three months.