Iron ore players help forge a strong finish

THE sharemarket finished stronger yesterday, boosted by the resource sector, with iron ore players Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron the standouts.

THE sharemarket finished stronger yesterday, boosted by the resource sector, with iron ore players Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron the standouts.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was up 14.6 points, or 0.34 per cent, at 4290.8.

After a strong start, the market eased from its intraday highs to below the key technical level of 4300 points on the S&P/ASX 200, RBS Morgans private client adviser Craig Walker said.

"That 4300-level is a key ceiling, and if the market can close above it, that would attract a few investors into the market," he said.

A production fault on a railway at a mine owned by Brazil's Vale boosted local iron ore stocks, Mr Walker said.

"There was an issue that may affect the short-term supply of iron ore," he said. "That followed weakness on Friday due to potential cyclone activity in the west, and Fortescue and Atlas have made considerable gains."

Fortescue Metals Group surged 17?, or 2.9 per cent, to $5.98, while Atlas Iron jumped 11?, or 3.8 per cent, to $3.04. BHP Billiton gained 38?, or 1.1 per cent, to $35.35, and Rio Tinto advanced 73?, or 1.1 per cent, to $65.85.

Oil majors were mixed, with Oil Search climbing 2? to $6.96, Santos firming 7? to $14.53 but Woodside Petroleum slipping 23? to $34.97.

Among financials, insurers were strong, with QBE Insurance rising 45?, or 3.4 per cent, to $13.59 before its planned capital raising.

Insurance Australia Group added 6?, or 1.8 per cent, to $3.41 and AMP advanced 7?, or 1.7 per cent, to $4.27.

The big four banks were mostly higher, with the exception of National Australia Bank, which closed 3? lower at $24.15.

Stocks that lost ground included Telstra, which was down 3? at $3.23. Woolworths fell 64? to $25.03 and PaperlinX dipped 0.5?, or 4.4 per cent, to 11?.

David Jones shares have been placed in a trading halt as the department store chain exercises caution about corporate disclosure rules before releasing its first-half results.

Market watchers expect the upmarket retail chain to post a 15 to 20 per cent fall in net profit when it reports its latest earnings tomorrow.

Sharemarket darling Campbell Brothers is expanding its food-testing operations with a $39 million acquisition in Britain and Ireland. Campbell's shares gained $1.23 to $63.01.

The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1661.58 ($A1567) an ounce, up US49?. National turnover was 2.13 billion shares worth $4.53 billion, with 546 stocks up, 471 down and 379 unchanged. AAP

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