Late bank rally prevents bourse from going backwards

The sharemarket just managed to post its fourth straight day of gains as concerns about a global mining slowdown weighed on investors.

The sharemarket just managed to post its fourth straight day of gains as concerns about a global mining slowdown weighed on investors.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index reversed early losses to rise 0.5 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 5035.6 points, thanks to a late rally from the big banks.

Materials stocks generally finished weaker. Rio Tinto shed 18¢, or 0.3 per cent, to $57.50, while BHP Billiton, after an initial 1.2 per cent dip, clawed back losses to finish up 4¢, or 0.1 per cent, to $34.77.

Arab Bank Australia treasury dealer David Scutt attributed the materials sector's lacklustre performance to Caterpillar posting a 43.5 per cent drop in quarterly profit, which was $US960 million ($1.04 billion), or $US1.45 a share, down from $US1.70 billion, or $US2.54 a share, a year earlier.

The US company, is the world's biggest manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, and hence a barometer to the strength of global mining activity, which was rattled after the release of weak manufacturing data from China.

Newcrest Mining shares fell 16¢, or 1.3 per cent, to $12.53 after it forecast a flat year ahead. St Barbara fell 13.5¢, or 20.8 per cent, to close at 51.5¢, after announcing gold operations in the Pacific failed to meet expectations for the year.

Amid the bleak forecasts was a flicker of light. The economy of Australia's fourth biggest trading partner, South Korea, grew at its fastest pace in two years, expanding 2.3 per cent in the April-June quarter, compared with the same period last year. But the risks of a slowing Chinese economy linger.

"In terms of South Korea's importance to Australia's economy, roughly about 5 or 6 per cent of our international trade is via them," Mr Scutt said. But China "takes precedence over all others at the moment", he said.

Among the banks, Commonwealth rose 62¢, or 0.9 per cent, to $73.52. Westpac firmed 31¢, or 1 per cent, to $30.06. NAB was 20¢ higher at $30.87, while ANZ advanced 14¢ to $29.12.

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