Market chalks up best streak in two years

The local stockmarket had its third-biggest weekly rise for the year this week, up 2.1 per cent. Selling it another way, it was the market's fifth-consecutive weekly rise: the longest run of weekly rises in two years.

The local stockmarket had its third-biggest weekly rise for the year this week, up 2.1 per cent. Selling it another way, it was the market's fifth-consecutive weekly rise: the longest run of weekly rises in two years.

Have things started to improve for investors? Some fund managers think so, but stockbrokers don't. As the profit reporting season rolled on this week, the Australian Securities Exchange released some disquieting figures.

Since the start of the financial year, the ASX says the level of activity in equity and derivatives markets has been well below the same time last year.

In the six weeks to August 10, the daily average cash market value traded was $3.5 billion: 24.6 per cent below the full year 2012 average.

According to the ASX chief, Elmer Funke Kupper, volumes have been down, and those in the interest rate futures market have fallen away. Part of the problem is that markets have become less volatile.

Despite signs that things are getting better - the value of turnover was $4.3 billion yesterday - it is still not a good time to be a stockbroker.

In fact, the state of mind of brokers could be summed up by a tweet from ZeroHedge this week: "What hits zero first: VIX or Volume?" It was a sign of desperation.

The "VIX" is the Volatility Index, a measure of the implied volatility of the United States stockmarket. If it declines that means fewer people fear the market is going to implode.

But as fear recedes, fewer trades are being made because investors are happy to hold positions - or to stay out of the market altogether. That's not a good thing for the industry. The chief executive of BBY, Glenn Rosewall, said the industry could not bet on the volumes improving greatly. "Equities are unfashionable at the moment ... obviously the shift in focus has been towards cash or fixed-interest products," he said.

"You could have quite an extensive period where they remain unfashionable ... we've had four years where we've been struggling, and we could have another four or five years of difficult times."

For stocks this week, AMP rose 13? to $4.11, after the wealth manager beat expectations with a 7 per cent rise in underlying first half profit. ASX fell 66? to $30.77, after reporting a 4 per cent drop in annual profit, blaming decreased investor activity arising from Europe's debt crisis.

BlueScope Steel rose 14?, or 53.8 per cent, to 40?, after a deal with Japan's largest steelmaker that will help it capture overseas markets and wipe debt. Commonwealth Bank rose $1.41 to $57.35, after it reported a record $7.1 billion profit.

Echo Entertainment fell 11? to $4.05 after the casino operator said any potential proposal from rival Crown, or Malaysian gambling group Genting, must recognise the value of its "good, long-term licences" in NSW and Queensland.

Goodman Fielder climbed 8? to 55.5?, as it played down reports the world's biggest palm oil processor had its eye on the breads and spreads maker. NAB fell 55? to $24.63 and said demand for loans from businesses was still weak after its quarterly profit was steady at $1.4 billion.

Wesfarmers rose $2.40 to $34.67, after posting an 11 per cent lift in full-year profit. Canny shoppers are seeking value for money to combat falling house prices and shrinking super funds, said the Wesfarmers boss, Richard Goyder.

Westfield fell 5? to $9.88, while Westfield Retail Trust fell 8? to $2.97. with agencies