Market drifts lower as investors look to Europe

THE Australian sharemarket closed weaker as investors awaited an outcome to Greece's debt restructure plans, with euro zone finance ministers scheduled to meet.

THE Australian sharemarket closed weaker as investors awaited an outcome to Greece's debt restructure plans, with euro zone finance ministers scheduled to meet.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 14.5 points, or 0.34 per cent, to 4225.1, and the broader All Ordinaries slipped 15.4 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 4287.6.

The March share price index futures contract was 28 points lower at 4191, with 15,467 contracts traded.

An IG Markets strategist, Stan Shamu, said private owners of Greek debt were believed to have made their maximum offer for losses they were willing to accept under a bond swap.

"This has raised concerns that any further demands may kill off a voluntary agreement," Mr Shamu said, adding details of the bond swap were hoped to have been finalised by Friday. "A lack of an agreement by now is further unsettling investors and risk assets could come undone should more delays materialise."

Australia's producer price index rose 0.3 per cent in the December quarter, below expectations of a 0.4 per cent rise.

The lower-than-expected rise added to expectations third quarter consumer price index figures due tomorrow would show inflation pressures were subdued enough to allow a further interest rate cut in February, Mr Shamu said.

Consumer discretionary stocks benefited from the data. Harvey Norman was up 2? at $2.05 and JB Hi-Fi also rose 2?, to $12.

BHP Billiton was down 24? at $37.24, Rio Tinto put on 36? to $67.89 and Fortescue Metals fell 19?, or 3.66 per cent, to $5.

The banking sector was broadly weaker. Westpac was down 22? at $20.46, ANZ eased 2? to $20.87, National Australia Bank slipped 3? to $23.85 and Commonwealth Bank was down 9? at $49.74.

Making headlines, China's state-owned Sinopec signed up for more gas and a higher equity interest in the Origin Energy and ConocoPhillips-led Australia Pacific liquefied natural gas project. Origin shares dipped 1? to $13.55.

Ansell slipped 1? to $14.96, after the gloves and condoms supplier appointed Koreca Industries to distribute its products in South Korea.

Most Asian markets were closed yesterday for Chinese New Year.

National turnover was 1.33 billion shares worth $3.06 billion.

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