Market flat as bailout fears rise again

THE sharemarket ended flat yesterday after retreating from positive territory on growing concerns that Greece and Portugal might need more bailout funds.

THE sharemarket ended flat yesterday after retreating from positive territory on growing concerns that Greece and Portugal might need more bailout funds.

"Risk assets continue to trade cautiously on the slight chance that the result out of Greece comes in contrary to expectations," said IG Markets strategist Stan Shamu. "Such an event could result in a swift retreat in risk assets after the recent strong run."

He said the continuing negotiations between Greece and its creditors were keeping investors nervous despite a positive session in Europe overnight that buoyed local sentiment. A growing consensus that Portugal might not be able to access funding from international markets to meet its debts next year added to concerns about Europe's debt crisis, he said.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 0.9 points at 4224.2.

Volumes were light across Asia amid the Lunar New Year holiday in the region.

The resource sector closed down 0.3 per cent, healthcare shed 1.2 per cent and technology stocks ended down 0.8 per cent, marking the second consecutive day of losses this week.

Retailers shed 0.5 per cent as investors mulled gloomy forecasts for the imminent earnings season.

Surfwear retailer Billabong was the biggest loser in the consumer discretionary sector, shedding 12?, or 6.1 per cent, to $1.865 after gaining sharply on Monday on rumours it could be a target for a private equity buyout.

Materials closed lower, led by a 16? loss to $37.08 by BHP Billiton.

Australia's largest goldminer, Newcrest Mining, rose 64? to $32.84 after its production results met market expectations. At the close, the spot gold price was up $US3.92 at $US1675.87 an ounce. Energy stocks rose 0.5 per cent after news that the European Union embargo on Iranian exports had sent oil prices surging to nearly $US100 a barrel.

Shares in AWE ended the day up 3? at $1.485 after the energy explorer said it might sell about half of an oil project in Indonesia to help fund a $US600 million expansion across Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Asia.

Papua New Guinea-focused oil and gas producer Oil Search rose 18? to $6.84 after it reported a 26 per cent rise in revenue for the year to December 31 to $US732.9 million.

Spotless was another top performer adding 7? to $2.38 after the union representing 4000 of its members blasted the cleaning company's board for not accepting a $711 million offer from Pacific Equity Partners.

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