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Market flat: 'caught between the numbers'

THE Australian sharemarket closed flat after disappointing jobs data prompted a selloff before economic news from China and the US. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 Index closed up 4.6 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 4188.

THE Australian sharemarket closed flat after disappointing jobs data prompted a selloff before economic news from China and the US. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 Index closed up 4.6 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 4188.

The Australian market opened 0.7 per cent higher as investors took their cues from a positive finish on Wall Street and a cautiously upbeat assessment on the US economy from the Federal Reserve. The market held on to those gains through the morning but investors sold out of stocks late morning when the latest labour force report showed the unemployment rate rose to a 10-month high of 5.3 per cent in August.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the economy lost 9700 jobs last month, which pushed up the unemployment rate.

"People thought the jobless rate would stay stable at 5.1 per cent," RBS Morgans private client adviser Craig Walker said.

"So that news was probably a little disappointing."

CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said below-average trading volumes demonstrated a lack of conviction in the market after a combination of positive GDP figures on Wednesday and disappointing unemployment data yesterday.

"With the global news that's been driving (the) selling of markets abating a little overnight, we've been left to our own devices and essentially we've been caught between the numbers," he said.

Local players poured into energy stocks yesterday after oil prices rose during offshore trading.

The sector was up 0.81 per cent according to Iress data, led by Oil Search, which climbed 1.99 per cent, or 12?, to $6.14.

Fellow oil and gas producer Santos advanced 6? to $11.56. The strongest stock in the top 50 was Leighton Holdings, which ended the day 53?, or 2.9 per cent, higher at $19.13.

The industrial sector was 0.45 per cent firmer, and typically defensive sectors utilities and health care, were also stronger.

Financials ended the day 0.03 per cent lower.

BHP Billiton was down 6? at $38.17 and fellow mining giant Rio Tinto rose 70? to $71.30.

Iron ore miner Atlas Iron was down 4? at $3.70 after it declared its all-scrip $240 million takeover offer for fellow iron ore miner FerrAus Ltd unconditional. FerrAus was down one cent at 92?.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1841.79 per fine ounce, down $US3.04 from Wednesday's local close at $US1838.75.


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