Market shrugs off falls offshore

THE Australian stockmarket closed higher to end a three-day run of losses and defy falls in the US and Europe overnight on Tuesday.

THE Australian stockmarket closed higher to end a three-day run of losses and defy falls in the US and Europe overnight on Tuesday.

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 17.9 points, or 0.38 per cent, at 4708.1, while the broader All Ordinaries rose up 17.8 points, or 0.38 per cent, to 4730.1.

Most sectors finished higher, with financial and industrial sector stocks the better performers.

The major banks closed mixed. NAB rose 26¢ to $25.35 and Westpac rose 23¢ to $26.51, while ANZ fell 15¢ to $25.02 and Commonwealth Bank had a relatively flat day, rising 3¢ to $61.40.

A Commonwealth Securities analyst, Steve Daghlian, said it was a solid session considering negative sentiment surrounding the release of figures showing Australian retail spending fell 0.1 per cent in November. "Most of the market had been expecting an at least modest improvement in spending," he said. "It wasn't to be and was a bit of a disappointment."

Shares in the big retail chains were hit, with Myer down 6¢, or 2.7 per cent, to $2.16, Harvey Norman off 4.5¢, or 2.3 per cent, to $1.905, and David Jones falling 1¢ to $2.39. JB Hi-Fi bucked the trend, up 9¢ to $10.63.

Mr Daghlian said sentiment would have been boosted by a second consecutive monthly rise in new home sales, with the release of Housing Industry Association figures showing a 4.7 per cent rise in November.

Aluminium producer Alcoa kicked off the US earnings season, posting a net profit of $US242 million ($231 million) for the fourth quarter, compared to a $US193 million net loss from the same period a year ago. Excluding one-off gains, the profit was $US64 million.

The result was in line with expectations and Alcoa forecast slightly higher demand for aluminum in 2013.

Locally listed shares in Alumina, a joint venture partner with Alcoa, were up 4.5¢ at $1.025.

Alumina's only earning asset is its 40 per cent stake in Alcoa World Alumina and Chemicals, with Alcoa holding the controlling remaining 60 per cent. That includes aluminium smelters at Portland and the struggling Point Henry plant in Victoria.

The big miners posted only modest gains, despite further rises in iron ore prices.

BHP Billiton rose 8¢ to $37.58 and Rio Tinto rose 21¢ to $66.81 but Fortescue closed flat at $4.74. National turnover was 1.49 billion shares worth $3.48 billion.

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