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Market weakens as debt worries linger

THE sharemarket closed half a per cent weaker yesterday amid renewed worries about European debt.

THE sharemarket closed half a per cent weaker yesterday amid renewed worries about European debt.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 19 points, or 0.44 per cent, at 4285.6.

RBS Morgans director of equities Bill Chatterton said the Australian shares performed marginally better than US stocks, which fell in overnight trading.

"Overall, instability of Europe is still a concern and how it plays out is hard to know," Mr Chatterton said.

"A new leader in Italy adds a bit more substance."

Concerns over Italy's borrowing costs continued to weigh on the local market.

The largest decline on the S&P/ASX 20 was posted by BHP Billiton, which fell 62?, or 1.7 per cent, to $36.88.

Commonwealth Bank slipped 71?, or 1.4 per cent, to $49.15.

CBA said cash earnings for the first three months of the financial year were about $1.75 billion, putting it on track to equal or better last year's record profit.

Among the other banks National Australia Bank was 4? lower at $24.52, Westpac was 4? higher at $21.09 and ANZ was 4? higher at $20.70.

Retail stocks were hit hard, with JB Hi-Fi ending 32?, or 2 per cent, weaker at $16.10, while Westfield shares were 20? lower at $8.05.

Ramsay Health Care was down 37? at $19.42 after it said Europe's financial turmoil could inflict some pain on its fledgling private hospital business on the continent, but the company remained committed to expanding there.

The federal government's move to lift a ban on uranium sales to India boosted uranium stocks, but share prices are still well below the levels before the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Paladin, which operates the Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia, was up 5.5?, or 3.4 per cent, at $1.665 but its share price is 65 per cent weaker than its finish of $4.83 on March 10.

Fellow uranium explorer Toro Energy was up 1?, or 13 per cent, at 8.7?, and Extract Resources was up 13?, or 1.7 per cent, at $7.83, compared with its March 10 closing price of $10.50.

Wall Street was weaker as market players noted the Italian government's high cost of borrowing funds on global markets.

An auction of Italian government five-year bonds went at a yield of 6.29 per cent, the highest rate since 1997.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1772 an ounce, down $US210.89 from $US1792.89 on Monday.

On the Australian market, national turnover was 1.68 billion shares worth $4.1 billion, with 417 stocks up, 552 down and 385 unchanged.

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