THE sharemarket closed lower yesterday, ending a run of five weeks of gains amid fears the mining boom might have ended and as hopes for quick monetary stimulus in the US faded.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 34.7 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4349, for a loss of 0.2 per cent over the week.
Among the big sectors, materials lost 1.4 per cent, consumer staples 1.4 per cent, energy 1 per cent and financials 0.6 per cent. The telcos index was the only sub-index to gain, rising 0.4 per cent on the day.
Questions over whether the decade-long bull run in commodities has ended have become louder in recent weeks as data shows China heading for the slowest annual growth in more than a decade, driving down copper, iron ore and other raw materials.
Reserve Bank chief Glenn Stevens said it was too soon to call an end to the mining boom, intensifying debate over the outlook for the resource-rich economy as miners, including BHP, shelve expansion plans and takeover deals.
"Miners are being weighed down by the fact that iron ore prices are dropping," said Damien Boey, equity strategist at Credit Suisse.
Iron ore prices dropped 5 per cent on Thursday to $US 99.60, below the $US100 mark for the first time since 2009.
Mr Boey said the banking sector was also hit amid concern about the robustness of the Australian economy, given fallen commodity prices and expenditure cutting by mining companies.
"This isn't a good thing for employment and if it's not a good thing for employment, it's not a good thing for potentially bad debts," Mr Boey said.
"So people are a little bit concerned now that both these sectors are kind of taking related risks from China's slowdown."
Yesterday ended the busiest week of the earnings season with Woolworths announcing a net profit of $1.82 billion, down 14.5 per cent. Its shares fell 48?, 1.7 per cent to $29.
Fairfax shares took another bath, dropping 11 per cent to a record low of 45.5? after Gina Rinehart tried unsuccessfully to sell a third of her 15 per cent stake in the media company at 50? a share.
Its stock slumped 10 per cent on Thursday when it reported a $2.73 billion full-year net loss.
Coalminer Whitehaven posted improved net profit of $62.5 million for the year but its shares dropped 11.2 per cent to $3.09 after magnate Nathan Tinkler shelved a $5.2 billion takeover bid.
Elsewhere, resource stocks dragged the market lower.
BHP Billiton dropped 32? to $33.09 and Rio Tinto lost $2.38, or 4.4 per cent, to $51.80. Fortescue Metals suffered heavy losses following a downgrade by broker Nomura, losing 26?, or more than 6 per cent, to $3.98.
The big banks were down but not by as much, with Commonwealth Bank falling 24? to $54.90, ANZ 23? off at $24.77, Westpac losing 12? to $24.65 and National Australia Bank falling 17? to $25.14.