Plummeting dollar, budget steal limelight

The sharemarket lost ground this week, slipping 0.6 per cent, but the dollar stole the headlines after dropping like an anvil.

The sharemarket lost ground this week, slipping 0.6 per cent, but the dollar stole the headlines after dropping like an anvil.

The currency hit a low of US97.36¢ on Friday after weeks of data showing a further recovery in the US economy, and as US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke prepared to speak at a US graduation ceremony on Saturday.

After months of the currency stuck in a range of US102¢ to US106¢, it sprang to life this week. It fell from US103¢ to below US97.4¢ in the past 10 days.

Strategists are now split over its direction. Some think it will return above parity soon, while others tip it to weaken further.

Interestingly, some investors think the dollar could be reconnecting with commodity price movements after a long separation, so it will be worth seeing what happens in coming months.

Politically, the federal budget was the main game in town this week, with news the Gillard government was expecting to deliver a $19 billion deficit for the 2012-13 budget, rather than the predicted $1.1 billion surplus.

For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 25.3 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 5180.8, while the All Ordinaries Index lost 31.3 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 5159.8.

Morgan Stanley's Gerard Minack wrote his last "Downunder Daily" on Friday, signing off for a three-month break before returning to work as a consultant.

He used the note to talk about the investing profession, and the difference between amateurs and those who get paid to do it full time.

In sports, he said, amateurs usually stand no chance against professionals. Few amateurs could hit a winner against Roger Federer, say.

But amateurs frequently do better than the so-called experts when it comes to investing. The problem is that most amateurs "do far worse".

"This keeps professional investors in business (and that keeps people like me employed, which is nice)," Mr Minack wrote.

"But it means that returns to investors typically lag benchmark returns by a long margin. The outlook, in my view, is for low returns ahead."

For the week, BHP Billiton lost 34¢ to $34.41, with new chief executive Andrew Mackenzie outlining plans to slash capital spending by almost a fifth.

Commonwealth Bank gained $2.64 to $73.21, and is on track for a record full-year profit of nearly $7.6 billion.

CSR rose 3¢ to $2.03 as the building products group put on a brave face after posting a loss of $147 million, saying it believed Australia's housing market was recovering.

Incitec Pivot rose 3¢ to $2.86, despite a fall in first-half profit.

And Tabcorp Holdings rose 3¢ to $3.57, with the company beginning legal action against the Victorian government over a poker machine levy set to cost the company millions of dollars.