Record highs and a few lows over week

THE week started on a rough note when China tightened the reins on its property market.

THE week started on a rough note when China tightened the reins on its property market.

The policies - including strict enforcement of a 20 per cent capital gains tax on property sales - saw the local sharemarket lose 1.5 per cent, and the dollar drop below a key level of US101.5¢ on Monday.

But things rebounded when the Dow Jones hit a record high on Tuesday night - surpassing its previous pre-crisis peak - and momentum from that helped the local market close the week on a 4-year high. For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 37.3 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 5123.4.

The Dow Jones, which tracks the performance of 30 large US companies, is not the most important index in the US. That title falls to either the benchmark S&P 500 (which tracks 500 leading companies), or the Nasdaq (which tracks technology stocks). Nevertheless, the symbolism of the Dow's barrelling run was cheered.

It provided the opportunity to see how much Australia's market had performed since the GFC, a comparison that dampened things slightly, because the ASX 200 is still about 25 per cent below its previous peak.

Gross domestic product figures released this week showed 0.6 per cent economic growth in the December quarter and 3.1 per cent growth for the 2012 calendar year.

UBS chief economist Scott Haslem said the 3.1 per cent growth for the year was slightly below trend but "certainly a very good result for the economy compared to other advanced economies for 2012".

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank left the official interest rate unchanged at 3 per cent. On Thursday night the European Central Bank and Bank of England left rates at 0.75 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively. Europe's central bank said it expected economic activity to stabilise in the first half of this year and then recover gradually in the second. Economists took that to mean the ECB was unlikely to change its policy settings soon.

"The European Central Bank still has monetary policy ammunition at its disposal, but the prevailing consensus is that it is not needed," Commonwealth Bank's European economist Martin McMahon said.

On the mining front, China's top planning body - the National Development and Reform Commission - accused the world's big iron ore suppliers of manipulating prices. Without actually naming names, it said the three largest mining companies and some traders had delayed deliveries to create the impression supply was short.

The big miners rebuffed the claims but closed the week lower (BHP Billiton slipped 75¢ to $36, Rio Tinto fell $1.72 to $64.40 and Fortescue Metals fell 11¢ to $4.42).

On Friday, APN closed 10 per cent higher, and Fairfax Media rose about 7 per cent, but other media stocks did little. That led to renewed speculation of a print tie-up between the two. Whether that was the source of the rises we do not know.

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