Retailers lead the way as market beats retreat

THE sharemarket opened after the Christmas break in a less than jolly mood, closing at its lowest level in a week as holidaying investors held back on trading.

THE sharemarket opened after the Christmas break in a less than jolly mood, closing at its lowest level in a week as holidaying investors held back on trading.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 was down 51.6 points, or 1.25 per cent to 4088.8, while the broader All Ordinaries closed 50.4 points, or 1.2 per cent, down at 4141.7.

"[It was] a disappointing day but on the other hand it is the hiatus period and turnover is not that great," said Austock Securities client adviser Michael Heffernan.

"Given what has happened with the reasonable performance of overseas markets I would have thought we were in for a good day."

The sharemarket retreated from its modest Christmas rally after data was released on Japan's slump in household spending.

Spending fell 3.2 per cent in November compared with the previous year and the country's industrial output also fell.

"Retailers might have had a bit of a spike on the day before Christmas, but they are in sick conditions, not quite in intensive care," he said, adding the market was unlikely to improve until Friday or next week.

"There's a general lack of market driving announcements or news at the moment. Investors are wiping the perspiration from their brow and waiting for the 31st of December to roll through."

Shares in Arc Exploration dropped 1 per cent to 0.9? after the gold explorer decided to halt operations in Indonesia due to violent demonstrations. On Christmas Eve, two people were killed and 10 injured while demonstrating against the gold explorer's activities in Indonesia.

Leading the retreat yesterday were resource stocks, which shed 1.8 per cent as investors sold off riskier assets and gold dipped below $US1600 an ounce overnight.

Rio Tinto fell 2.1 per cent to $60.52, BHP shed 1.7 per cent to $34.57 and Newcrest Mining dropped 2.2 per cent to $30.75. Atlas Iron shares fell 2.12 per cent to $2.77 after the company sold a magnetite project to international mining company Cliffs Natural Resources for $18 million.

A drop in investor sentiment rubbed off on financials, with the sector shedding 1.4 per cent to 3931.1. Volumes were exceptionally light with 849 million shares worth $1.89 billion changing hands. The Australian dollar was trading at $US1.02.

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