Shares head south, following offshore trends

The sharemarket finished almost 1 per cent lower due to weaker offshore leads and lower commodity prices.

The sharemarket finished almost 1 per cent lower due to weaker offshore leads and lower commodity prices.

At the close on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was 44.2 points, or 0.89 per cent, down at 4913.5.

The broader All Ordinaries Index was 47.1 points, or 0.95 per cent, weaker at 4919.3.

RBS Morgans director of equities Bill Chatterton said the local market had followed US markets down after weak US economic data. Lower commodity prices, particularly gold, were also weighing on the local mining sector.

"The weakness is across the board," Mr Chatterton said.

"Mostly the falls have come from weak offshore leads but, locally, uncertainty surrounding superannuation is having an impact. Rightly or wrongly, it's probably creating negativity in the market."

The resources and financial sectors led the market lower, with global miner BHP Billiton 48¢ down at $31.75, while Rio Tinto lost 78¢ to $54.60. Fortescue Metals shed 12¢ to $3.55 while goldminer Newcrest was $1.01 lower at $18.49.

The big banks all fell. National Australia Bank 11¢ weaker at $31, Commonwealth Bank lost 35¢ to $68.10, Westpac dipped 36¢ to $30.79, and ANZ gave away 24¢ to $28.03.

Among other stocks, Fairfax Media shed 1¢ to 61¢ after announcing a reorganisation of its operations into five business arms.

Troubled retailer Billabong asked for an indefinite suspension of its shares, which last traded at 73¢, while it continued takeover talks with two potential suitors.

The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1550.95 an ounce, down $US16.90 from $US1567.85 on Wednesday.

National turnover was 1.93 billion securities worth $4.56 billion.

The dollar was slightly lower following news of fresh stimulus measures in Japan. At 5pm on Thursday, it was at US104.41¢, down from US104.58¢ on Wednesday afternoon.

OzForex chief currency strategist Jim Vrondas said the dollar rose as high as US104.91¢ about noon after official figures showed a surge in retail spending.

He said the currency weakened after the Bank of Japan announced it would boost purchases of Japanese government bonds, while pledging to meet a 2 per cent inflation target.

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