Slow start to week but US surge drives market to highs

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 tough bundle of policies - including a strict enforcement of a 20 per cent capital gain tax on Chinese property sales -resulted in the local sharemarket losing 1.5 per cent, and the dollar dropping below a key level of US101.5¢ on Monday.

But things rebounded when the Dow Jones hit a new record high on Tuesday night - surpassing its previous pre-crisis peak - and momentum from that event helped the local bourse close the week on a 4½-year high.

For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 gained 37.3 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 5123.4 points, while the broader All Ordinaries rose 36.6 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 5137.5.

The Dow Jones index, 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&P500 (which tracks 500 leading companies), or the Nasdaq (which tracks technology stocks). Nevertheless, the symbolism of the Dow's barrelling run was cheered by global markets, including Australia's.

It provided the opportunity to see how much Australia's market had performed since the global financial crisis, a comparison that actually dampened things slightly, because the ASX200 is still sitting about 25 per cent below its previous peak.

Gross domestic product figures were released this week by the Bureau of Statistics. They showed economic growth in the December quarter of 0.6 per cent, and growth for the 2012 calendar year of 3.1 per cent.

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".

The Reserve Bank left the official interest rate unchanged at 3 per cent.

On Thursday night the European Central Bank and Bank of England did the same thing, leaving 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 half.

Economists took that to mean the ECB would unlikely change its policy settings any time 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.

"We agree with this general view and expect upcoming ECB meetings through [the first half of] 2013 to be relatively uninteresting for markets ... there will be no further easing unless either economic recovery fails to materialise through [the second half of the year]," he said.

On the mining front, China's top planning body - the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) - accused the world's big iron ore suppliers of manipulating prices

Without actually naming names, it said the world's three largest mining companies and some traders had delayed deliveries to create the impression that supply was short.

The big miners rebuffed the claims, but the three of them closed the week lower (BHP Billiton slipped 75¢, or 2 per cent, at $36; Rio Tinto fell $1.72, or 2.6 per cent, at $64.40; and Fortescue Metals fell 11¢, or 2.4 per cent, at $4.42.

On Friday, APN closed 10 per cent higher, and Fairfax Media rose about 7 per cent, but other media stocks were doing very little. That led to renewed speculation of a print tie-up between the media operators APN and Fairfax. But whether that was the source of the stock rises we don't know.

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