Steep resource losses act as dampener

THE sharemarket finished almost 1 per cent lower yesterday as resource companies suffered steep losses amid weakness on commodities markets.

THE sharemarket finished almost 1 per cent lower yesterday as resource companies suffered steep losses amid weakness on commodities markets.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 40.7 points, or 0.93 per cent, at 4315.7.

RBS Morgans director of equities Bill Chatterton said resource stocks and mining services companies found a dip in commodities prices tough, while financial stocks remained unharmed.

"Anything with a resources focus is not having an easy day, and the market is really in a defensive mode," Mr Chatterton said.

"The falls seem to be washing into the support companies."

In the resource sector, shares in BHP Billiton fell 77?, or 2.4 per cent, to $31.99.

Rio Tinto was down $1.91, or 3.8 per cent, at $48.63. Fortescue Metals was also hit, losing 6?, or 1.6 per cent, to $3.59.

The major banks were mixed. Commonwealth fell 33?, or 0.6 per cent, to $53.98, while Westpac lost 10?, or 0.4 per cent, to $24.76. ANZ fell 12?, or 0.48 per cent, to $24.86, and National Australia Bank shares rose 11?, or 0.44 per cent, to $25.20.

Miners such as Iluka Resources, OZ Minerals, Lynas and some energy stocks all suffered substantial losses. The fund manager Perpetual reported a 57 per cent slide in net profit, driven largely by a big restructure and weak sharemarket conditions. Its shares fell 41?, or 1.5 per cent, to $26.59.

Regional broadcaster Prime Media Group posted a slight rise in its full-year net profit of $27.7 million, up 1.9 per cent on the corresponding period. Shares in the company jumped 6?, or 8.8 per cent, to 74.5?.

National turnover was 1.6 billion shares worth $4.1 billion, with 317 shares up, 640 down and 358 unchanged.

Gold closed in Sydney at $US1657.42, down $US8.56.

Meanwhile, the dollar fell to its lowest in more than a month after official figures showed mining investment was likely to grow by less than expected this year.

At 5pm, the dollar was trading at US103.36?, down from US103.72?.

The Commonwealth Bank's foreign exchange economist, Chris Tennent-Brown, said falling commodity prices as well as quarterly Australian capital expenditure data helped push the Australian dollar lower. AAP