Stocks down 1% as gloom increases

THE sharemarket dropped to a six-day low as investors reacted to Chinese data showing continued contraction in the country's manufacturing sector. There was also disappointment with the outcome of the US Federal Reserve policy meeting overnight.

THE sharemarket dropped to a six-day low as investors reacted to Chinese data showing continued contraction in the country's manufacturing sector. There was also disappointment with the outcome of the US Federal Reserve policy meeting overnight.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index finished down 44.8 points, or 1.1 per cent, at 4087.6.

Gold was the worst-performing sector, dropping 3.2 per cent. Energy fell 2.6 per cent, materials lost 1.9 per cent, financials closed down 0.8 per cent and consumer discretionary slipped 0.4 per cent.

CommSec analyst Juliette Saly said investors had been hoping for new quantitative easing measures from the Fed. Instead it was a continuation of its current bond-swapping, asset-purchasing program aimed at encouraging borrowing and spending by lowering long-term interest rates.

Falls in the oil price hurt the energy sector and a profit downgrade by surfwear retailer Billabong cast a pall over that sector.

"There was not a lot of positive news to really help investors out today and it looks like Wall Street might sell off again tonight," Ms Saly said.

Oil and gas company Santos led the falls, closing 5?, or 4.4 per cent, weaker at $11.57, and Woodside Petroleum shed 67?, or 2.1 per cent, to $32.08.

Media stocks were mixed. News Corp firmed 4? to $20.19 and its non-voting stock was 10? stronger at $20. Fairfax Media was flat at 59?.

Struggling regional media publisher APN News & Media was down 2.5? at 71? after paying $36 million for an 82 per cent stake in online retailer brand Exclusive.

In the resource sector, BHP Billiton lost 40? to $32.20 and Rio Tinto eased 82? to $56.90.

The big banks were all lower. ANZ fell 17? to $21.58, NAB 31? to $23.14, Westpac 22? to $20.98 and Commonwealth 31? to $51.78.

Myer lost 5 per cent to a record low of $1.69. Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi fell 1.8 per cent to $8.35, its lowest in 3 years.

Drug company Acrux fell 69?, or 14.5 per cent, to $4.07 after it said the US patent examiner had raised objections to claims related to Acrux's underarm-administration patent application.

The spot gold price was down $US17.32 at $US1601.36 an ounce at the Sydney close.

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