Stocks down on new chapter in euro saga

THE market gave up earlier gains to end lower yesterday as renewed concerns about the European debt crisis took the steam out of a retailer-driven rally.

THE market gave up earlier gains to end lower yesterday as renewed concerns about the European debt crisis took the steam out of a retailer-driven rally.

CMC Markets sales trader Ben Taylor said growing concern that Portugal might soon follow Greece in being unable to finance its sovereign debt scared off investors in the run-up to the Australian earnings season.

"I have the feeling that the blowout in Portuguese [bond] yields and falls in commodities will see a dropoff in the funds flooding back into the markets," he said.

At the close, the S&P/ASX 200 Index was down

10 points, or 0.23 per cent, at 4262.7.

The Australian equities market added about

$65 billion last month, one of the best starts to the year since 1970.

Yesterday's top performers were retailers, with consumer staples gaining 0.7 per cent and consumer discretionary up 0.2 per cent.

JB Hi-Fi led the push higher, gaining 78?, or 6.6 per cent, to $12.60, while David Jones rose 14?, or 5.7 per cent, to $2.59.

Woolworths added 34?, or 1.3 per cent, to $24.74 after it reported a 5 per cent rise in first-half sales to $29.7 billion despite the supermarket chain facing subdued consumer confidence and falling prices.

"There's already been a lot of bad news priced into the [retail] sector after the race to downgrade ahead of Christmas," said Burrell Stockbroking director Richard Herring. "This could be a reasonable opportunity to buy in."

Wesfarmers, while closing higher, was the poorest performer in the sector after the owner of Coles announced it would cut its fruit and vegetables prices by up to 50 per cent. Its shares rose 13? to $30.30.

BHP Billiton was down 19? at $37.48 while Rio Tinto rose 16? at $69.16.

Shares in Telstra firmed 2? to $3.33 after it said it would shed 99 administrative roles from its operations division.

Shares in Lynas Corp closed up 1.5? at $1.325 after the rare-earths miner said its Mount Weld plant in Western Australia was recovering ore ahead of targets.

Financial stocks shed

0.3 per cent after ratings agency Fitch put the big four banks on a credit downgrade watch on Monday.

Westpac was the only bank to finish higher, adding 5? to $21.15. Commonwealth lost 38? to $50.66, ANZ 6? to $21.41 and NAB 6? to $23.85.

Newcrest fell 60? to $33.72 despite a further rise in the gold price. At the close, spot gold was up $US5.95 at $US1736.21 an ounce.

The dollar jumped to $US1.0632 from $US1.0567.

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