Stocks ease in wait for Greek debt outcome

THE sharemarket closed weaker yesterday as investors awaited an outcome to Greek debt-restructure plans, with euro-zone finance ministers scheduled to meet last night.

THE sharemarket closed weaker yesterday as investors awaited an outcome to Greek debt-restructure plans, with euro-zone finance ministers scheduled to meet last night.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 14.5 points, or

0.34 per cent, at 4225.1.

IG Markets market strategist Stan Shamu said private owners of Greek debt were believed to have made their maximum offer for the losses they were willing to accept under a bond swap.

"This has raised concerns that any further demands may kill off a voluntary agreement," Mr Shamu said.

Those engaged in the talks had hoped to have the details wrapped up by Friday. "A lack of an agreement by now is further unsettling investors and risk assets could come undone should more delays materialise," Mr Shamu said.

Australia's producer price index rose 0.3 per cent in the December quarter, below expectations of a 0.4 per cent rise. Mr Shamu said the weaker than expected rise added to anticipation that third-quarter consumer price index figures due for release tomorrow would show inflation was subdued enough to keep the door open for a further interest rate cut next month.

Consumer discretionary stocks benefited from the data, he said. "For some of these retailers, the probability of a rate cut is one of the things driving them higher today."

Harvey Norman and

JB Hi-Fi edged up 2? to $2.05 and $12 respectively.

Rio Tinto put on 36? to $67.89 but BHP Billiton fell 24? to $37.24 and Fortescue Metals backtracked 19?, or 3.7 per cent, to $5.

The big four banks all lost ground, Westpac falling 22? at $20.46, NAB 3? to $23.85, Commonwealth 9? to $49.74 and ANZ 2? to $20.87.

Origin Energy dipped 1? to $13.55 after China's state-owned Sinopec signed up for more gas and a higher equity interest in the Origin and ConocoPhillips-led Australia-Pacific liquefied natural gas project.

Ansell eased 1? to $14.96 after the gloves and condoms supplier appointed Koreca Industries to distribute its personal protective equipment products in the Republic of Korea.

The spot price of gold finished the Australian session at $US1671.95 an ounce, up $US16.50 from Friday's closing price of $US1655.45. Goldminer Newcrest, due to release its second-quarter production report today, fell 24? to $32.20.

Most markets in the Asian region were closed yesterday for the Chinese New Year.

National turnover was 1.26 billion shares worth $2.80 billion, with 457 stocks up, 505 down and 354 steady.

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