Stocks end week on uncertain note

AFTER a mid-week crescendo, the sharemarket lost vigour by the end of the week, as a series of weak leads from Wall Street knocked investor confidence.

AFTER a mid-week crescendo, the sharemarket lost vigour by the end of the week, as a series of weak leads from Wall Street knocked investor confidence.

The weightiest news came from the domestic economy, with banks and interest rates under the spotlight, along with a few shock profit announcements.

The volume of shares changing hands slowed yesterday as traders held off in the run-up to the release last night of key US employment figures and next week's federal budget.

For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 34 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4396.

The market rose strongly at the start of the week, hitting a closing high of 4435 on Wednesday. But consecutive weak leads eroded gains.

After its surprise cut in the cash rate on Tuesday, the Reserve Bank yesterday released its statement on monetary policy, revealing concerns about downside risks to the economy, along with a more subdued inflation forecast.

Economists said it was clear from the statement that there could be more cuts to come.

"The RBA sees scope to do more," said NAB senior economist David De Garis. "[By] how much more and when will be data-dependent [but] the door for more easing remains open."

Much business news this week centred on the profit results of the major banks.

ANZ lifted first-half profit by

10 per cent to $2.92 billion but said margins in its Australian business were declining.

Westpac's first-half cash profit of $3.195 billion slightly exceeded analysts' expectations.

Commonwealth Bank made the biggest cut in standard variable home loan rates by the big banks, reducing by 40 basis points.

After Westpac cut its standard variable rate by 37 basis points yesterday, the league table of variable mortgage rates for the big four banks looks like this: ANZ

7.42 per cent, Westpac 7.09, Commonwealth Bank 7.01, and National Australia Bank 6.99.

ANZ is now the only one of the big four that has not announced a cut. Its borrowers will hear where they stand next Friday.

For the week, Commonwealth shares climbed $1.03 (2 per cent) to $52.62 and Westpac gained 32?

(1.4 per cent) to $22.91 while NAB shed 1? to $25.14 and ANZ slipped 22? (0.9 per cent) to $23.44.

For the week, Woodside shares soared 97?, or 2.8 per cent, to $35.40, after it sealed a $2 billion deal to sell part of its stake in the proposed Browse LNG Development to Japan Australia LNG.

Alumina slipped 4.5?, or 3.9 per cent, to $1.10 after the company said pricing and demand would remain subdued in 2012 as the high dollar kept the company under pressure.

Dulux Group shares fell 10?, or 3.3 per cent, to $2.96, after the paint manufacturer's $188.4 million offer for garage door and cabinet maker Alesco.

Alesco shares jumped 61?, or 42.7 per cent, to $2.04.

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