Stocks finish flat in wait for US jobs data

INVESTORS were yesterday nervously awaiting the release of key US jobs figures, leading to subdued trading and a flat close.

INVESTORS were yesterday nervously awaiting the release of key US jobs figures, leading to subdued trading and a flat close.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index edged up

0.5 points to 4605.5.

Non-farm payroll data, to be released tonight, is considered an important barometer of the US economy. An increase in employment would raise hopes that the struggling economy is on the mend.

Arab Bank Australia treasury dealer David Scutt said the data could also have widespread implications for the global economy.

"If their job market isn't growing, it means their consumption isn't growing, which means global markets will slow," he said.

Royal Bank of Scotland's head of sales trading, Justin Gallagher, said investors were looking for indications of growth in the US jobs market before they committed to buying equities. "That will dictate the direction of next week's trading."

Mr Gallagher said the US earnings reporting season would begin next week and investors would watch closely for potential impact on the Australian market.

"The market sentiment at the moment is quite skittish," he said. "Any concerns about the overall state of corporations in the US will see further weakness."

Mr Gallagher said uncertainty about a carbon tax was adding to investor concerns. The federal government is due to announce details of its carbon tax package on Sunday.

The Australian market sagged in morning trade but got a boost before noon from jobs data showing the jobless rate in June was steady at

4.9 per cent.

The index hit a high of 4617.2 shortly before 2pm but dropped off by the session's close.

Investors dumped News Corp stock on revelations of phone hacking and payments to police for information by one of the global media giant's newspapers in Britain.

News Corp fell 62?, or

3.6 per cent, to $16.55. The non-voting scrip shed 66?, or 4 per cent, to $16.07. It finished the day as the

worst-performing stock in the top 50.

Among the big miners, BHP Billiton eased 3? to $44.42 and Rio Tinto dipped 5? to $83.55.

The financial sector rose marginally despite three of the big four banks finishing slightly lower. NAB rose 6? to $25.02, but Commonwealth Bank fell 8? to $51.39, ANZ 8? to $21.77 and Westpac 2? to $21.87.

Gold added to Wednesday's surge, finishing the session up $US15.75 at $US1532.93.

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