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Stocks flat on caution over EU summit

THE sharemarket closed almost unchanged yesterday after erasing early gains, with buyers growing cautious over next week's European summit.

THE sharemarket closed almost unchanged yesterday after erasing early gains, with buyers growing cautious over next week's European summit.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index dipped

3 points to 4141.9 after giving up a 24-point gain.

The benchmark this week lost 63.7 points, or 1.5 per cent, after soaring on Monday but taking heavy hits on Tuesday and Thursday.

Consumer staples led yesterday's decline, falling 1.37 per cent. The biggest gainer was the defensive healthcare sector, which rose

0.53 per cent.

"Despite early gains, we have since seen a reversal as investors position themselves ahead of the European summit," said IG Markets market strategist Stan Shamu.

"The miners have been sold off over the past few sessions, tracking metals prices lower."

Mr Shamu said many investors were taking a "wait and see" approach in the run-up to Wednesday's European Union summit.

Woodside Petroleum ended down 22? at $33.38, the lowest in two weeks, after the company reported that third-quarter revenue had risen 27 per cent, with higher commodity prices offsetting lower production.

Other energy stocks fared better, Oil Search firming 7? to $5.88 and Santos up 5? at $12.12.

Among the big miners, BHP Billiton gained 22? to $35.70 while Rio Tinto closed down 28? at $62.57 and Fortescue Metals slipped 6? to $4.25.

The big banks, soon to report their latest earnings results, finished mixed. ANZ gained 9? to $21.21 and National Australia Bank edged up 4? to $24.32 as Westpac backpedalled 3? to $21.50 and Commonwealth Bank slipped 17? to $47.55.

Investment bank Macquarie Group finished down 47?, or 2 per cent, at $22.53.

Coles owner Wesfarmers extended Thursday's 64? fall, losing 54?, or 1.7 per cent, to close at $31. The diversified company on Thursday reported an 8 per cent lift in first-quarter sales growth, its 13th straight quarterly increase.

Supermarket rival Woolworths, which is due to release quarterly sales results next week, fared little better, closing down 53?, or 2.2 per cent, at $24.06.


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