Stores sag as index loses more ground

INVESTOR gloom about the perilous state of the retail sector yesterday sent shares in some of the country's biggest operators to new lows for the year.

INVESTOR gloom about the perilous state of the retail sector yesterday sent shares in some of the country's biggest operators to new lows for the year.

Myer slipped 2? to $1.93 while

JB Hi-Fi, once the sector darling due to its focus on electronic games and personal electrical equipment, shed 15? to end at $11.20.

They and the rest of the main players, including David Jones, Premier Investments the group behind Portmans, Just Jeans and Dotti Harvey Norman and Kathmandu, will see out the old year with their stocks much lower than they started.

David Jones, whose share price was steady yesterday at $2.38 but still at the bottom of its 2011 trading range, has halved in value since touching $4.87 in late January. Myer has fared almost as badly, dropping 49 per cent since early February when it was trading at $3.75.

The tough trading conditions arising from lower consumer spending and the growing trend towards online shopping has also hurt mainstream retailers such as Harvey Norman, which is down $1.37 since its 2011 high of $3.22 in January. Yesterday it slipped 0.5? to close at $1.81.

JB Hi-Fi is off almost $9 after touching $20.13 at the end of March.

Shares in Kathmandu, which managed to buck the downward trend until as late as mid-November before it put out a profit warning, have plunged from $2.02 to $1.31 in the past six weeks.

There is also been little respite for Solomon Lew's Premier Investments in the past fortnight as its stock has followed the ASX retail index down, giving up more than 70?. Premier shed another 5? yesterday to close at $4.77, almost $2 below its high for the year in April.

The sector's continuing poor

performance saw four retailers appear in a growing league table of new lows for 2011 by the close of business on the ASX yesterday.

It would have been of little comfort to them to know that another

51 stocks many in the resource sector were in the same table.

Together, they contributed to the S&P/ASX 200 Index losing 17.7 points, or 0.43 per cent, to 4071.1.

It was the second drop in

successive days as anxiety

resurfaced over the scale of debt in the euro zone, leading to a rush into the US dollar in turn, putting downward pressure on commodities and the Australian dollar.

But some investors remain upbeat about the prospects for 2012. Bell Potter senior adviser Stuart Smith said the market was hugely undervalued. "You have the

despondency in the market on one hand that is providing an opportunity on the other," he said.