Trading resumes without Christmas spirit

THE sharemarket opened after the Christmas break in a less than jolly mood, closing at its lowest for four days as buyers held back.

THE sharemarket opened after the Christmas break in a less than jolly mood, closing at its lowest for four days as buyers held back.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 51.6 points, or 1.25 per cent at 4088.8.

"This is a disappointing day but on the other hand it is the hiatus period and turnover is not that great," said Austock Securities senior client adviser Michael Heffernan. "Given what has happened with the reasonable performance of overseas markets I would have thought we were in for a good day."

The market's retreat from its short pre-Christmas rally appeared to be a response to a report yesterday showing a fall of 3.2 per cent in Japanese household spending in November compared with the previous year. As well, industrial output slowed for the first time in two months due to a fall in production, shipments and inventories.

Japan is Australia's second-biggest export destination and trading partner.

The leading retailers had a disappointing day, with Myer, David Jones, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and Billabong continuing to fall.

"Retailers might have had a bit of a spike on the day before Christmas, but they are in sick conditions, not quite in intensive care," Mr Heffernan said.

He said the market was unlikely to improve until tomorrow or early next week.

"There's a general lack of market-driving announcements or news at the moment," he said. "Investors are wiping the perspiration from their brow and waiting for the 31st of December to roll through."

Shares in Arc Exploration dropped 0.1?, or 10 per cent, to 0.9? after the gold explorer halted operations in Indonesia due to violent and deadly demonstrations. On Christmas Eve, two people were killed and 10 injured while demonstrating against the company's activities in Indonesia.

Rio Tinto fell 2.1 per cent to $60.52 and BHP shed 1.7 per cent to $34.57.

Goldminer Newcrest dropped 69?, or 2.2 per cent, to $30.75 as gold continued to lose ground. At the end of Australian trading, spot gold was at $US1588.31 an ounce, down $US21.63 from Friday.

Financial stocks were also caught in yesterday's down draught, with the sector shedding 1.4 per cent to 3931.1 points.

Atlas Iron shares fell 6?, or 2.12 per cent, to $2.77 after the company sold the Yerecoin magnetite project in Western Australia to

US-based mining company Cliffs Natural Resources for $18 million.

The dollar ended the Australian session at $US1.0150 compared with Friday's $US1.01600.