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Aust stocks close lower after falls from resources and banks

By Ben Sharples
12 Jan 2009 5:45 PM

MELBOURNE, Jan 12 AAP - The Australian stock market closed lower on Monday amid falls in the resources and banking sectors as a a key employment measure indicated a rising jobless rate in 2009.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 52.4 points, or 1.4 per cent, lower at 3,683.3 points, while the broader All Ordinaries shed 56.4 points, or 1.53 per cent, to 3,624.0.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange, the March share price index contract was 25 points lower at 3675, on a volume of 20,586 contracts.

"Despite stronger commodity prices overnight we have continued to see weakness in that materials sector, and expectations are that we'll probably see softer commodity prices over the next six months," CMC Markets senior dealer Dominic Vaughan said.

"It looks like this global economy is going to remain very weak, and today's ANZ job numbers reflect what's happening in Australia at the moment."

ANZ Banking Group employment data out on Monday points to a rising jobless rate in 2009, and economists are tipping a recession within coming months.

The Australian share market opened nearly two per cent lower after a 16-year high in the United States unemployment rate caused Wall Street to tumble.

Locally, BHP Billiton lost 87 cents, or 2.74 per cent, to $30.83, while rival Rio Tinto shed $2.63, or 5.99 per cent, to $41.30.

Rio Tinto, the world's second largest iron ore producer, has postponed a $3 billion expansion to its Corumba iron ore mine in Brazil.

The energy sector was weaker, with Woodside Petroleum losing 28 cents to $35.70, Santos dropping 38 cents to $14.09, and Oil Search falling eight cents to $4.65.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US851.00 per fine ounce, down $US5.25 on Friday's local close of $US856.25 an ounce.

The gold miners were mixed, with Newcrest adding 73 cents to $31.38, Newmont dropping six cents to $5.25, and Lihir losing three cents to $2.72.

The banking sector was weaker, with National Australia Bank losing 36 cents to $20.64, Commonwealth Bank falling 48 cents to $28.32, ANZ dropping 12 cents to $15.08, and Westpac shedding six cents to $16.44.

Babcock & Brown shares are in a trading halt as the troubled investment bank awaits word from its bankers on a business plan to escape insolvency.

The investment bank's shares last traded at 32.5 cents.

Mirrabooka Investments stock was steady at $1.40 despite reporting a 36 per cent decline in first-half net profit as the financial crisis dented the value of assets.

Automotive brakes maker Pacifica Group gained five cents to 30 cents despite noting it may report an impairment as a result of the troubled state of the automotive industry.

The retailers were mixed, with Woolworths gaining seven cents to $26.30, Harvey Norman adding one cent to $2.45, Wesfarmers losing 94 cents to $18.01, and David Jones falling six cents to $3.00.

The media sector was weaker, with Consolidated Media Holdings giving up three cents to $2.05, and Fairfax shedding 7.5 cents to $1.62.

News Corp dipped 32 cents to $13.50, and its non-voting shares retreated 23 cents to $12.51.

Junior explorer Admiralty Resources was the most traded stock on the market by volume, with 87.3 million shares worth $3.45 million changing hands.

Admiralty shares put on 0.2 cents to four cents.

Market turnover was 981 million shares worth $1.93 billion, with 361 stocks moving up, 507 moving down and 246 unchanged.