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Aust stocks close lower, dragged back by resources sector

By Trevor Chappell
13 Jan 2009 5:19 PM

MELBOURNE, Jan 13 AAP - The Australian stock market closed lower on Tuesday, weighed upon by a weaker resources sector.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 28.7 points, or 0.78 per cent, at 3,654.6 and the broader All Ordinaries index lost 30.1 points, or 0.83 per cent, to 3,593.9.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange, the March share price index futures contract was 52 points lower at 3,623 on a volume of 21,596 contracts.

ABN Amro Morgans private client adviser Trent Muller said resources stocks pulled back the local bourse on Tuesday.

"Base metals prices copped a big sell-off last night as well as the oil price," Mr Muller said.

"They (resources stocks) are also pulling back to a certain extent on the Alcoa result which demonstrates that the profitability of resources companies this quarter, in terms of reporting, is certainly in question."

US-based alumina refinery operator Alcoa overnight delivered a $US1.19 billion ($A1.75 billion) loss in the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the resources sector on the local market, global miner BHP Billiton fell 40 cents to $30.43.

Rio Tinto sagged 95 cents to $40.35 as it suspended an underground development in New South Wales.

OZ Minerals was still in a trading halt as it placed its Scuddles mine in Western Australia on care and maintenance. OZ last traded at 55 cents.

Alumina slumped nine cents, or 5.92 per cent, to $1.43 as it said it would book a $40 million charge on its 2008 full year earnings.

Oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum fell 93 cents to $34.77, and Santos lost 31 cents to $13.78.

Carbon Energy gained 2.5 cents to 32.5 cents as it said it had produced commercially viable gas from its underground coal gasification demonstration plant in south-east Queensland.

Among the major banks, ANZ Banking Group retreated 23 cents to $14.85 as it has acquired a further 8.4 per cent of Indonesia's PT Panin Bank.

The National Australia Bank dipped 29 cents to $20.35, the Commonwealth bank lifted seven cents to $28.39, and Westpac found 11 cents at $16.55.

Telco Telstra climbed nine cents to $3.74, and Optus-owner Singapore Telecommunications was eight cents richer at $2.57.

In the media sector, News Corp was steady at $13.50 and its non-voting scrip improved four cents to $12.55.

Consolidated Media shed 9.5 cents to $1.955, and Fairfax stepped back six cents to $1.56.

Retailer Woolworths picked up six cents to $26.36. Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, was off 52 cents at $17.49.

In the gold sector, Newmont descended one cent to $5.25, Newcrest was 10 cents heavier at $31.48, and Lihir slipped four cents to $2.68.

The price of gold in Sydney was $US822.65 per fine ounce, down $US28.35 on Monday's close of $US851.00.

Among other stocks, tollway operator Transurban Group was up 22 cents at $5.17 as it said it would not exercise its preemptive right to acquire Macquarie Infrastructure Group's 50 per cent stake in Sydney's Westlink M7 toll road.

MIG was 0.5 cents higher at $1.725.

Information services and training company SAI Global rose eight cents to $2.58 as it agreed to buy financial services provider Espreon for as much as $53.9 million.

Espreon jumped 13 cents to 48 cents.

The top-traded stock by volume was minerals explorer and producer Admiralty Resources, with 37.7 million shares worth $1.4 million changing hands.

Admiralty fell 0.5 cents to 3.5 cents.

National turnover was 909.8 million shares worth $2.3 billion, with 530 stocks down, 335 up and 260 unchanged.

On Wall Street overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 125.13 points to 8,474.05.