Market's run of gains comes to an end

The share market has reversed after its longest run of gains in nine years.

A surprise contraction in US economic growth spooked investors on Wall Street, and Australian investors followed suit.

The All Ordinaries index lost 0.4 per cent to close at 4,901 while the ASX 200 lost the same amount, to 4,879.

The retail sector was in retreat as investors absorbed the latest quarterly sales from the supermarket chains.

Food and liquor sales at Woolworths supermarkets reached $10.3 billion in the final three months of last year, with sales up 2.5 per cent excluding those at new stores.

Its shares fell 1.3 per cent to $31.24.

Competitor Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, fell 1.4 per cent.

The major banks declined from their multi-year highs; NAB lost 1 per cent to $27.36, while ANZ fared the best, closing unchanged at $26.58.

Mining stocks also lost ground; Rio Tinto fell 1.1 per cent and BHP Billiton lost 0.4 per cent.

Whitehaven Coal shares tumbled 5.5 per cent to $3.28 after the miner warned its full-year earnings could shrink to less than $20 million.

That is less than half the previous guidance of around $50 million.

The company blames the strong Australian dollar and weak coal prices for the earnings downgrade.

Shares in Australia's biggest cattle producer fell 2.8 per cent to $1.22.

The Australian Agricultural Company posted a full-year loss of $8.4 million last year, blaming the ongoing fallout from the suspension of live cattle exports in 2011.

In economic news, figures from the Housing Industry Association showed new home sales rose by more than 6 per cent in December but remain weak overall.

And Reserve Bank data showed demand for home loans continued to slow in the same month, up just 4.5 per cent for the year and remaining at more than 30-year lows.

About 5pm (AEDT), the Australian dollar was declining against most of its major counterparts.

It was buying 104 US cents, 76.6 euro cents, 94.6 Japanese yen and 65.7 British pence.

Spot gold jumped to $US1,680 an ounce, West Texas crude oil edged up to $US98 a barrel and Tapis crude was also slightly higher at $US121.10 a barrel.

Market Data

  • Currencies
    Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.9289+0.0002+0.02%
    AUDUSD=X
    0.5533-0.0002-0.03%
    AUDGBP=X
    0.6719-0.0002-0.03%
    AUDEUR=X
  • Commodities
    Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg