Australian shares finish 2014 with a drop as traders take a break

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On the last full-day of trade for 2014 Australian shares fell heavily amid thin trading volumes, with many people taking a break for the holidays. A bounce in the iron ore price was not enough to buoy sentiment as oil prices continued their slide.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index and the broader All Ordinaries Index each lost 1 per cent on Tuesday to 5416.6 points and 5392.3 points respectively as the market reversed most of the previous session’s gains of almost 1.5 per cent.

Local shares fell on Tuesday after taking a wobbly lead from offshore. In the United States the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 0.1 per cent, while the S&P 500 edged up 0.1 per cent to a fresh all-time high. In Europe, the FTSE EuroTop 100 was 0.2 per cent stronger despite political uncertainty in Greece after the Parliament rejected the Prime Minister’s nominee for President, forcing a January 25 election.

“The fear is that the Syriza Party will win power and will follow through on their pledge to renegotiate previous bailout terms and basically default on the government’s debt,” National Australia Bank strategist Peter Jolly said. “Various euro zone officials have warned this could push the euro zone back to the brink of collapse a mere 2½ years after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi saved it with his ‘whatever it takes’ pledge.”

With no domestic economic or corporate news of note, local shares continued their slide in the afternoon amid a negative session around major Asian markets.

The ASX will close early on Wednesday ahead of the New Year’s Day public holiday on Thursday. As traders close their books for 2014, Australia’s benchmark index is ahead just 1.2 per cent year-to date. The ASX 200 Accumulation Index, which includes the value of dividends returned, reflects a better annual return, up 6.8 per cent.

“The equity market outlook for 2015 is for more of the same as in 2014, leaving investors looking to reposition at the end of the year really stumped,” Baillieu Holst partner Richard Morrow said.

“High dividend paying blue-chip stocks are still delivering a better return than the bond market but people have nagging doubts about the domestic economy and the corporate earnings outlook. I expect to see a bit of nervousness in the lead-up to February company reporting season,” Mr Morrow said.

The biggest banks and Telstra Corporation have been notable beneficiaries of the hunt for yield in 2014. On Tuesday, they were all lower. Telstra dipped 0.7 per cent to $5.98.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ Banking Group each fell 0.6 per cent to $85.58 and $32.04 respectively. Westpac Banking Corporation and National Australia Bank each dipped 0.4 per cent to $33.20 and $33.53 respectively.

The biggest food and liquor sellers were also softer. Woolworths fell 1.7 per cent to $30.57, while Wesfarmers, owner of Coles, lost 1 per cent to $42.02.

Having rallied strongly on Monday, the two biggest miners dipped on Tuesday despite a 2 per cent jump in the spot price of iron ore, landed in China, to $US68.71 a tonne.

Resources giant BHP Billiton fell 0.7 per cent to $29.48, while main rival Rio Tinto lost 0.8 per cent to $57.56. Australia’s third largest iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group added 0.7 per cent to $2.75.

Energy was the worst-performing ­sector, down 1.9 per cent, as Brent crude oil fell to a new 5½-year low at $US57.63 a barrel. Australia’s biggest oil producer Woodside Petroleum lost 1.4 per cent to $38.03.

Horizon Oil was the worst-performing stock in the ASX 200, dropping 6.1 per cent to 15.5¢. Gold miner Regis Resources was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, up 6.6 per cent at $1.95, as the precious metal’s spot price bounced off the previous day’s falls to $US1188.42 an ounce.

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