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Shares dip as Greek plans unfold

The Australian share market closed weaker yesterday as investors awaited an outcome to Greek debt restructure plans, with eurozone finance ministers meeting last night.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 14.5 points, or 0.34per cent, at 4225.1 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index eased 15.4 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 4287.6 points.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 27 points lower at 4192 points, with more than 15,400 contracts traded.

IG Markets market strategist Stan Shamu said private owners of Greek debt were understood to have made their maximum offer for the losses they were willing to accept under a bond swap.

''This has raised concerns that any further demands may kill off a voluntary agreement,'' Mr Shamu said.

Details of the bond swap were hoped to have been finalised by Friday.


''A lack of an agreement by now is further unsettling investors and risk assets could come undone should more delays materialise,'' Mr Shamu said.

But there remained some division between the two sides on the interest rate of the new bonds Greece will issue, as private bondholders are asking for an average coupon of 4.25per cent, while Greece, the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund are insisting on a 3per cent rate.

Greece is seeking to cut its 350billion euro debt by 100 billion euros by asking creditors for a voluntary cut on their bonds, which will unlock the second bailout package of 130 billion euros. This will be in addition to a 110 billion-euro rescue package that Greece agreed to with the European Union and the IMF in 2010. The debt-stricken country is rushing to finalise a deal by today to secure a second aid package from the European Union and the IMF before a March 20 bond payment of 14.5billion euros.

Australia's producer price index rose 0.3 per cent in the December quarter, below expectations of a 0.4per cent rise, Mr Shamu said.

The weaker than expected rise added to anticipation that third quarter consumer price index (CPI) figures tomorrow would show inflation pressures were subdued enough to keep the door open for a further interest rate cut next month, he said.

Consumer discretionary stocks benefited from the data, Mr Shamu said.

''For some of these retailers, the probability of a rate cut is one of the things driving them higher today,'' Mr Shamu said.

Harvey Norman was up 2c at $2.05 and JB Hi-Fi put on 2c to $12.00.

Market heavyweight BHP Billiton was down 24c at $37.24, Rio Tinto put on 36c to $67.89 and Fortescue Metals Group backtracked 19c, or 3.66 per cent, to $5.

The banking sector was weaker.

Westpac was down 22c at $20.46, ANZ inched 2c lower to $20.87, National Australia Bank gave up 3c to $23.85 and Commonwealth Bank was 9c cheaper at $49.74.

Ansell dipped 1c to $14.96, after the gloves and condoms supplier appointed Koreca Industries to distribute its personal protective equipment products in South Korea.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1671.95 per fine ounce, up $US16.50 from Friday's closing price of $US1655.45. Gold miner Newcrest, which is slated to release its second quarter production report today, fell 24c to $32.20.

Most markets in the Asian region were closed on Monday for the Chinese New Year. National turnover was 1.26 billion shares worth $2.80 billion, with 457 stocks up, 505 down and 354 steady.