Australian share market closes lower as Woolworths posts almost $1 billion in half-year loss

It was a day of lacklustre trade on the Australian stock market, despite strong gains on overseas markets as G20 finance leaders meet in Shanghai.

The All Ordinaries Index ended at 4,945, and the ASX 200 finished at 4,880, down one point.

Supermarket giant Woolworths posted its first loss in 23 years after it took a nearly $2 billion writedown on its decision to close down or sell its Masters hardware chain.

Woolworths made an after tax loss of $973 million for the first half of the financial year.

It also appointed a new chief executive, Brad Banducci, to replace Grant O'Brien.

Woolworths shares fell early on but recovered to close up 2 per cent or 45 cents to $22.34.

Businessman Gerry Harvey said the housing boom and strong Christmas sales boosted Harvey Norman's half-year profit.

The retailer posted an after-tax profit of nearly $186 million for the six months to the end of December.

Harvey Norman shares fell 8 cents to $4.53.

Iron ore miners lost ground today after the price of iron ore fell, while Rio Tinto dropped 3 per cent to $40.00.

BHP Billiton shares fell 2.5 per cent to $15.59, and the company said negotiations were continuing with Brazilian authorities over compensation for last year's mine disaster in Brazil.

Brazil is seeking damages from BHP Billiton and its partners, Vale and Samarco.

Meanwhile, BHP Billiton investors in the United States have launched a class action against the big miner.

Asian markets were stronger after the governor of the Chinese central bank said more easing of monetary policy was possible.

At about 5:00pm AEST spot gold was higher at $US1,239.00 an ounce.

Oil prices rose overnight but slipped today. West Texas Crude oil gained to $US32.17 a barrel, and Tapis Crude was at $US36.90 a barrel.

The Australian dollar eased back against the greenback this afternoon to 72.2 US cents.

It was buying 65.2 Euro cents, 81.3 Japanese yen, 51.6 British pence and nearly $NZ1.07.

Source: ABC News

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