Aust stocks close lower
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Australian stocks have finished weaker with the gold sector leading the broader market lower during a quiet day's trade.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed down 9.7 points, or 0.21 per cent, at 4,573.4 points on Monday, while the broader All Ordinaries index fell 7.1 points, or 0.15 per cent, to 4,588 points.
On the ASX 24, the December share price index futures contract was eight points lower at 4,573 points.
After opening down about 0.3 per cent, the local market regained some of the lost ground throughout the day amid subdued trading conditions, as investors waited for news from Washington over the looming US budget deadline.
CMC Markets senior trader Tim Waterer said investors were growing more cautious by the day as the yet-to-be-resolved fiscal cliff issue imposed a dampening effect on any market reaction to positive economic indicators.
"Overall, it was a rather nondescript performance by the Australian bourse with any distinct market direction proving to be elusive in light of the ongoing US fiscal cliff talks," Mr Waterer said in a research note.
A series of US tax hikes and government spending cuts, referred to as the fiscal cliff, were due to hit at the start of calendar 2013.
Unless an agreement is reached, these measures were expected to push the US economy back into recession, which would have a significant knock-on impact on the global economy.
The materials sector - a big component of the Australian market that included mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto - rose 0.19 per cent in response to firmer iron oil prices during weekend offshore trading.
BHP climbed 28 cents to $36.35, while Rio finished 52 cents firmer at $63.52.
On a negative note, gold was the worst-performing sector on Monday, falling 2.76 per cent, according to IRESS data.
Newcrest posted the biggest decline among stocks on the S&P/ASX20, with the gold miner tumbling 2.73 per cent, or 65 cents, to $23.20.
The spot price of gold in Sydney finished at $US1,691.75 per fine ounce, down $US5.40 from Friday's local close of $US1,697.15 per ounce.
Making news on Monday, Fortescue Metals said it planned to sell a stake in its prized Pilbara rail and port assets to tackle debt.
Fortescue gained 16 cents at $4.47.
Shares in Billabong jumped after a report said a former director has made a $527 million offer for the struggling surfwear retailer.
Billabong shares were up 4.81 per cent, or 4.5 cents at 98 cents on the news, before the company called for a trading halt ahead of an announcement.
National market turnover was 1.3 billion securities worth $3.1 billion, with 422 stocks up, 474 down and 356 unchanged.