Aust shares finished 0.5% lower
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The Australian share market pared back early losses to finish lower for the second consecutive day as weaker global markets weighed on local sentiment.
The losses on Tuesday came after global markets posted significant falls for the first time in 2013.
At the close on Tuesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 24.8 points, or 0.51 per cent, weaker at 4,882.7, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 26.5 points, or 0.54 per cent, at 4,902.6.
On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 27 points down at 4,842, with 25,126 contracts traded.
US and European markets fell sharply overnight, highlighting how fragile investor confidence is amid claims of improper political payments in Spain, which sent bond yields there soaring.
The long-term worry was if the Spanish instability dragged on, it could be unsettling for markets.
Options Xpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said Monday's losses had insulated the Australian share market from heavier falls on Tuesday as global investors worried about Europe.
"It could have been a lot worse today for the Australian share market," Mr Le Brun said.
"It's been mildly encouraging, given the leads and the indicators that we go off."
The profit-reporting season in Australia had a lacklustre start, with Cochlear shedding nine per cent of its share price, while the Reserve Bank's decision to keep the cash rate steady didn't stimulate investors.
Most sectors were down in Australia, including the dominant financials and resources, with only defensives gaining.
Macquarie Group updated the market on its operations on Tuesday, saying its capital markets businesses continued to experience subdued conditions.
Macquarie forecast a jump in net profit of 10 per cent, but that was below expectations and the investment bank's shares were down $1.57, or 4.05 per cent, at $37.16.
Among the major banks, Commonwealth eased 41 cents to $64.30, ANZ gained nine cents to $26.64, National Australia Bank lost 26 cents to $27.79 and Westpac slipped two cents to $27.92.
In the resources sector, global miner BHP Billiton dropped 63 cents to $37.18, and Rio Tinto fell 66 cents to $67.33.
Fortescue Metals shed five cents to $4.74.
Bionic ear maker Cochlear returned to profitability with net profit of $77.7 million for the six months to December, up from a $20.4 million loss in the previous corresponding period.
However, investors were unimpressed, with its shares down $7.50, or 9.3 per cent, at $72.96.
Toll road operator Transurban posted a first half profit drop of 16 per cent to $81.1 million, and its securities were up six cents at $6.16.
The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1,675.86 per fine ounce, up $US3.21 from $1672.65 on Monday.
There were 1.758 billion securities traded worth $4.86 billion, with 337 stocks up, 598 down and 396 steady.