The stock board at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is seen in central Sydney November 6, 2008. Australian shares fell 3.8 percent on Thursday, driven down by miners such as BHP Billiton Ltd, after U.S. economic data stoked fears of a prolonged sl
The stock board at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is seen in central Sydney November 6, 2008. Reuters/Daniel Munoz

 Australian shares failed to maintain early gains and finished modestly lower this holiday-shortened trading session. Volume was very light; in fact today was the quietest day of 2014 with only $1.3bn worth of shares traded.

 The ASX 200 fell by 5pts or 0.1 per cent after slumping by 1 per cent yesterday and surging by 1.5 per cent on Monday. It has been half as busy as usual this week - with investors in holiday mode. The Australian market closed at 14:10 AEDT and will be closed on Thursday.

 A number of markets will close early in the region today including sharemarkets in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. Markets in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are closed today.

 Global markets finished weaker overnight with the Dow Jones Industrial Index (a measure of 30 of the largest US companies) closing below 18,000 points for the first time in a week while shares in Europe slumped by more than 1 per cent.

 Energy stocks finished 0.3 per cent firmer after yesterday's 2 per cent slump. The price of oil improved by 1 per cent overnight which helped Santos (STO) rise by 0.6 per cent.

 Mining companies rose by 0.1 per cent following Tuesday's 1 per cent slump. The price of iron ore surged by 4.6 per cent to US$71.2/tonne while gold improved by 1.6 per cent. Newcrest Mining (NCM) rose by 0.5 per cent while BHP Billiton (BHP) slipped by 0.3 per cent.

 Markets this year globally have had mixed performances. Shares in Australia rose by 1.1 per cent and underperformed most in the region. Shares in Shanghai have surged by 49 per cent while Japan's Nikkei is up 7 per cent. The S&P500 in the US has improved by 12.5 per cent, while European equities have been sluggish.

 Most sectors in Australia improved this year. Property trusts and healthcare stocks have surged by 21 per cent, while telcos rose by 14 per cent. A close to halving in value of iron ore and oil since 1 January has pushed both the energy and mining industries 15 per cent lower Year-To-Date (YTD) (since 1 January).

 Qantas (QAN) has been one of the best improvers; surging by 119 per cent this year, while iron ore producers were hardest hit. FMG fell 52 per cent while smaller producers Atlas Iron (AGO) and BC Iron (BCI) have slumped by 80 per cent YTD.

 Volume was very light with only 671.9m shares traded worth just $1.38bn. 512 stocks are up, 254 down and 296 are unchanged. The Australian dollar buys US$0.82, €0.674, £0.527 and ¥97.9.

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