Law firm takes its case to UK

LISTED law firm Slater Gordon has made its first overseas acquisition after picking up British firm Russell Jones Walker.

The $80 million deal, expected to be completed by April, marks Slater Gordon’s largest acquisition to date.

Their stock gained 1.69 per cent, or 3c, to $1.80.

On the broader market, Australian shares ended lower as investors took profits ahead of the February profit reporting season, with the stocks of retail giants Woolworths and Wesfarmers among the targets.

Weaker consumer staples and financial stocks helped to pull the market back from positive territory after it opened slightly stronger in defiance of a weak lead from Wall St.

The ASX 200 index closed down 15.7 points at 4271.7, while the All Ordinaries index was down 4.9 points at 4334.4.

The major miners were mixed after heads of resource companies met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss concerns of growing “resource nationalism” — chiefly the Minerals Resources Rent Tax and this year’s carbon impost.

BHP Billiton was up 1c at $37.67 while Rio Tinto lost 78c at $69.

Among the worst performers on the market was the consumer staples sector, which lost 0.7 per cent, as investors remained wary of possible earnings downgrades this week.

City Index chief market analyst Peter Esho said he expected Woolworths’ second-quarter sales results at below market expectations.

Woolworths shares hit a two-month low at $24.45, down 32c, while Wesfarmers shed 16c to $30.17.

The financial sector lost 0.5 per cent, with the big banks down between 0.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent.

National Australia Bank fell 17c to $23.91, ANZ was down 3c at $21.47, Commonwealth Bank was off 12c at $51.04 and Westpac was 19c weaker at $21.10.

Leighton Holdings was down 28c at $23.45 even though subsidiary Thiess and a Belgian company have jointly won a $260 million contract to help develop a port in northern Western Australia.

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