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MELBOURNE - The Australian stock market closed in negative territory amid uncertainty about the health of the American economy despite this week's half a percentage point interest rate cut by the US Federal Reserve.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index lost 35.8 points to 6357.8, while the all ordinaries dipped 29.7 points to 6371.2.

At 1615 AEST on the Sydney Futures Exchange, the December share price index contract was 45 points lower at 6408, on a volume of 15,239 contracts.

CMC Markets dealer Matthew Lewis said the market got off to a poor start following a weak lead from Wall Street overnight.

"There is still uncertainty among traders about the overall health of the US economy, particularly the housing market, and this negativity has flowed on to the local market today," Mr Lewis said.

"Traders are still on a nervous wait until next week when key economic data including US home sales and consumer confidence data will be released."

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 48.86 points to 13,766.70, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index shed 10.28 points to 1,518.75 and the Nasdaq dipped 12.19 points to 2,654.29.

Locally, the big miners were mixed, with Rio Tinto putting on 51 cents to A$103.21 and rival BHP Billiton losing one cent to A$41.00.

Junior explorer Cazaly Resources picked up two cents to 34 cents on the news it would take its battle to wrest control of the Shovelanna iron ore tenement from Rio Tinto to the High Court.

The banking sector was weaker, with ANZ losing two cents to A$28.40, the National Australia Bank shedding 50 cents to A$37.49, the Commonwealth Bank dropping 26 cents to A$55.64 and Westpac dipping 12 cents to A$27.29.

Sky City soared 91 cents to A$4.59 as the New Zealand-based gaming firm revealed that it had received a confidential takeover approach.

Life Therapeutics surged 14.5 cents or 46 per cent to 46 cents after the blood products firm announced it had received an unsolicited offer of USA$50 million (AA$58.1 million) from Swiss-based Octapharma AG for its plasma collection centres.

The retailers were weaker, with Woolworths dropping 41 cents to A$29.54, Coles giving up 22 cents to A$14.98, David Jones losing 15 cents to A$4.90 and Harvey Norman shedding 14 cents to A$5.85.

Commercial printer PMP added 1.5 cents to A$1.50 after the company bought Times Printers (Australia) Pty Ltd for A$80 million from Times Publishing Ltd of Singapore.

The media sector was weaker, with News Corp dipping 31 cents to A$26.59, its non-voting shares retreating 26 cents to A$24.99, Fairfax falling one cent to A$4.52 and PBL losing seven cents to A$18.68.

The energy sector was mixed, with Woodside finding 85 cents to A$49.22, Oil Search dropping one cent to A$4.37 and Santos dropping 36 cents to A$14.32.

The spot price of gold was higher and at 1622 AEST was trading at US$736.60 an ounce, up US$11.10 an ounce from yesterday's local close.

The gold miners were mixed, with Newmont adding three cents to A$5.50, Lihir picking up five cents to A$3.84 and Newcrest losing 24 cents to A$28.56.

Empire Oil & Gas was the most traded stock on the market today with 179.57 million shares changing hands, worth A$5.32 million.

The oil and gas explorer added 0.4 cents to three cents.

Preliminary market turnover reached 1.68 billion shares worth A$5.19 billion, with 641 stocks up, 583 stocks down and 337 unchanged.

- AAP