SYDNEY, AAP – BHP shares have crashed by more than six per cent as a host of heavyweight stocks trading ex-dividend lowered the Aussie market.

CSL and Woolworths were among the ex-dividend trade and lost a bit less than two per cent as investors forced the ASX 200 to its biggest loss in more than two weeks.

CommSec market analyst Steven Daghlian said the plunge in BHP’s stock price was due to its hefty final dividend of $US2 per share.

“That dividend is about three times what BHP paid a year earlier,” he said.

“It’s the type of dividend that might be hard to replicate for a number of halves. The iron ore price is a determining factor for that.”

Iron ore was trading for more than $US200 per tonne earlier in the year.

However, China’s attempts to curb steel production for environmental benefit and its easing economy have caused the price to drop to about $US156 per tonne.

Mr Daghlian said the lion’s share of the market’s losses on Thursday could be blamed on BHP’s performance.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed lower by 41.4 points, or 0.55 per cent, to 7485.7.

The All Ordinaries closed down 29.2 points, or 0.37 per cent, to 7783.8.

The iron ore story also figured in Australia’s record trade surplus of $12.1 billion from July.

A five per cent increase in exports, which included the steelmaking commodity, helped the tally.

There was little response in the trading of the Aussie dollar, which held at about 73 US cents.

In the US, investors gained some insight into what may be expected from official employment data at the end of the week.

Private payrolls data, which offers a more narrow view, showed private employers hired far fewer workers than expected in August.

Investors are viewing each new data release through the prism of whether it could prompt the US central bank to taper economic support sooner rather than later.

They appeared to think the latter. The Nasdaq closed at a record high while the S&P 500 rose and just missed a fresh peak. The Dow slipped.

On the ASX, there was less news since corporate earnings season concluded this week.

Flight Centre will begin offering corporate travel services in Japan. The company’s FCM travel management arm will form a joint venture with Tokyo-based NSF Engagement Corporation.

Flight Centre also has businesses in China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and Singapore.

Shares were up 0.53 per cent to $16.99.

Gas producer Senex has agreed to a four-year deal to supply packaging manufacturer Opal.

Senex will provide natural gas to the Opal site in Sydney at a fixed price.

Shares were down 2.51 per cent to $3.11.

In mining, Fortescue improved by 1.87 per cent to $20.71 prior to trading ex-dividend on Monday.

Rio Tinto shed 0.68 per cent to $108.65. BlueScope Steel lost 1.36 per cent to $24.66.

In banking, Westpac was the only one of the big four to close lower and lost 0.31 per cent to $26.03. The others were higher by less than one per cent.

BetMakers Technology Group was one of the biggest movers. Shares gained 8.51 per cent to $1.27.

The Australian dollar was buying 73.87 US cents at 1728 AEST, higher than 73.30 US cents at Wednesday’s close.

ON THE ASX

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed lower by 41.4 points, or 0.55 per cent, to 7485.7 on Thursday.

* The All Ordinaries closed down 29.2 points, or 0.37 per cent, to 7783.8.

* At 1728 AEST, the SPI200 futures index was up by five points, or 0.07 per cent, to 7466 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 73.87 US cents, from 73.30 cents on Wednesday

* 81.29 Japanese yen, from 80.93 yen

* 62.36 Euro cents, from 62.19 cents

* 53.61 British pence, from 53.35 pence

* 104.31 NZ cents, from 103.96 cents.