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Australian Market Flat Amid Cautious Trades

After a weak start and a subsequent fall to lower levels, the Australian stock market regained some lost ground on Thursday but is still seen struggling to force its way up into positive territory with investors mostly treading cautiously following a weak lead from Wall Street.

Mining, industrial and energy stocks are trading weak, while information technology, healthcare and consumer staples stocks are edging higher.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which recovered to 4,347.6 after falling to 4,328.7, is currently trading at 4,341, down 2.5 points from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is down 5 points at 4,426.5, off an early low of 4,414.6.

Shares of construction firm Leighton Holdings are down more than 7 percent after the company cut its profit forecast by nearly a third due to further losses from its Brisbane Airport Link and Victorian desalination plant works.

Leighton now expects underlying profit for calendar 2012 to be between A$400 million and A$450 million, down from its previous forecast of A$600 million to A$650 million.

Panaust, Bank of Queensland, Boart Longyear, Aquarius Platinum and Sims Metal Management are down 2.2 to 4 percent.

WorleyParsons, Treasury Wine Estates, Lend Lease Group, Caltex Australia, News Corporation, Oz Minerals and Perseus Mining are trading lower by 1.4 to 2 percent.

Beach Energy, which declined by over 3.5 percent after the company announced that it has successfully secured A$267 million in the first stage of a A$345 million capital raising, is currently trading lower by about 1.5 percent.

Computershare, CSL, Cochlear, Primary Healthcare and Spark Infrastructure are trading higher by 1.7 to 3 percent.

On the economic front, the number of job vacancies in Australia rose 0.7 percent in February, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The total number of vacancies in February 2012 was 182,200, in seasonally-adjusted terms, compared with 180,900 in the previous quarterly survey in November, the data revealed. The number of job vacancies in the private sector was 165,300 in February, a rise of 1.0 percent from 163,700 in November.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened weak following a decline in global stock markets. In early trades, the Aussie was quoting at US$1.0396, down nearly 0.4 percent from Wednesday's close of US$1.0435.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are trading weak, while New Zealand is up marginally. Markets across the region ended mostly lower on Wednesday.

On Wall Street, stocks drifted lower on Wednesday, extending the downward move seen going into the close of the previous session. Disappointing U.S. economic data contributed to the continued weakness in the markets.

The major averages ended the session well off their worst levels of the day but still closed in the red. The Dow ended down 71.5 points or 0.5 percent at 13,126.2, the Nasdaq dropped 15.4 points or 0.5 percent to 3,105, and the S&P 500 slid 7 points or 0.5 percent to 1,405.5.

Major European markets also closed notably lower on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index lost 1 percent, the French CAC 40 index and the German DAX index both ended the day down by 1.1 percent.

U.S. crude oil futures snapped a three-day gain to close sharply lower on Wednesday, due to a sharp rise in crude stockpiles. Crude for May delivery dropped $1.92 or 1.8 percent to close at $105.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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