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Australian Market Trades Weak

The Australian stock market is trading weak on Wednesday with investors pressing some sales, tracking a weak lead from Wall Street where stocks drifted lower overnight after the minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary meeting indicated the members unwillingness to initiate another round of quantitative easing.

Energy, mining and industrial stocks are trading weak, while healthcare, telecommunications and information technology stocks are edging higher. Financial and consumer discretionary stocks are trading mixed.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which declined to 4,316.4 in early trades, is currently down 8.3 points or 0.2 percent at 4,328.7. The broader All Ordinaries index is down 10 points or 0.2 percent at 4,414.4, off an early low of 4,403.5.

Top miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are down 1.7 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. Newcrest Mining and Fortescue Metals are also trading notably lower.

David Jones is trading lower by over 5 percent. Perseus Mining, Boart Longyear, Alumina, Paladin Energy, Panaust, CSR and Downer EDI are down 2 to 3 percent.

Metcash, Campbell Brothers, Seek, Atlas Iron, Iluka Resources, Aquarius Platinum and Boral are also trading notably lower.

QBE Insurance Group shares are up more than a percent. The insurer expects its premiums to rise by more than seven percent in 2012 after an unprecedented number of natural disasters. QBE has described 2011 as one of the worst years for catastrophic events, contributing to a 45 percent fall in its net profit for the year to A$683.79 million.

Transfield Services plunged 15 per cent in early trade after it cut its full-year profit forecast by about a fifth. The company said it now expects net profit for 2011-2012 would be A$105 million, before amortization. In February, the company had forecast full-year net profit of at the lower end of the A$130 million to A$135 million range.

On the economic front, Australia's services sector remained in contraction in March, but the level of activity improved slightly from February, according to data released Wednesday. The Australian Industry Group-Commonwealth Bank's Performance of Services Index reading for March was 47.0, an increase of 0.3 from the February reading of 46.7.

"The further slowing of the services sector in March and the associated fall in selling prices, employment and new orders reinforces the picture of a national economy in which large sectors have no or only very little momentum," said AIG Chief Executive Innes Wilcox.

On Wall Street, stocks ended mostly lower on Tuesday with traders reacting to the minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest monetary policy meeting that indicated that the members were less willing to initiate another round of quantitative easing amid signs of improvement of the U.S. economy.

The Dow ended down 64.9 points or 0.5 percent at 13,199.5, the Nasdaq edged down 6.1 points or 0.2 percent to 3,113.6 and the S&P 500 slid 5.7 points or 0.4 percent to 1,413.3.

Major European markets too closed weak on Tuesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index declined by 0.6 percent, the German DAX index and the French CAC 40 index tumbled by 1.1 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

U.S. crude oil futures closed lower on Tuesday, on continued worries over demand growth while the dollar pushed ahead following the release of Federal Reserve policy meeting minutes. Crude for May delivery dropped $1.22 or 1.2 percent to close at $104.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTT Staff Writer

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