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Australian Market Edges Higher After Early Weakness

After a flat start and a subsequent fall, the Australian stock market is edging higher amid stock specific activity on Thursday. Healthcare and mining stocks are finding modest support, while stocks from energy and utilities sections are trading weak.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which declined to 4,907.9, after opening flat, rebounded subsequently and is currently trading at 4,925.5, up 4.5 points from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is up 6.6 points at 4,947.1 after falling to 4,928.3.

Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank (ANZ) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are trading modestly higher. National Australia Bank is up 1.8 percent, while Westpac (WBK) is down marginally. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are trading modestly lower.

Among top miners, BHP Billiton (BHP), Rio Tinto (RIO) and Newcrest Mining are up 0.3 to 0.7 percent, while Fortescue Metals is up nearly 2 percent.

News Corp. (NWS) shares are down 4 percent. Whitehaven Coal, Mirvac Group and Origin Energy are trading lower by 3.3 to 3.6 percent.

Perseus Mining is trading lower by 2.6 percent. Iluka Resources, ASX, Fairfax Media, AMP, Atlas Iron, PanAust, Suncorp Group, Spark Infrastructure, Cochlear and Treasury Wine Estates are down 1.4 to 2 percent.

Primary Healthcare is extending recent gains on strong results, adding 2.3 percent. Arrium is also up more than 2 percent.

On the economic front, Australia had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in January, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday. That was unchanged from the previous month, and it also beat forecasts for 5.5 percent.

The Australian economy created 10,400 jobs in January - well ahead of forecasts for an increase of 6,000 jobs after 5,500 jobs were lost in the previous month.

According to a survey by the National Australia Bank, Australian businesses recorded their toughest three months of trading since emerging from the depths of the global financial crisis. The survey showed both conditions and confidence deteriorated to levels not seen since the first half of 2009.

While business confidence fell to an index level of minus five in the December quarter, the weakest result since the three months to March 2009, conditions slumped to minus six, a level not seen since the June quarter of 2009.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was quoting at US$1.0321 in early trades, down from Wednesday's close of US$1.0356.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong and South Korea are trading higher, while Malaysia, Japan and New Zealand are trading weak.

On Wall Street, stocks turned in a lackluster performance on Wednesday, amid uncertainty about the outlook for the markets after recent strength lifted the Dow and the S&P 500 to five-year highs.

The major averages ended the day mixed, although they were all nearly unchanged. While the Nasdaq edged down 3.1 points or 0.1 percent to 3,168.5, the Dow inched up 7.2 points or 0.1 percent to 13,986.5 and the S&P 500 crept up 0.8 points or 0.1 percent to 1,512.1.

Major European markets too ended mixed on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index edged up by 0.2 percent, the German DAX index and the French CAC 40 index tumbled by 1.1 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.

U.S. crude oil settled marginally lower on Wednesday after a report from the Energy Information Administration showed U.S. oil stockpiles to have increased last week. Crude for March delivery ended down $0.02 or 0.02 percent at $96.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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