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Australian Market Notably Lower

The Australian stock market is notably lower on Friday, following the overnight plunge on Wall Street and as oil and metal prices slid to their lowest in several weeks.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 87.50 points or 1.49 percent to 5,803.20, off a low of 5,786.80 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 90.60 points or 1.51 percent to 5,904.60. Australian shares ended modestly higher on Thursday.

In the oil sector, Santos is losing almost 3 percent, Woodside Petroleum is down more than 2 percent and Oil Search is declining almost 2 percent after crude oil prices fell 1 percent overnight.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto is declining almost 2 percent, BHP Billiton is losing more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is down 0.3 percent.

Among the big four banks, ANZ Banking, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are lower in a range of 0.9 percent to 1.2 percent. Shares of National Australia Bank are edging down less than 0.1 percent.

Bucking the trend, gold miners Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining are adding almost 2 percent and 6 percent, respectively after gold prices edged higher overnight.

Skycity Entertainment Group reported an 11.6 percent increase in first-half group net profit and said that while the Darwin casino's future is still under review, the property's financial performance is expected to improve in the second half of the year. The casinos operator's shares are advancing more than 1 percent.

News Corp. reported a first-half net loss that narrowed from last year, reflecting a 32 percent increase in earnings from its digital real estate business. However, the media giant's shares are losing almost 1 percent.

REA Group's Australian business unit reported a 21 percent increase in half-year underlying profit, while net profit fell 55 percent. The News Corp. controlled digital real estate advertiser's shares are up 0.2 percent.

Myer Holdings has warned of more writedowns after its sales fell 6.5 percent in the key January trading period. The department store chain's shares are falling almost 10 percent.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the total number of new home loans issued in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent on month in December, coming in at 55,161. That missed forecasts for a decline of 1.0 percent following the 2.1 percent increase in November.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia will release its quarterly statement on monetary policy later in the day.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar fell below the $0.78 level on Thursday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7789, down from US$0.7825 on Wednesday.

On Wall Street, stocks were hammered yet again Thursday, as markets quickly tanked after an initial move higher. Stocks have tumbled from record highs over the past week, as traders grew concerned about inflation and higher interest rates.

The Dow shed 1,032.89 points or 4.15 percent to 23,860.46, and is down more than 10 percent from all-time highs set late January. The S&P 500 index closed off 100.66 points or 3.75 percent at 2,581.00, while the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 274.83 points, or 3.9 percent at 6,777.16.

After snapping a seven session losing streak yesterday, the European markets dropped again Thursday. The DAX of Germany dropped 2.62 percent, the CAC 40 of France fell 1.98 percent and the FTSE 100 of the U.K. declined 1.49 percent.

Crude oil futures fell Thursday, slipping to their lowest in five weeks due to a stronger dollar and demand concerns. WTI crude declined $0.64 or 1 percent to settle at $61.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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