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Australian Market Drifts Lower

The Australian stock market has pared early gains and slipped into negative territory on Thursday despite the positive cues overnight from Wall Street for the fourth straight session and the surge in crude oil prices.

Gains by oil stocks were offset by weakness in mining stocks after mining giant BHP Group's shares went ex-dividend and as banks trade mixed.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 6.90 points or 0.12 percent to 5,771.40, after rising to a high of 5,794.50 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 5.90 points or 0.10 percent to 5,832.50. Australian stocks hit a five-week higher on Wednesday, rising for the third straight day.

The major miners are also mostly weak. BHP Group is losing more than 4 percent after paying a special dividend, and Fortescue Metals is lower by more than 2 percent, while Rio Tinto is adding 0.2 percent.

The big four banks are mixed. ANZ Banking is rising 0.3 percent and Westpac up is 0.1 percent, while Commonwealth Bank is declining 0.3 percent and National Australia Bank is down 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, oil stocks are higher after crude oil prices gained more than 5 percent overnight. Santos and Oil Search are advancing more than 1 percent each, while Woodside Petroleum is adding 0.5 percent.

Gold miner Evolution Mining is rising more than 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is adding 0.5 percent after gold prices rose overnight.

Shares of Costa Group Holdings are tumbling almost 35 percent after the horticultural company reported subdued demand for products such as tomatoes, avocado and berries.

Map provider Nearmap's shares are gaining almost 10 percent on upbeat first-half guidance.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7172, up from $0.7155 on Wednesday.

On Wall Street, stocks rose for the fourth consecutive session on Wednesday, continuing to benefit from optimism about a potential trade deal between the U.S. and China after talks between U.S. and Chinese officials were extended to a third day. In addition, minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting confirmed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's recent remarks suggesting the central bank will take a patient approach to further interest rate increases.

The Dow climbed 91.67 points or 0.4 percent to 23,879.12, the Nasdaq advanced 60.08 points or 0.9 percent to 6,957.08 and the S&P 500 rose 10.55 points or 0.4 percent to 2,584.96.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index climbed 0.7 percent, the German DAX Index and the French CAC 40 Index both advanced by 0.8 percent.

Crude oil prices rose on Wednesday amid easing worries about energy demand and on data showing a drop in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to January 4. WTI crude for February advanced $2.58 or 5.2 percent to close at $52.36 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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