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Australian Market Edges Higher

The Australian stock market is edging higher on Friday in a choppy session following the modest losses overnight on Wall Street and as investors remained cautious amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Gains by banks were offset by weakness in mining and oil stocks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 3.50 points or 0.05 percent to 7,106.70, off a high of 7,115.10 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 0.40 points or 0.01 percent to 7,205.00. Australian stocks closed higher for a third straight day on Thursday.

In the banking space, National Australia Bank is rising more than 2 percent, Commonwealth Bank is advancing more than 1 percent, Westpac is adding 0.6 percent and ANZ Banking is edging up 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the major miners are weak. Fortescue Metals is declining 0.5 percent, while Rio Tinto and BHP are down 0.4 percent each.

Oil stocks are also mostly lower despite crude oil prices edging higher overnight. Santos and Woodside Petroleum are losing more than 1 percent each, while Oil Search is adding 0.3 percent.

Gold miners are mixed even as gold prices rose overnight on safe-haven appeal. Newcrest Mining is losing almost 3 percent, while Evolution Mining is adding almost 1 percent.

Baby Bunting Group reported a 0.6 percent increase in statutory profit for the first half of the year on higher revenues, announced an increase in the interim dividend and maintained its pro forma profit guidance for fiscal 2020. Shares of the specialist baby goods retailer are losing more than 9 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is slightly lower against the US dollar on Friday. The local unit was quoted at $0.6713 on Friday, compared to $0.6716 on Thursday.

On Wall Street, stocks closed modestly lower in a volatile session on Thursday, with profit taking contributing to the initial weakness amid news of a jump in new coronavirus cases in China and as a number of companies continue to warn about the impact of the outbreak. On the U.S. economic front, the Labor Department released a report showing a modest increase in consumer prices in the month of January.

The Dow fell 128.11 points or 0.4 percent to 29,423.31, the Nasdaq edged down 13.99 points or 0.1 percent to 9,711.97 and the S&P 500 dipped 5.51 points or 0.2 percent to 3,373.94.

The major European markets also ended lower on Thursday, but well off their worst levels. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index slumped by 1.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index dipped by 0.2 percent and the German DAX Index closed just below the unchanged line.

Crude oil prices edged higher on Thursday despite lingering concerns about the outlook for energy demand. WTI crude for March ended up $0.25 or about 0.5 percent at $51.42 a barrel.

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