Australia Stocks Nudge Higher as Big Banks Recover

By Robb M. Stewart Features Dow Jones Newswires

MELBOURNE, Australia--Australian shares edged higher Monday, buoyed by the biggest banks as they recovered some of last week's heavy selling after the federal government proposed a new levy on their liabilities.

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After a choppy session, the S&P/ASX 200 ticked up 1.5 points to 5838.4.

Gains by financial stocks and a rise in energy companies with a jump in oil prices helped lift an otherwise mixed performance across the market.

Bank stocks were slugged last week after the federal government introduced a levy to raise money to plug its budget deficit. The impost, which will target the five largest banks, continues to be criticized by lenders who warn it will lift lending costs, drag on shareholder payouts and dull their international competitiveness.

After sliding an average 3.1% last week, National Australia Bank rose 1%, Westpac Banking gained 0.8% and Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia & New Zealand Banking each added 0.7%. Macquarie, which will also be hit by the levy, slipped another 0.9% after losing 2.4% last week.

Among energy stocks, Woodside Petroleum was little changed but Oil Search climbed 1.4% and Santos gained 0.3%. Oil futures advanced in Asian trading after energy ministers from Russia and Saudi Arabia said they would back a nine-month extension of global production cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

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After announcing it had received a revised takeover offer from a group led by private-equity firm TPG, Fairfax Media rallied 6.5%.

BHP Billiton picked up 0.3% after it launched a rebranding campaign that will see it drop "Billiton" from its logo and emphasize its Australian roots.

For the day, 2.02 billion shares were traded worth 5.6 billion Australian dollars (US$4.14 billion), Commonwealth Securities said.

Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 15, 2017 03:06 ET (07:06 GMT)