Australia Stocks Lose Steam After Strong Start, End Modestly Higher

By Robb M. Stewart Features Dow Jones Newswires

MELBOURNE, Australia--Australian stocks closed slightly higher Monday after paring gains following a strong start to the day, as banks struggled to hang on to a recovery.

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Although up as much as 0.6% early in the day, the S&P/ASX 200 finished with a gain of 4.3 points, or less than 0.1%, at 5720.2.

The see-sawing came as the end of the Australian financial year draws near, with strength in mining companies and utilities balanced by weakness in technology stocks and property trusts.

The major banks diverged: Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia & New Zealand Banking rose 0.4% and 0.3%, respectively, while Westpac Banking slipped 0.3% and National Australia Bank fell 0.5%.

The lenders remained under a cloud after one of Australia's states last week said it would piggyback on a federal tax on liabilities with its own levy, raising the prospect of other states imposing similar taxes in an effort to bolster their budgets.

QBE Insurance declined 2.2%, extending last week's 10% drop, after it warned of higher claims in its emerging-market operations.

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Among mining companies, BHP Billiton edged up 0.2%, Fortescue Metals Group rose 0.6% and Rio Tinto gained 1.3% after Glencore on Friday sweetened its all-cash offer for the bulk of Rio's Australian coal assets. However, Newcrest Mining lost 1.1% as London gold prices eased after Friday's gains.

Crude-oil prices rose in Asian trading, offering support for energy stocks. Woodside Petroleum gained 0.4% and Santos climbed 1.7%, though Oil Search fell 0.3%.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 26, 2017 03:28 ET (07:28 GMT)