LOS ANGELES – Australia stocks rose early Thursday, with miners leading the way higher after a positive production report from Rio Tinto Ltd. , while overall sentiment got a lift from U.S. gains overnight. The S&P/ASX 200 improved by 0.6% to 5,274.30, with shares of Rio Tinto rising 2.2% after reporting record high iron-ore shipments for 2013 and a sold gain for copper output. Rio's peers also advanced, with BHP Billiton Ltd. up 1.7%, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. ahead by 3.2%, and Oz Minerals Ltd. adding 2.4%. Among the gold producers, Newcrest Mining Ltd. surged 7.2% as J.P. Morgan raised its rating on the shares to overweight from neutral. Banks weren't as lucky, however, with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group down 0.3%, while Westpac Banking Corp. and Commonwealth Bank of Australia lost 0.7% each as Citibank downgraded the trio to neutral from buy, according to Dow Jones Newswires. The Sydney market was also awaiting Australian jobs data for December due out later in the day, with a Wall Street Journal survey tipping a 10,000 gain in net employment and a jobless rate of 5.8%.
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