Australian stocks snatched solid gains in early Wednesday trading, as investors awaited key Chinese economic data that could significantly influence the market's direction. The S&P/ASX 200 sat 0.8% higher about 45 minutes into the day, with many blue-chip retailers outperforming (Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. up 2.2%, Wesfarmers Ltd. up 1.2%) despite a more-than-3% drop in July's reading of the Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer-sentiment survey. Bank stocks helped support the market as well, with National Australia Bank Ltd. and Westpac Banking Corp. up 1% each. On the downside, a 1% drop for benchmark iron-ore prices Tuesday helped push BHP Billiton Ltd. down 0.7% and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. down 2.1%, though Mt. Gibson Iron Ltd. rallied more than 10% after the company reported a sharp drop in cash reserves and lower June output but also detailed its cost-cutting efforts. Later in the morning, China was due to announce its quarterly economic growth, along with June retail sales and industrial output. China is the top market for Australia's exports.
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