Australian stocks took a modest pullback early Friday, with the S&P/ASX 200 down 0.2% as softer banking shares led the way lower. After a 1% retreat for S&P 500 on Wall Street just ahead of Thursday's New Year's holiday, Australian financials followed suit, with National Australia Bank Ltd. down 1.1%, Macquarie Group Ltd. down 1.2%, and QBE Insurance Group Ltd. down 1.3%, while Australia & New Zealand Banking Group and Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell a more modest 0.3% apiece. Over in the mining sector, BHP Billiton Ltd. lost 0.7%, and Rio Tinto Ltd. edged down 0.1%, but iron-ore names shrugged off weak Chinese manufacturing data and focused instead on a reported two-month high for Chinese iron-ore futures -- this helped send Arrium Ltd. up 5.6%, Atlas Iron Ltd. up 12%, and BC Iron Ltd. up 7.6%. On the other hand, losses for oil since the last Sydney stock session pushed Santos Ltd. down 0.6%, while Karoon Gas Australia Ltd. and Oil Search Ltd. lost 0.8% each.
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