Australian stocks receded in early Monday trade, with a heavy drop in imports from China -- the nation's top trading partner -- helping depress the top miners and send the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 down 0.2% after edging 0.2% higher on Friday. Following data out Sunday showing a sharp 20% fall in China's January imports amid softness in raw-materials purchases, Australian miners pulled back, with BHP Billiton Ltd. down 1.6%, Atlas Iron Ltd. down 2.6%, Oz Minerals Ltd. down 1%, and a weakening for gold prices pressing Evolution Mining Ltd. down 3.9%. Rio Tinto Ltd. saw a slightly milder loss of 0.7% as J.P. Morgan predicted the mining major would announce an up-to-US$2-billion share repurchase when it issues its full-year results on Thursday, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Meanwhile, financials opened lower in the wake of losses Friday on the U.S. markets, but some names managed to crawl back to positive territory in the early minutes, with Macquarie Group Ltd. up 0.5%, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank Ltd. just fractionally higher, but Westpac Banking Corp. down 0.3%. Energy shares also saw some updrift as crude-oil futures extended their Friday gains into early Monday trading. Santos Ltd. rose 0.7%, Oil Search Ltd. improved and Karoon Gas Australia Ltd. added 0.4% apiece, and WorleyParsons Ltd. outperformed with a 1.4% advance as Dow Jones Newswires reported the company had signed a contract with Vancouver-based Steelhead LNG. Political news that Prime Minister Tony Abbott had survived a leadership challenge by members of his Liberal Party appeared to have little obvious impact on the market.
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