Australia Stocks Ease, With Retailers Down, Big Miners Up

Australian stocks made their way lower in early Wednesday action, as downbeat consumer data outweighed commodity gains, though with attention firmly fixed on Chinese economic numbers due out later in the day. The S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.2% about 40 minutes into the session, having opened mildly higher but turning down after Westpac's monthly consumer-confidence survey registered a more-than-3% drop, moving further into pessimistic territory. This pushed some of the blue-chip retailers lower, with JB Hi-Fi Ltd. down 2.1%, Myer Holdings Ltd. down 1.4%, Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. down 1.1%, and Billabong International Ltd. down 1.8%. Offsetting those losses were gains for iron-ore miners, after the benchmark spot ore price rebounded back above $50 per metric ton, helping to propel the biggest players higher: Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. up 3.9%, BHP Billiton Ltd. up 2.5%, and Rio Tinto Ltd. up 2.6%, though BC Iron Ltd. down 1.7%, and Mt. Gibson Iron Ltd. diving 6.7%. Similarly, firmer energy prices sent Woodside Petroleum Ltd. up 1.8%, Beach Energy Ltd. up 3.2%, and Karoon Gas Australia Ltd. up 2%. Still, the Chinese data -- including first-quarter GDP, as well as retail sales and industrial output for March -- held the potential to move the Australian market significantly, given China's role as the biggest buyer of Australia's exports. Among other movers, Fairfax Media Ltd. rose 2.5%, extending its rally into a second day after Credit Suisse named the company as among its top stock picks. Panaust Ltd. added 0.6% after China's Guangdong Rising Assets Management urged stockholders to accept its takeover offer despite a rejection from the PanAust board.

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