Australian stocks crept higher in early Thursday trading, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.1% as the heavily weighted financial-sector shares showed strength. Among the "Big Four" banks, National Australia Bank Ltd. rose 0.9%, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group gained 0.3%, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp. added 0.2% each. Shares of Bendigo & Adelaide Bank Ltd. knocked 1.1% higher, coinciding with a note from Morningstar saying its alliance with four credit unions (announced earlier this month) could lead to further deals for the lender. Meanwhile, more losses for the beleaguered iron-ore spot market sent Arrium Ltd. down 2%, while Atlas Iron Ltd. and BC Iron Ltd. fell 2.6% each, though Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. managed to gain 0.4%. Likewise, losses for energy futures hit Karoon Gas Australia Ltd. (down 3%), WorleyParsons Ltd. (down 2.2%) and Santos Ltd. (down 1.5%). Shares of Beach Energy Ltd. were down 2.6% amid news it was tapping Woodside Petroleum Ltd. executive Rob Cole to become its chief executive officer, the first change at the post in 20 years, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Shares of Woodside fell 0.6%.
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