Australian stocks eased off of their six-week highs to trade mildly lower early Tuesday, with the S&P/ASX 200 down 0.1%, weighed in large part by the resource shares. Stock in BHP Billiton Ltd. traded 1.4% lower as the mining major said it was looking to sell its shale-gas assets in Fayetteville, Ark., which The Wall Street Journal described as a "poorly timed and expensive" investment. BHP's rival Rio Tinto Ltd. lost 1.3%, and overnight losses for gold futures sent Evolution Mining Ltd. down 4.6% and Perseus Mining Ltd. down 4.4%. Among the iron-ore plays, Atlas Iron Ltd. lost 3.6%, Mt. Gibson Iron Ltd. fell 3.2%, and BC Iron Ltd. tumbled 6.8% after cutting its sales target for the fiscal year through next June due to issues at some of its mines in Western Australia. On the other hand, mining-services company Boart Longyear Ltd. rallied 6.3% as its financial rescue continued apace. Meanwhile, bank shares started mixed but soon moved mostly higher, as Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.4%, Westpac Banking Corp. added 0.5%, and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 0.7% after accidently releasing some of its earnings numbers early, with UBS saying the implied annual cash profit slightly beat expectations. (While the accidental publishing occurred Friday, the bank's shares were halted Monday.) On the energy front, falling crude-oil prices appeared to help Qantas Airways Ltd. add another 3.3% to its price, but sent oil stocks lower, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd. down 0.9%, and Oil Search Ltd. off 1%.
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