Australia Stocks Edge Lower Under Crude Oil's Influence

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Australian stocks squiggled a little lower in Thursday morning trade, with a nose-dive for crude-oil futures sending energy shares down and airline shares up, while miners were mostly weaker and retailers a little stronger. The S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.2% about 25 minutes into the session, with an almost 9% tumble for crude overnight in New York sending Woodside Petroleum Ltd. down 2.7%, Santos Ltd. down 4.6%, and Oil Search Ltd. down 3.2%. However, the concomitant easing in fuel prices lifted Qantas Airways Ltd. up 3.4% and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. up 2.8%. The miners were mixed-to-weaker, with Rio Tinto Ltd. down 1.4%, BHP Billiton Ltd. down 2.2%, and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. down 2.7%, though a firmer gold price -- helped by surprise monetary easing in China late Wednesday -- juiced Newcrest Mining Ltd. up 2.3% and Evolution Mining Ltd. up 5.6%. Among the financials, National Australia Bank Ltd. fell 0.9%, underperforming the rest of the sector after posting an improved quarterly profit but a higher charge for non-performing loans. Meanwhile, retail sales data for December were due out later in the morning, and retailer shares were mostly stronger, as Myer Holdings Ltd. rallied 3%, JB Hi-Fi Ltd. gained 0.7%, and Wesfarmers Ltd. added 0.9%.

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