Australia Stocks Extend Gains, As Banks Rise

Australia stocks kept to the high road early Thursday, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.7%, as banks and retailers all traded mostly higher, offsetting losses for the energy sector. Among the financials, Macquarie Group Ltd. rose 1.2%, National Australia Bank Ltd. improved by 0.9%, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.1% and Westpac Banking Corp. was 1.4% higher, coinciding with (but probably unrelated to) the bank's opening of its first branch in the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, according to Business Insider Australia. Retailers also headed upward, with Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. rising 0.8%, Wesfarmers Ltd. up 1.5%, and JB Hi-Fi Ltd. adding 1.3%, as retail-sales data were due out later in the day. Woolworths Ltd. , however, swung in and out of negative territory after Bank of America Merrill Lynch tipped a posible 1.5% drop for the company's 2016 net profit, according to the Australian Financial Review. Meanwhile, Comex gold's return above the $1,200-an-ounce level overnight helped Evolution Mining Ltd. up 3.1% and Newcrest Mining Ltd. up 4.9%, while senior miners Rio Tinto Ltd. and BHP Billiton Ltd. added 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively. On the downside, further losses for oil futures (with Nymex crude erasing its small Wednesday advance as Sydney trading opened) sent many of the energy names lower, further burdened by a flurry of price-target cuts to the shares by UBS. Oil Search Ltd. fell 0.8%, integrated energy provider Origin Energy Ltd. dropped 2.5%, and Santos Ltd. tumbled 8.3% after canceling a European hybrid-bond raising and promising cost cuts. Still, some of the energy shares managed to buck the trend, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd. and Caltex Australia Ltd. each up 0.7%.

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