Australia Stocks Improve, Led By Retailers And Banks

MarketWatch Pulse

Australian stocks tacked on some modest gains in early Wednesday action, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.3% in the first hour of trading, helped by strength in the retailer and financial shares. Shares of Myer Holdings Ltd. rallied 5.7% after the department-store operator reported a quarterly gain in sales of 2.4% from a year earlier. Other retailers rose in concert, with Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. up 4.3%, JB Hi-Fi Ltd. up 2.4%, and Woolworths Ltd. up 1.4%. Among the banking stocks, National Australia Bank Ltd. rebounded 2% after losing ground the previous day when a trading halt was lifted, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia added 1%, and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group gained 1.5%, though Westpac Banking Corp. dropped 2% as the shares traded without rights to the latest dividend. A solid advance for oil futures fed gains into the energy stocks, with Santos Ltd. up 2.8%, Oil Search Ltd. up 1.9%, and Beach Energy Ltd. up 2.2%. Among the losers, MarketWatch corporate parent News Corp. dropped 2.9%, giving back gains made the previous day as the company began executing on its share-repurchase plan. Meanwhile, the federal budget announced late Tuesday didn't appear to have a major impact on the market, with Dow Jones Newswires reporting that analysts were divided over which companies would benefit from the less-austere-than-expected government spending plan.

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