Australia Stocks Inch Higher, But Some Weak Earnings Weigh

MarketWatch Pulse

Australia's stock market managed to keep its head just above water in early Wednesday trading, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.1%, extending the previous session's 0.3% improvement as a positive lead from the U.S. helped overcome a bit of earnings-related weakness. Strength for the heavily weighted "Big Four" banks partly underpinned the benchmark index's small gain, as National Australia Bank Ltd. rose 0.7%, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group added 0.4%, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp. inched 0.1% higher. Shares of media company Seven Group Holdings Ltd. rose 4.2%, with its announcement of a large buyback plan offsetting an almost three-quarters drop for its six-month earnings. But earnings out of resource-services major WorleyParsons Ltd. sent that stock down 8.8% -- it said fist-half profit was down 7% and that the plunge in oil prices was weighing on its outlook. Westfield Corp. also lost ground, down 1.7% after the international shopping-mall developer reported a loss for 2014. On the other hand, earnings results out the previous day from QBE Insurance Group Ltd. prompted a target-price hike on the stock by Bell Potter, helping the shares gain 3.5% Wednesday morning. Fellow insurer Suncorp Group Ltd. rose 1.1% after updating investors on the likely costs from Cyclone Marcia, which it said would be limited thanks to its reinsurance coverage. Meanwhile, Telstra Corp. and Santos Ltd. both traded without rights to their latest dividends, pushing their respective shares down 2.5% and 1.9%.

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