Australian stocks seesawed in early Friday trading, meandering between small gains and losses as strength in the financial shares counterbalanced losses for some of the major miners. The S&P/ASX 200 was little changed about 30 minutes into the trading day, with a modestly positive lead from the U.S. markets offering some support in Sydney for the heavily weighted financial stocks. Among them, Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.4%, Macquarie Group Ltd. bounded 1.2% higher, and regional lender Bendigo & Adelaide Bank Ltd. added 0.7%. But the key iron-ore stocks led the mining sector lower after spot iron-ore prices fell below US$60-per-metric-ton overnight, as the commodity market reacted further to China setting a lower economic growth target for this year. Decliners included Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. (down 3.9%), Arrium Ltd. (down 4.9%) amd Atlas Iron Ltd. (down 8.6%), as well as senior miners BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Ltd. , down 1.4% and 1.2%, respectively. Comex gold futures' drop below the $1,200-a-troy-ounce level had a similar effect on the gold miners, with Newcrest Mining Ltd. down 1.8%, and Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd. down 3.2%. Fellow gold extractor St. Barbara Ltd. managed to rally 4.8% for reasons that weren't immediately clear -- the only major news item from the company was the announcement that a worker had been killed during tree clearing for one of the company's Papua New Guinea projects, prompting a halt to work there while an investigation is conducted. Still, reports predicted range-bound trading for the Australian session, as investors awaited the monthly U.S. jobs report, due later in the global day.
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