Australian stocks took a turn for the better in early Thursday trading, with the S&P/ASX 200 higher by 0.7% after a flat finish the day before. The Sydney market's two most crucial sectors -- banks and miners -- were mostly higher. Modest gains characterized the first group, as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Macquarie Group Ltd. rose 0.6% each, while Australia & New Zealand Banking Group added 0.7%, though National Australia Bank Ltd. slipped 0.4%. The top mining shares outperformed the broader market, however, with BHP Billiton Ltd. and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. up 1% each, and Rio Tinto Ltd. up 1.3%, though newly listed South32 Ltd. added just 0.4%, and a lower iron-ore price sent BC Iron Ltd. falling 3.3% and Mt. Gibson Iron Ltd. down 2.1%. Building-materials major James Hardie Industries SE zoomed 9.5% higher after posting an almost tripling in its annual net profit and announcing a special dividend. Overnight improvement for crude-oil futures boosted the energy stocks (Oil Search Ltd. up 1.7%, Caltex Australia Ltd. up 1.5%, Santos Ltd. up 1%), but Woodside Petroleum Ltd. lagged a little with a 0.5% advance as it updated investors on its planned Browse liquefied-natural-gas joint venture. Retailers were also broadly higher, with Myer Holdings Ltd. up 3.1%, JB Hi-Fi Ltd. up 2.1% and Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. up 1.2%. Looking ahead, the market could react to preliminary Chinese manufacturing data, due out later in the day from HSBC.
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