Australia Stocks Ride Higher On Strong Bank-share Gains

By Michael KitchenMarketWatch Pulse

Australia's stock market sat broadly higher in early Thursday trade, with strength in the heavily weighted banking shares offsetting losses for some of mining and energy names. The S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.9% about 45 minutes into the session, outpacing gains for the other early-opening Asia markets. With the passage of new austerity measures in Greece bringing that country closer to a fresh rescue deal with its creditors, the financial majors were solidly higher, with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank Ltd. up 1.3% each, Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 1.1%, and Westpac Banking Corp. up 1%. Bourse operator ASX Ltd. rallied 2.3% as Morgan Stanley said the company was unlikely to lose its monopoly over cash equities clearing, according to Dow Jones Newswires. Among the miners, Rio Tinto Ltd. was flat after posting quarterly gains in iron-ore and bauxite output, but a drop for copper. Shares of BHP Billiton Ltd. edged 0.1% lower, while Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. lost 1.4%, but Oz Minerals Ltd. and South32 Ltd. added 0.9% each. In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum Ltd. fell 0.7% after reporting quarterly revenue almost 47% lower than the year-earlier period, while a pullback for crude oil helped send Beach Energy Ltd. down 0.8% and Santos Ltd. down 0.6%, even as Oil Search Ltd. rose 0.8%.

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