Australia Stocks Rise Modestly, Helped By Earnings

Australian stocks explored new seven-year highs Thursday morning as some solid earning results helped the market overcome heavy falls in iron-ore and oil prices. The S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.3%, extending its run 1% higher in the previous session. Fairfax Media Ltd. improved by 1.7% after its fiscal half-year profit beat forecasts and it announced a buyback of up to 5% of its outstanding shares. AMP Ltd. rallied 4% after its profit rose by a third, prompting it to hike its dividend, with most of the other financials also on the rise, as Macquarie Group Ltd. gained 1%, and Insurance Australia Group Ltd. added 1.4%. Among the smaller names, travel service Webjet Ltd. was up 2.1%, helped by a more-generous-than-expected dividend, while Origin Energy Ltd. managed to edge up 0.7% after posting a loss that was smaller than feared, and Crown Resorts Ltd. jumped 7.9% after announcing its half-year results. On the downside, a smaller profit for Wesfarmers Ltd. amid disappointing earnings for its Target stores and resources unit send those shares down 2.2%, while Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. lost 0.6% despite managing to narrow its six-month loss from a year earlier. Meanwhile, sharp drops for crude oil hit the energy sector (Caltex Australia Ltd. down 1.2%, Santos Ltd. down 1.1%), and iron ore's return to near its six-year low hurt most -- but not all -- of the relevent miners (BC down 1.9%, Mt. Gibson Iron Ltd. down 1.3%, and Arrium Ltd. down 2.3% amid debt concerns, but Atlas Iron Ltd. up 1% and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. up 2%).

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