Australia Stocks Slink Downward Amid Earnings, Ratings Moves

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Australian stocks dribbled lower in early Friday trading, reacting to a bevy of earnings and ratings moves, but with volumes relatively light as the Lunar New Year kept bourses closed in China, South Korea and much of Southeast Asia. The S&P/ASX 200 was 0.1% lower about a half-hour into the session, with energy major Santos Ltd. among the big losers, down 3.9% after swinging violently to a loss and cutting its dividend, all due to the collapse in oil prices. Medibank Private Ltd. , only just privatized and listed, also saw a very negative post-earnings reaction, with the shares down 5.1% -- though given that the insurer's six-month profit doubled from a year earlier, some of the selling may have been profit-taking in the wake of strong recent gains for the shares. Meanwhile, analysts' ratings and price-target changes also made their presence felt, as Wesfarmers Ltd. rose 0.8% following a Deutsche Bank upgrade to hold from sell. On the other hand, AMP Ltd. eased 0.3% lower despite price-target hikes by Macquarie, CIMB and Deutsche Bank as well. Woodside Petroleum Ltd. fell 2% after RBC cut its shares to underperform from sector-perform, according to Dow Jones Newswires. And news that Telstra Corp. Chief Executive Officer David Thodey was leaving and would be replaced by his chief financial officer sent stock in the leading Australian telecom down 0.2%. Among some of the other Australian blue chips: Macquarie Group Ltd. fell 0.5%, BHP Billiton Ltd. lost 0.7%, Rio Tinto Ltd. rose 0.6%, and Qantas Airways Ltd. added 0.7%.

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