Australian stocks started higher but then eased to a mild loss early Tuesday, with the S&P/ASX 200 quoted down 0.2%, even as BHP Billiton Ltd. improved by 0.5% after a mixed earnings report. BHP reported just ahead of the open that its profit for the last six months of 2014 fell a little more than 47% as iron ore and other key commodities saw sharp price declines, though the result was better than analysts' consensus forecast as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The mining major also offered an upbeat outlook and raised its dividend by 5%. Oil Search Ltd. -- which posted underlying 2014 profit more than double the previous result -- bucked 1.8% higher, even as overnight losses for crude oil sent Beach Energy Ltd. and WorleyParsons Ltd. down 1.6% and 1.1%, respectively. Meanwhile, QBE Insurance Group Ltd. was among the top decliners, down 3.1% as it reported a swing back to profit for last year but also warned on headwinds in the future due to the rising U.S. dollar. Elsewhere on the market, the big banks advanced (Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 0.4%, Westpac Banking Corp. up 0.2%), as did airlines (Qantas Airways Ltd. up 0.4%, Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. up 1%) and some retailers (Myer Holdings Ltd. up 0.3%, Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. up 0.7%).
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