Australian stocks took a walk on the downside in early Thursday transactions, with the S&P/ASX 200 lower by 0.6%, extending its 0.9% drop the previous day. The always-important banking shares were lower, with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group down 0.7%, Westpac Banking Corp. down 1%, and National Australia Bank Ltd. down 0.4%, with the latter showing little reaction to an Australian Financial Review report that it was closing in on a deal to sell its life-insurance unit to Japan's unlisted Nippon Life Insurance Co. In the mining space, BHP Billiton Ltd. lost 1.1%, Rio Tinto Ltd. fell 1.3% and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. retreated by 2.5% despite another overnight gain for iron ore prices. A sizeable drop in crude-oil futures sent Woodside Petroleum Ltd. down 1.2%, Oil Search Ltd. down 1.8%, and WorleyParsons Ltd. down 2.7%, while also helping Qantas Airways Ltd. and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. rise 0.8% and 1.1%, respectively. News of a half-billion-U.S.-dollar writedown and dividend omission at grocer Metcash Ltd. sent its stock tumbling by almost 16%. Among the resource logistics names, stock in Qube Holdings Ltd. smashed 6.9% lower after warning on its shipping earnings for the fiscal year which began this month. Qube also struck a deal with Aurizon Holdings Ltd. and the federal government to build and operate a new Sydney freight terminal, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report, with Aurizon shares improving by 0.6%.
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