Australia Stocks Slouch, With Banks Mostly Weaker Ahead Of Greek Meet

By Michael KitchenMarketWatch Pulse

Australian stocks took modest losses in early Monday trading, with the S&P/ASX 200 easing by 0.2% in the first hour of action, weighed in part by the big banking shares. The financial stocks were mostly weaker as investors waited to see whether Greece would be able to secure fresh aid from the European Union at a meeting in Brussels slated for later in the day. Commonwealth Bank of Australia gave up 0.4%, and National Australia Bank Ltd. moved 0.3% lower, though Australia & New Zealand Banking Group was flat, and Westpac Banking Corp. managed to improve by 0.1%. Among the miners, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Ltd. were down 0.8% each, while Arrium Ltd. dropped 3.3%, but Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. picked up 0.7%, amid weakness for the iron-ore price. Stock in Evolution Mining Ltd. lost 0.8% as Chinese rival Zijin Mining Group Co. planned to pre-empt Evolution's planned investment in Phoenix Gold Ltd. by offering the buy the company outright. Trading in Phoenix Gold shares was halted. Elsewhere on the market, stock in Seek Ltd. plunged more than 11% after a profit warning due to what it was were one-off issues at its education unit. Shares of MarketWatch parent News Corp. added to recent gains with a 3.4% advance after having said late last week that it would make substantial job cuts at its Dow Jones division.

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