Australia Stocks Weaken, As Banks, Retailers Move Lower

MarketWatch Pulse

Australia stocks took the low road after a choppy start to Friday trading, as a big bounce for the iron-ore miners wasn't enough to counteract weakness for the major banks and many of the retailers. The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3% in the first half-hour of trading, taking a modest bite out of Thursday's 1% advance. Among the banking names, National Australia Bank Ltd. was down 0.4%, with the Australian Financial Review reporting the lender had come under criticism by the U.K. government for "the mis-selling" of a hedging product issued by its Scotland-based Clydesdale Bank. Rival Westpac Banking Corp. lost 0.6%, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.5%, though Australia & New Zealand Banking Group limited its loss to 0.3%. Retailers were another soft spot, with Wesfarmers Ltd. and JB Hi-Fi Ltd. down 0.5% each, while Myer Holdings Ltd. fell 0.6%, and Billabong International Ltd. dropped 1.8%. On the other hand, a modest recovery for spot iron-ore prices set off a rally in the sector, with Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. up 1.8%, Arrium Ltd. up 2.8%, and BC Iron Ltd. up 6.4%. Also strong were shares of WorleyParsons Ltd. , up 2.7% after the company announced it had won a project-management and engineering-services contract from privately held Swiss energy-and-commodity major Vitol. Meanwhile, shares of TPG Telecom Ltd. and iiNet Ltd. were untraded after TPG said it was buying iiNet at a more-than-26% premium to its last-traded price. A separate Australian Financial Review report said a merged entity would become Australia's second-biggest fixed-line telecommunications company after Telstra Corp. , shares of which were down 0.4%.

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