The stock market in Australia ended flat on Friday, as investors preferred to take profits ahead of the weekend following a recent rally. The market, having opened strongly higher on Wall Street cues, where the major indices ended in positive territory led by financial and technology-related stocks, on expectations that the world's largest economy will begin to recover earlier-than-expected, pared all of its gains in late trading on profit taking, before ending with a slender gain.

On Thursday, the Dow closed up 95.81 points or 1.2% at 8,125, the Nasdaq closed up 43.64 points or 2.7% at 1,670 and the S&P 500 closed up 13.24 points or 1.6% at 865.

In Asian trading, crude oil ended down $0.23 at $49.75 a barrel in electronic trading. Light sweet crude for May delivery ended at $49.98 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $0.73 for the session, amid choppy trading.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index added 1 point or 0.03% to 3,778 and the broader All Ordinaries Index added 2.5 points, or 0.07%, to close at 3,728.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that its import price index decreased 2.8% in the March quarter. The fall was driven mainly by lower prices for petroleum and related products as well as fertilizers. The Bureau's export price index fell 4.6% in the March quarter. The decline was attributed to lower prices for metalliferous ores and metal scrap, non-ferrous metals as well as petroleum and related materials. For the full year to the March 2009 quarter, the import price index was up 14.6%, while the export price index was up 42.8%.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton moved up 0.60% and rival Rio Tinto rose 1.84%. However, gold miners are trading sharply lower after gold dropped to a ten-day low overnight. Lihir Gold lost 4.75%, Newcrest Mining fell 5.78%, and Sino Gold declined 5.19%

Banks ended mixed on profit taking at higher levels. Commonwealth Bank of Australia gained 0.65%, and National Australia Bank added 0.95%,, but Australia and NZ Bank slipped 0.65% and Westpac closed down 0.79%.

In the retail sector, Harvey Norman gained 1.42%, Coles' owner Wesfarmers advanced 3.41% and Woolworths rose 1.17%, but David Jones declined 1.31%

Woolworths said its sales for the third quarter, adjusted for Easter, increased by 6.5% to A$12.3 billion. Excluding petrol sales, sales rose 8.3%. The company forecasts full year sales, excluding petrol sales, to grow in the upper single digits.

Oil-related stocks ended lower. Woodside Petroleum declined 1.71%, Oil Search lost 3.75% and Santos fell 2.66%.

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