The Australian stock market was trading higher on Friday, tracking the overnight gains on Wall Street. Banking and mining stocks are among the major gainers.
In early morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was advancing 61.50 points, or 1.63%, to 3,837.20 and the broader All Ordinaries Index was gaining 56.90 points, or 1.53%, to 3,782.50.
U.S. stocks closed higher on Thursday after seeing some earlier uncertainty. Better-than-expected earnings results from financial giant JPMorgan as well as economic data fed investors optimism, while expectations of better results from Google lifted technology stocks.
Crude oil prices finished another choppy session higher on Thursday. However, oil continued to fail to hold above $50 per barrel. Light sweet crude for May delivery ended at $49.98 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $0.73 for the session.
The Australian market closed modestly higher on Thursday, with weaker than expected economic data from China weighing on the market. At the close, the S&P/ASX200 index was up 28.2 points or 0.75% at 3,775.7, while the All Ordinaries index was up 31.7 points or 0.86% at 3,725.6.
On the economic front, import and export prices for Australia both decreased in the first three months of 2009. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported Friday 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 currency market, the Australian dollar opened lower against the US dollar on Friday, as investors sold the currency following the weaker-than-expected economic growth data from China. In early trades, the local unit was trading at $US0.7204-US$0.7208, down from Thursday's close of $US0.7234-US$0.7236.
In the mining sector, BHP Billiton is gaining 1.63% and rival Rio Tinto is rising 3.05%. However, gold miners were trading sharply lower after gold dropped to a ten-day low overnight. Lihir Gold is down 3.39% and Newcrest Mining is losing 2.82%.
Among banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia is rising 2.50%, National Australia Bank is gaining 2.55%, Australia and NZ Bank is adding 1.90% and Westpac is advancing 1.96%.
In the retail sector, David Jones is adding 1.97%, Harvey Norman is up 2.49%, Coles' owner Wesfarmers is gaining 2.68% and Woolworths is rising 4.18%. 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 sales for the full-year, excluding petrol sales, to grow in the upper single digits.
Oil related stocks are trading mixed. Woodside Petroleum is up 0.64% and Oil Search is adding 0.37%, while Santos is easing 0.12%.
Engineering company United Group Ltd. has won an A$230 million contract to carry out work at Woodside Petroleum's liquefied natural gas project in Western Australia. Shares of United Group are up 0.51%.
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