The Australian stock market is trading lower on Wednesday, amid concerns about domestic economic growth, despite gains on Wall Street overnight. In early trading, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is losing 18 points or 0.49% to 3,565, after closing more than half-a-percent lower on Tuesday. The broader All Ordinaries index is down 16 points or 0.46% to 3,516.
In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened stronger. The Aussie opened at US$0.6950-0.6954, up from Tuesday's close of US$0.6852-0.6857.
On Wall Street, U.S. stocks closed Tuesday's trading session higher, as traders used the weakness in the two previous sessions as a buying opportunity. Weak economic data limited the upside for the markets, with a report from Standard and Poor's showing that home prices fell at a record annual rate in January. The Dow closed up 87 points or 1.16% at 7,609, the Nasdaq gained 27 points or 1.78% to 1,529, and the S&P 500 added 10 points or 1.31% to finish at 798.
On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics' or ABS data showed that retail sales in Australia dropped 2.0% in February on month, marking the largest monthly decline since July 2000.
Further, the ABS also released building approvals data that showed Australian residential housing approvals were up 7.8% on month in February at 10,050, but down 25.5% on year.
Additionally, the Australian Industry Group / PricewaterhouseCoopers Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index came in at 33.4 in March, up from 31.7 in February.
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations' data showed that Australia's skilled job vacancies in March were down 10.8% on month, posting an index score of 40.7 points, down 6.5% on month. On an annual basis, job vacancies were down 57.9%.
Among banking stocks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia is down 0.89%, while ANZ Banking Group is edging up 0.19%, and National Australia Bank is adding 0.70%. Westpac is slipping 0.26%, and investment bank Macquarie Group is dropping 2.96%.
In the resources sector, index leader BHP Billiton is losing 0.53%, and Rio Tinto is falling 1.31%. Gold miners were mixed, after gold closed higher on Tuesday. Lihir Gold is adding 0.91%, and Sino Gold is gaining 1.32%, while Newcrest Mining is edging down 0.37%.
On Tuesday, crude oil futures for May delivery closed higher, staying below the key technical support level of $50 a barrel, amid a weaker U.S. dollar. Traders also await the weekly inventory report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA, which is released every Wednesday.
Oil closed up $1.25 at $49.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday, after hitting an intraday low of $47.77 and a high of $50.00. In the Asian session Wednesday, crude is currently down $1.24 at $48.42 a barrel in electronic trading.
Among energy stocks, Woodside is falling 1.23%, and Oil Search is losing 0.95%, while Santos is rising 2.37%.
In the retail sector, David Jones is dropping 2.50%, Coles' owner Wesfarmers is falling 2.07%, and Woolworths is edging down 0.12%.
Fortescue Metals Group Ltd is rising 3.14% after the Australian government approved an A$438 million Chinese investment in the company.
Australia's second-largest steel-maker OneSteel Ltd tumbled 6.2% after announcing plans to cut further output at two of its facilities in fiscal 2009.
Debt-laden miner OZ Minerals Ltd dropped 7.2% after it approved a revised rescue bid of A$1.74 billion from China's Minmetals, on resuming trade having been on suspension since last week. It also said that the company is continuing with the sale process for its Martabe gold and silver project in Indonesia.
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