The Australian stock market edged higher in early trading but has drifted lower subsequently with investors pressing some heavy sales in consumer discretionary, consumer staples, industrials and utilities. With no clear signal emerging from Wall Street where stocks struggled for most of the session overnight before rebounding in the closing minutes, the mood in Australian market is a bit cautious this morning.

Healthcare, materials, telecommunications and financials are up with some gains while information technology and energy stocks are trading mixed.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200, which rose to 3755 in early trading, is trading at 3,724 now, down 18.7 points from its previous close. The All Ordinaries is down 17.1 points at 3,678.

AGL Energy, Macquarie Group, Newscorp, Wesfarmers and Woolworth are trading with sharp losses.

Woodside, Rio Tinto, Newscrest, CSL and ASX are up sharply over their last closing prices.

In currency market, the Australian dollar, moving in a fairly listless manner, is trading at 0.7118 to the U.S. dollar

Most of the markets in the Asia-Pacific region had closed on a firm note after some initial weakness on Thursday. The Australian benchmark was among the ones to have traded firm right through the session.

On Thursday, stocks were seen struggling for support for a major part of the session on Wall Street due to weak economic reports and mixed corporate news. After moving in a listless manner for a considerable length of time, stocks managed to edge higher during the last few minutes with financials leading the charge ahead of the Treasury's announcement regarding measures for bank stress tests.

The Dow ended 71 points up at 7957. The Nasdaq closed 6 points up and S&P 500 advanced nearly a per cent or 8 points.

Crude oil moved higher again on Thursday in U.S. trading and challenged the key $50 per barrel mark. A weaker dollar outweighed discouraging economic news and another rise in weekly inventories. Light sweet crude oil for June delivery finished at $49.62, up 77 cents on the session. Prices rallied as high as $49.92 in the early-going.

In economic news, weekly job claims rose and the figure was in-line with expectations. Jobless claims rose to 640,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 613,000. Continuing claims climbed to a record high of 6.14 million.

Existing home sales for March fell 3.0% month-over-month to an annualized rate of 4.57 million. Annualized home sales for March were expected to total 4.65 million units. At the current sales pace, the supply of unsold homes increased to 9.8 months from 9.7 months.

On the corporate front, Apple reported net income for the second quarter of $1.33 per share, compared to $1.16 per share for the year-ago quarter. UPS reported adjusted first quarter earnings of $0.52 per share, down from $0.87 per share last year and $0.04 below analyst estimates. Revenue also failed to meet analysts' target, falling nearly 14 percent to $10.94 billion.

After the U.S. markets closed Thursday, Microsoft said its third quarter profit fell 32% from last year, hurt by weakness in the global PC market as well as $710 million in charges related to job cuts and investment write-downs. The world's largest software company reported net income for the third quarter of $2.98 billion or $0.33 per share, compared to $4.39 billion or $0.47 per share for the year-ago quarter.

Online retailer, Inc. said Thursday after the markets closed that its first quarter earnings rose 24% from last year, on better than expected sales from the Kindle electronic bookreader introduced during the spring season. The company reported net income for the first quarter of $177 million or $0.41 per share, compared to $143 million or $0.34 per share for the year-ago quarter.

In other news, President Obama said he would push for a law to provide strong and reliable protections for the millions of Americans who have credit cards after meeting with chief executives of the credit-card lending industry. Obama said he wants legislation that will prevent consumers from facing a sudden, surprising rise in fees, and that companies must make it easier for people to do comparison shopping.

Additionally, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo unveiled information Thursday, showing that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department put significant pressure on Bank of America (BAC) to go through with its merger with Merrill Lynch.

Ford Motor and Xerox Corp will announce results on Friday. In economic news, durables goods orders data and new home sales data will be released.

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