The Australian stock market was trading higher for the fourth straight session on Thursday following the gains overnight on Wall Street.

In late morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was gaining 23.10 points or 0.64% to 3,632.40 and the broader All Ordinaries Index was advancing 23.70 points or 0.67% to 3,569.90.

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed higher in a volatile session as traders digested better-than-expected economic data on new home sales and durable goods orders, combined with weak demand for a Treasury Department's auction of $34 billion worth of five-year notes that raised concerns about demand for U.S. government debt.

Oil prices slipped below $53 on Wednesday as traders mulled Energy Information Administration data that showed another build in weekly inventories. The drop took prices away from the four-month closing high from the day before. Crude oil for May delivery dropped to $52.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down $1.21 on the session.

The Australian market bucked the lower trend from overseas and closed higher on Wednesday for the third straight session. The S&P/ASX200 index gained 29.3 points or 0.82% to close at 3,609.3, while the broader All Ordinaries index added 28.9 points or 0.82% to settle at 3,546.2.

On the economic front, the Reserve Bank of Australia noted that the nation's banking system is one of the world's strongest and is well-positioned to weather the global economic crisis. In its semi-annual Financial Stability Review issued Thursday in Sydney, the RBA noted that that while the global financial system continues to experience significant stress, the Australian Banking system has performed well over recent times.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index for Australia registered a decline of 0.6% in January and now stands at 111.2. The Board's Coincident Index, which measures current activity, increased 0.6% for the period and currently stands at 13.1. The private sector organization reported Wednesday that the Leading Index dropped for the fifth straight month, with building approvals, stock prices and the yield spread the main contributors, offsetting gains in the real money supply and rural goods exports. The Coincident Index increased thanks to a large gain in economic stimulus-related retail sales among what the Conference Board said were widespread gains, offsetting a decline in real GDP.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was trading higher in early morning trades, in a range of US$0.6975-US$0.6976, up from Wednesday's close of US$0.6966-US$0.6969.

The major banks are trading mostly higher following the RBA's semi-annual review. Australia and NZ Bank is up 0.06%, National Australia Bank is advancing 1.91% and Westpac Bank is adding 0.46%, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia is losing 1.10%. Investment bank Macquarie Group is rising 3.11%.

In the resources sector, the mining conglomerates are trading mixed. BHP Billiton is adding 1.26% and rival Rio Tinto is losing 1.19%. BHP Billiton said it sold $4.3 billion of fixed interest rate medium term bonds in two tranches in the Eurobond market overnight, and announced the commencement of oil and gas production at its 100,000 barrels per day Shenzi project in the Gulf of Mexico. Rio Tinto fell back on concerns over the fate of its planned equity and asset stake deal with China's Chinalco.

Gold miners were mostly advancing after gold closed higher overnight, snapping a three-day losing streak. Newcrest is gaining 1.62% and Lihir Gold is adding 1.25%, while Sino Gold is down 2.31%.

Among oil stocks, Woodside Petroleum is adding 1.05% and Santos is surging 3.90%. Oil Search is easing 0.18%.

In the retail sector, Wesfarmers is down 1.91%, Harvey Norman is down 0.38% and David Jones is easing 0.34%, while Woolworths is gaining 1.29%.

Australian logistics firm Brambles is gaining 4.2% after the company said it has lost a pallet contract with a unit of U.S. soft drinks firm PepsiCo, but that the change was not material to earnings.

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