RTTNews - The Australian stock market drifted lower on Friday with the overnight negative close on Wall Street prompting investors to go in for some profit taking. With the Reserve Bank of Australia slated to release its quarterly monetary policy statement today, the mood is a bit cautious in the Australian market this morning.

Bank stocks are declining due to profit taking after recent strong gains. Miners are also trading weak. Industrials, consumer staples and technology stocks are trading mixed. Healthcare stocks have fared relatively better this morning.

The Australian benchmark index S&P/ASX 200, which fell to 4,277 earlier this morning, is currently trading at 4,288, down 38.5 points or 0.9% from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is down by 37.6 points or 0.9% at 4,293.

On Thursday, the S&P/ASX200 had closed up 61.8 points or 1.45% at 4,326, while the All-Ordinaries index moved up by 58.8 points or 1.38% to 4,331.

Among key bank stocks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia is down nearly 1%, National Australia Bank is trading lower by 1.2%, ANZ Bank is declining by 0.6% and Westpac Banking Corporation is down with a 0.7% loss.

In the materials space, Rio Tinto is trading lower by 2.6% and BHP Billiton is down by 2.8%. Bluescope Steel, Fortescue Metals, Newcrest Mining and Orica are also trading notable lower.

Insurance major Suncorp says the group's net profit for 2008/09 will be lower than last year after volatile markets hit profits in the general insurance investment portfolios. In a trading update, Suncorp said its preliminary expected results for the group for the full year ending June 30, 2009, were for net profit of A$340 million to A$360 million. Profit before tax and Promina acquisition items will be in the range of A$790 million to A$810 million, the firm said. The Suncorp stock is currently trading 2.2% down from its previous close.

Construction company John Holland has won a A$270 million contract to redevelop a Perth healthcare facility. The wholly owned Leighton Holdings subsidiary said in a statement on Friday that it had secured the contract to help redevelop the Joondalup Health Campus in Perth. The total value of the project is A$332 million, with John Holland's share estimated at about A$270 million. Leighton Holdings is trading with a modest gain this morning.

According to a survey by the Australian Industry Group-Housing Industry Association, activity among construction firms contracted further in July despite a pickup in house building activity. The performance of construction index (PCI) fell 3.1 index points to 39.5 points in July. The index has remained below the 50 level, which separates expansion from contraction, for 17 months.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened lower ahead of a crucial central bank report and U.S. jobs figures. In early trading this morning, the Aussie was quoting at US$0.8395/04, down from Thursday's close of US$0.8427/31. The Australian dollar is currently trading at 0.8396 to the U.S. dollar.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai are exhibiting weakness while New Zealand, Korea and Taiwan are trading modestly higher.

On Wall Street, stocks surrendered early gains and posted moderate losses overnight, as traders did some profit taking ahead of key employment data on tap for Friday. Though there were some encouraging signs on the jobless claims front, sales figures from major retailers were somewhat disappointing.

The Dow closed down by 24.71 points or 0.3% at 9,256, the Nasdaq eased by 19.89 points or 1% to 1,973, and the S&P 500 drifted down by 5.64 points or 0.6% to 997.

Stock markets across the region had turned in a mixed performance on Thursday, although the major markets in Japan and Hong Kong closed notably higher. Japan's benchmark Nikkei rose by 1.3% while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed up 2%.

Major European markets closed on the upside by moderate margins. The French CAC 40 index and the German DAX index finished up by 0.6% and 0.3% respectively, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index ended the day up by 0.9%.

Crude oil prices finished little changed on Thursday as a stronger-than expected employment report offset a stronger dollar and on reports OPEC isn't likely to cut production next month. Light sweet crude oil settled at US$71.94 per barrel, down 3 cents on the session. Earlier, oil had dropped below the US$71 mark.

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