RTTNews - Stock prices tumbled in early trading in the Australian market on Thursday as investors pressed sales amid fresh concerns about the global economy following some weak economic data from the U.S.

Amid fears a weak U.S. service sector could result in the Australian economic recovery losing momentum, investors are seen heading to the exit this morning. Energy and materials stocks are bearing the brunt of the assault. Consumer staples, financials and industrials are also trading weak.

The benchmark Australian index S&P/ASX 200 is currently trading at 3,957.40, down 59.80 points from its previous close. The All Ordinaries index is down by 56.80 points at 3,952.50.

On Wednesday, positive GDP numbers had lifted market sentiment and driven the key indices past the psychological 4,000 mark. While the S&P/ASX 200 ended stronger by 61.90 points at 4,017, the All Ordinaries settled 61.20 points up at 4,009.

Materials stocks BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are down by over 4% this morning. Newcrest Mining is down with a 3.3% loss. Orica is down by 1.9%.

In the energy space, Woodside Petroleum is down by over 2.5%. Santos is trading lower by 3.3%. Origin Energy is down by 2.4%.

Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are down modestly while Westpac is trading flat. However, National Bank of Australia is up by over 3.5%.

Australian property developer Mirvac Group is raising up to A$1.1 billion in fresh equity to strengthen it balance sheet. The firm has cut its earnings guidance for the year to June 2009. The new shares are being offered at A$1 each, a 25 percent discount to the stock's closing price on Wednesday of A$1.33, the company said on Thursday. The securities of Mirvac Group have been placed in a trading halt pending the announcement of a capital raising.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is currently trading at 0.8029 to the U.S. dollar.

In economic news, the Australian Trade Balance report and AIG Performance of Construction Index will be released today.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand and Japan are trading weak with their key indices drifting down by about half a per cent. The Korean benchmark KOSPI is currently trading down by more than a per cent.

On Wall Street, stocks snapped a four-day winning streak on Wednesday as traders chose to take profits on the back of some discouraging economic data. Despite some late buying, the Dow closed down 65.63 points or 0.8 percent at 8,675.24, the Nasdaq closed down 10.88 points or 0.6 percent at 1,825.92, and the S&P 500 fell 12.98 points or 1.4 percent to 931.76.

In the Asia-Pacific region, most of the markets finished modestly higher on Wednesday. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index rose by 0.4 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed by 1 percent.

Major European markets closed notably lower. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 2.1 percent, while the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index closed down by 2.0 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

Oil prices dropped sharply on Wednesday amid an Energy Information Administration report that inventories were unexpectedly higher last week. A discouraging employment report also renewed demand concerns.

Light sweet crude settled at US$66.12 a barrel, down US$2.43 on the session. Prices dropped as low as US$64.95 in mid-day trading.

With more economic data to flow in and the U.S. Fed Chief to come out with his comments on financial markets and monetary policy, traders may well choose to stay cautious in today's session.

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