RTTNews - After a negative start and a subsequent fall, the Australian market edged up slightly and regained a bit of lost ground on Thursday, with select stocks finding buyers at lower levels. However, following a strong spell of selling in several front line stocks, the market has slipped deeper into the red once again.

With no significant triggers from Wall Street overnight, investors are seen treading cautiously ahead of the start of earnings season.

The Australian benchmark index S&P/ASX 200, which fell to 3,743 after opening flat, recovered to 3,759 before drifting lower again. Currently, the benchmark is down by 23.4 points at 3,744.5. The broader All Ordinaries index is trading at 3,740, down 24 points from its previous close.

On Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index had managed to squeeze in to positive territory following a sharp rally in late trading on the back of hectic buying in miners and bank stocks, and ended with a gain of 1 point or 0.03% at 3,768. The All Ordinaries index ended with a minor loss of 1.80 points or 0.05% at 3,766.

In the banking space, ANZ Bank is currently trading with a modest loss, Commonwealth Bank of Australia is down by 0.5% and Westpac Banking Corporation is trading lower by 0.7%. However, National Australia Bank is up in positive territory with a modest gain. Diversified financials major Macquarie Group is down by 1.8%.

Energy stock Woodside Petroleum is down by 1.3%. Oil Search is trading lower by 0.5% and Origin Energy is down marginally, while Santos is up by 0.4%.

Among materials majors, Rio Tinto is down 1.7% from its previous close while BHP Billiton is trading with a small gain. Fortescue Metals and Newcrest Mining are off their lows but are still trading in the red with modest losses. Bluescope Steel, however, is up in positive territory with a gain of 1.4%.

Shares of building materials and sugar major CSR Limited are in demand following the company expecting its fiscal 2010 underlying earnings to be slightly higher than the prior year, despite difficult market conditions for its products. The firm, which last month announced plans to de-merge its sugar business, said its forecast for annual earnings before interest and tax assumed similar earnings outcomes for its building product and property units. The CSR stock is trading nearly 2% up at present.

Delta Air Lines and the Virgin Blue say they plan to form a joint venture that will expand the reach of both carriers between the U.S. and Australia and the South Pacific. The airlines said in a statement on Thursday that they would seek regulatory approval to form a joint venture, but would collaborate on code sharing, frequent flyer reciprocity and in other areas in the meantime. Virgin Blue Holdings is currently trading nearly 7% up over its previous close.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar got off to its weakest start in nearly eight weeks. In early trading on Thursday, the Aussie was quoted at US$0.7781/85, down from Wednesday's close of US$0.7862/65. The Australian dollar is currently trading at 0.7789 to the U.S. dollar.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore and Korea are trading modestly higher. Japan and New Zealand are trading in the red. Stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region had ended Wednesday's session lower. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed down by 2.4%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dipped by 0.8% on the day.

Wall Street ended little changed on Wednesday with traders not evincing any keen interest in taking up positions ahead of the start of the earnings season. The major averages closed on opposite sides of the unchanged mark by slim margins, with the S&P 500 closing modestly lower despite a late-session rally. The Dow closed up by 14.81 points or 0.2% at 8,178.41 and the Nasdaq rose by 1 point or 0.1% to 1,747.17, while the S&P 500 fell 1.47 points or 0.2% to 879.56.

Major European markets also ended the day in the red. The French CAC 40 Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 1.3% and 1.1% respectively, while the German DAX Index closed down by 0.6%.

Oil plunged for a sixth straight session and reached its lowest level in seven weeks on Wednesday. Prices dropped on government data that revealed a build in gasoline and distillate fuel supplies in the recent week.

Light sweet crude oil settled at US$60.14, a drop of US$2.79 for the session, posting its lowest finish since May 19. Prices touched as low as $60.01 earlier in the session.

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