Australian markets

The Australian share market pared early losses to close around 0.2 per cent higher, as investors snapped up bank stocks and other cyclicals with attractive dividend yields. On Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 12.3 points, or 0.25 per cent higher, at 4911, after recovering from a negative start. The broader All Ordinaries index was 9.4 points, or 0.18 per cent higher, at 4999.6. On the ASX 24, the June share price index futures contract was seven points higher at 4924, with 35,919 contracts traded.

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Westpac jumped 36 cents, or 1.47 per cent, to $24.90 and Commonwealth Bank was the laggard of the big four, gaining just 35 cents, or 0.67 per cent, to $52.89. Macquarie Group surged 59 cents, or 1.71 per cent, to $35.09. Materials and energy stocks were weaker throughout the session after commodities prices fell overnight and US energy stocks lost three per cent.

Market heavyweight BHP Billiton dropped 31 cents, or 0.63 per cent, to $48.58. Rio Tinto's shares were sold off after the miner reported a three per cent drop in iron ore production for the March quarter as well as falls in hard coking coal production, mined copper and alumina. The stock finished $1.29, or 1.48 per cent, lower at $85.71. Oil Search Ltd led major energy stocks lower, falling 14 cents, or 1.88 per cent, to $7.31. Santos lost 19 cents, or 1.21 per cent, to $15.55 and Woodside Petroleum slipped 21 cents to $46.62. Investors also supported classic defensive stocks, with real estate investment trusts and healthcare stocks and some industrials making gains.

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Goodman Group surged three cents, or 4.41 per cent, to 71 cents after announcing it was making an offer, as part of a consortium, to acquire ProLogis European Properties FCP, which has a capitalisation of 1 billion euros. Tabcorp gained 17 cents, or 2.35 per cent, to $7.41, while CSL Ltd firmed 18 cents to $36.17. Qantas Airways and Virgin Blue Holdings each gained over 3.3 per cent on a $US3.67 drop in the price of New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, to $US106.25.

In news on Wednesday, uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia said earnings in 2010/11 will be lower than the prior year, along with lower production and sales. The miner's stock plunged 84 cents, or 10.88 per cent to $6.88. National turnover was 3.2 billion shares, worth $6.1 billion, with 530 stocks trading up, 587 down and 406 unchanged.

The Australian dollar was higher late Wednesday in a subdued Asian session dominated by range-trading ahead of a speech in New York overnight by Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens. The currency was changing hands at $1.0474, up from $1.0423 late Tuesday. Against the yen, it traded at 88.055, up from 87.355.

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