Australia shares edge up, on track for weekly gain
SYDNEY, July 26
SYDNEY, July 26 (Reuters) - Australian shares were slightly higher on Friday morning and on track for a weekly gain, with investors restrained by concerns about the slowing growth in China and ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy-setting meeting next week.
Westpac Banking Corp climbed 1.6 percent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose 0.9 percent. But top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia pulled back from early gains and lost 0.2 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 5.7 points to 5,041.3 by 0140 GMT. The benchmark, which finished flat on Thursday, is up 1.4 percent so far this week and if it stays in positive territory will post its highest close in two months.
Analysts had expected the session to be subdued as there was little market-moving news and investors are waiting for an update on the outlook for U.S. monetary stimulus after the Fed's meeting ends on Wednesday.
"I think investors feel that the Fed could possibly stay with the QE program for a bit longer than September, when most analysts are expecting tapering," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG in Melbourne.
Markets have been jostled in recent months by expectations the Fed will start to roll back its stimulus later this year, and by slowing growth in China, Australia's biggest export market.
BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd pulled back 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent respectively. The firms have approved an investment in a sea-water desalination facility in Chile's Escondida mine, with Rio putting $1.03 billion and BHP injecting $1.97 billion.
"They've had a pretty good week so this may be a bit of profit-taking," said Shamu.
"We've had a little bit of improvement in sentiment and iron ore is back above $130, and their production reports are quite positive," he added, noting miners could get some support from iron ore prices.
Spot iron ore prices hit three-month highs on expectations Chinese mills would keep steel production high.
Woodside Petroleum Ltd, Australia's biggest energy producer, added 0.1 percent, and Origin Energy Ltd climbed 1.2 percent.
Telecommunication giant Telstra Corp Ltd slipped 0.4 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was nearly flat, shedding 2 points to 4,578.7.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Sigma Pharmaceuticals Ltd plunged 4.0 percent to A$0.72 after saying first-half EBIT was likely to be lower than for a year earlier
* Salary packaging firm McMillan Shakespeare Ltd rose 7.7 percent to A$9.48, only recouping a small part of Thursday's 42.7 percent fall following proposed tax changes for vehicle leases..
* Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd surged 47.6 percent to A$0.31, after saying it had entered into an agreement with Stonepeak Partners LP to develop its Magnolia LNG Project in Louisiana, United States.
* Fund manager Perpetual Ltd fell 1.6 percent to A$40.44, after saying its funds under management fell 2.7 percent in the June quarter to A$25.3 billion.
(0138 GMT) (Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Additional reporting by Michael Sin; Editing by John Mair)
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