Australia shares flat, strong earnings tempered by Fed uncertainty
(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY Aug 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares were flat on Thursday morning as a rise in metals prices and better-than-expected earnings were tempered by uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve might start to trim its massive stimulus.
Miners held the broad market together after copper rose and prices for iron ore - Australia's major export earner - hovered near five-month highs.
"The resource names are in for an interesting session, particularly with iron ore continuing to push higher and gold enjoying a strong bounce," said Stan Shamu, IG's market strategist in a note.
BHP Billiton Ltd and mineral explorer Independence Group advanced 1.2 percent and 3 percent respectively. Rio Tinto Ltd was flat as it traded ex-dividend.
Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd climbed 3.6 percent, while Regis Resources Ltd rose 5.4 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 3.8 points to 5,153.6 by 0141 GMT. The benchmark finished steady at 5,157.4 points on Wednesday.
U.S. stocks dropped on Wednesday, putting a dampener on the local bourse, with the Dow industrials posting the worst day since late June, as investors await U.S. unemployment claims data due later in the global day.
"A good result could signal company growth and a good economy but could be viewed negatively as the potential for the withdrawal of economic stimulus would be bad for the market," said Chay Flack, equities dealer from CMC Markets Stockbroking.
The uncertainty over the timing of the Fed's stimulus tapering plans have roiled global markets in recent months, as investors fretted about the reduction of the U.S. central bank's massive liquidity that's underpinned riskier assets over the past five years.
The market has bounced back from a trough of 4,632.3 points hit on June 25, and a solid earnings season so far has seen it test the 5,200 points level, edging towards the year-to-date high of 5,249.6 hit on May 15.
On the earnings front, Wesfarmers Ltd reported a 6 percent rise in full-year net profit on Thursday, missing analysts' forecasts, but the stock added 0.4 percent on the announcement of a A$579 million capital return to shareholders. Shares in the company were up 0.4 percent.
Shares of AMP Ltd rose 3.9 percent after the insurance and wealth management company posted a smaller-than-expected 10 percent fall in its half-year profit.
Biotechnology firm CSL Ltd extended its slump, dropping 2.5 percent after the company hit all-time highs earlier in the week. Insurance company QBE Insurance Group Ltd lost 2.3 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged 0.1 percent higher 4,529.9 points.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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