Australia shares flat, BHP slides after missing profit forecasts

Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:52pm EDT

(Updates with stock moves, analyst comments)

SYDNEY Aug 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged 0.1 percent higher on Wednesday morning, as a mixed bag of earnings kept buyers in check with top miner BHP Billiton Ltd sliding after its profits undershot forecasts, though a rebound in the banking sector helped support the market.

Investors were also cautious ahead of the release of the U.S. Federal Reserve's minutes of its July meeting as they look for clues on when Fed plans to trim its massive stimulus.

BHP dropped 2.5 percent after it missed analysts' forecast in its full-year profit late on Tuesday and said it delayed production the $14 billion Canadian potash project.

A few other companies reporting their earnings also got a negative response from investors.

Australia's biggest oil and gas company Woodside Petroleum fell 2.4 percent after reporting a 1.5 percent fall in first-half net profit as lower prices and increased costs overrode record production.

Building materials maker Boral Ltd fell 2.8 percent after a modest 3 percent rise in full-year net profit as low domestic building activity, pricing pressures and restructuring costs restrained earnings.

"No one's really shot the lights out today with earnings, that's why we're seeing the market just down," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG in Melbourne.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 4.2 points to 5,082.4 by 0147 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.7 percent on Tuesday.

The local market has been on the defensive in recent weeks, with investors continuing to fret about an eventual end to the Fed's stimulus programme, which have supported risk assets in recent years.

The ongoing earnings season, which has been a mixed bag so far, has also buffeted trading in the past two weeks.

"I think the market wants to see a situation where they have significant leads, better or upbeat (earnings) outlook than what the market is looking for," Shamu said.

Rail and ports operator Asciano Ltd added 1.7 percent after it posted a 41 percent rise in 2013 full-year net profit, in line with analysts' forecast, but said it expected slower growth in 2014.

Gold miners had a better run as bullion gained overnight, while financials also enjoyed a modest recovery. Newcrest Minings Ltd rose 1.1 percent, while National Australia Bank Ltd climbed 1.3 percent.

"They (financials) were sort of sold off (yesterday) after their results. I think there has been a little bit of a recovery there...and we've seen the strength return back to the level where it should actually be," said Christopher Nelson-Smith, market maker at City Index.

New Zealand's biggest listed company Fletcher Building Ltd leapt 5.6 percent to a one-month high, after reporting a 76 percent rise in annual profit on a recovery in its home market.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.7 percent to 4,540.1.

(Reporting by Thuy ong and Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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