Australia shares hover at 4-mth high, tone seen more cautious

Wed Sep 11, 2013 10:10pm EDT

(Adds stock movements, analyst comments)

SYDNEY, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged up 0.1 percent in choppy trade on Thursday morning, slightly extending their gains after the recent rally on post-election optimism and growing signs of China's economic strength, with some cautious investors preparing for a correction ahead.

Australia's statistics office reported employment falling by a surprising 10,800 jobs in August, pushing the jobless rate to a four-year high of 5.8 percent -- which could add weight to the case for a cut in interest rates from the Reserve Bank.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 2.8 points to 5,237.2 by 0148 GMT, its highest point since May 20. The benchmark advanced 0.6 percent to a five-year closing high on Wednesday.

"There are a lot of people just enquiring rather than dealing, there is obviously an air of caution there," said Martin Angel, dealer at Patersons Securities

"A few people are suggesting there will be a down phase ahead of us and they are not running out and buying it," he added.

Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd managed were in positive territory, edging up 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent respectively.

The top copper marketing executive at Rio Tinto Ltd will take over as the head of Oyu Tolgoi, the giant Mongolian copper and gold mine controlled by Rio Tinto, Oyu Tolgoi said on Wednesday.

But big banks pulled back, with Westpac Banking Corp losing 0.4 percent and top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia edging 0.3 percent lower.

"We're seeing a bit of caution in the financials. They look like they're finding it a bit difficult to continue rallying," said Peter Esho, chief market strategist at Invast Financial.

Domestic consumer stocks had a better run. Supermarket chain Woolworths Ltd climbed 0.7 percent, and smaller rival Wesfarmers Ltd added 0.1 percent.

Australia's biggest department store Myer Holdings Ltd fell 2.1 percent, after dropping as much as 5 percent as it posted a 9 percent fall in full-year profit and missed analysts' expectations.

Shares in Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Company Holdings Ltd surged a third after majority holder Bega Cheese Ltd announced an off-market takeover offer for the company.

Uranium miner Paladin Energy Ltd jumped 3.5 percent, as its Canadian rival Cameco Corp delayed the start-up of its Cigar Lake project until the first quarter of 2014 and cutting its 2013 production forecast. [ID: nL2N0H50QH]

In New Zealand, the central bank held its benchmark cash rate steady at 2.5 percent on Thursday, and said it expected to hold rates for the rest of the year although it warned higher rates will be needed next year to cope with the expected growth of inflation pressure from the housing and building sectors.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was nearly flat, shedding 0.7 point to 4,634.2.

(Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Additional reporting by Michael Sin; Editing by Eric Meijer)