Australia shares slip on resource stocks; US payrolls, China data caution

Thu Jan 9, 2014 7:57pm EST

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY Jan 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell 0.2 percent in early trade as a lack of leads from Wall Street and a fall in commodity prices sidelined investors ahead of Chinese trade and U.S. nonfarm payrolls data due later on Friday.

Miners weighed on the index as copper prices fell to two-week lows overnight and Chinese steel futures drifted to near contract lows as poor demand in the world's top consumer weighed on prices.

Heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.6 percent and 2.2 percent each. World no. 4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group dropped 3.2 percent.

"Recent softness in resource stocks has been at least partly attributable to growing concerns that the pace of economic growth in China has been softening," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a note.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 10.2 points to 5,314.2 by 0047 GMT, hovering 140 odd points below the 4-1/2 year high of 5,457.3 hit on October 28. The benchmark rose 0.2 percent on Thursday and is set to fall 0.7 percent for the week, snapping three weeks of consecutive gains.

The banking sector held on to gains, helping to offset broader market losses. Bluechip Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group added 0.7 percent and 0.9 percent respectively. Mid-tier Bank of Queensland Ltd edged 0.3 percent higher.

U.S. stocks ended little changed on Thursday in a choppy session ahead of Friday's payrolls report, which may provide a clue to whether the Federal Reserve will cut quantitative easing again at its meeting this month.

Other analysts said trading would also be cautious ahead of key China trade data due out at 0200 GMT.

Meanwhile, Twenty First Century Fox Ltd dropped 5.1 percent after the company said it would be delisting from the ASX.

Neon Energy Ltd crashed 71.9 percent to A$0.08, its lowest price since 2003 after the company said testing was completed at a gas reservoir off Vietnam, though poor deliverability and a high carbon dioxide content meant development would be unlikely.

Elsewhere, Integrated Research Ltd climbed 11.9 percent to five-month highs after the company said it expects its half year profit to be in the range of A$4.4 million to A$4.8 million, higher than the corresponding prior period.

"The big increase in stock market price earnings valuations in developed economies over 2013 means that markets are now potentially very sensitive to misses on earnings expectations," said Spooner.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.3 percent to 4,831.1.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)