Australia shares fizzle in thin trade as Wall St closes for MLK day

Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:17pm EST

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY Jan 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares added 0.1 percent in choppy trade on Tuesday, led by banking and defensive stocks, with Wall Street closed overnight for Martin Luther King Day and offering no leads to follow.

An uptick in some banking and defensive stocks helped buoy the index. Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia added 0.5 percent while National Australia Bank rose 0.6 percent.

Among defensives, biotechnology firm CSL Ltd gained 0.6 percent while consumer staple retailer Woolworths Ltd edged 0.3 percent higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 2.8 points to 5,297.8 by 0051 GMT. Trading was thin, with 129.1 million shares changing hands by 0049 GMT compared to an average of 678.7 million shares traded daily in 2013. The benchmark slipped 0.2 percent on Monday.

The local bourse is down 1.1 percent so far in 2014 as investors fret over slowing growth in China, Australia's largest export market, and uncertainty over how quickly the U.S. Federal Reserve will cutail its bond buying program.

"The index has just been trailing off, it's obviously trading sideways with traders waiting for what the Fed's going to do in the U.S. and how investors will react to that news," said Jonathan Fyfe, investment advisor and portfolio manager at Wilson HTM Investment Group.

The resource sector was worst hit as copper dipped after near-term demand prospects from top consumer China remained muted despite slightly better-than-expected Chinese growth data.

Heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd lost 0.3 percent and 1.2 percent each.

Steel producers were also hit after Shanghai steel futures fell for a third straight session to trade near record lows. World no.4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd plumbed 3.5 percent, while Arrium Ltd dropped 3.3 percent.

Tiger Resources Ltd fell 1.2 percent after jumping earlier in the session to touch near two-year highs. Tiger said stage 2 production at its Kipoi Copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to produce 532,000 tonnes of copper cathode over 11 years, an increase of 41 percent.

Elsewhere, Sandfire Resources NL lost 3 percent after maintaining its full year 2014 production guidance.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd stumbled 1.1 percent. The company is stuck in the middle of a dispute between East Timor and Australia over seized documents relating to the two countries' negotiations over oil and gas reserves thought to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index advanced 0.2 percent to 4,898.0 points.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)