Australia shares choppy, weak jobs take shine off solid earnings

Wed Feb 12, 2014 8:52pm EST

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped 0.1 percent in a choppy Thursday morning, after weak jobs numbers tempered interest in firms reporting strong earnings.

The resources sector kept the market from going too far backwards. BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd rose 0.6 percent and 0.2 percent as copper bounced on Wednesday, boosted by Chinese trade data showing record January imports. Rio is due to report its results after the closing bell on Thursday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 4.2 points to 5,305.9 by 0143 GMT, snapping five sessions of gains, its longest winning streak since mid-October. The benchmark rose 1.1 percent on Wednesday.

The positive sentiment sparked by the strong trade data from China, Australia's biggest export market, gave way to some weak domestic employment numbers.

Australian employment fell unexpectedly in January, driving the jobless rate to its highest in over a decade.

"Certainly not good, another decline in jobs after a bigger fall in December, the jobs market is still very weak as a result," said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital Markets.

"My feeling is that as business gradually improves with profit results, the labour market should start to improve in the second half of the year."

The 'Big Four' banks reversed earlier gains after the disappointing jobs data. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, which have topped earnings expectations with their results this week, lost 0.2 percent and ANZ rose 0.1 percent.

National Australia Bank fell 0.3 percent.

Thursday's corporate results maintained the solid start to the season.

Webjet Ltd surged more than 23 percent to a one-month high of A$3.08, after the company posted a strong 64 percent jump in first half revenue to A$52.2 million.

Australian Securities Exchange Ltd reported a 10.8 percent rise in first-half profit, slightly ahead of market forecasts, buoyed by a jump in share floats over the past six months, but it also warned that costs were climbing. Shares in ASX climbed 2 percent,

SingTel Ltd rose 1 percent as the company said its third quarter net profit increased 6 percent to S$872 million ($688.62 million)

Elsewhere, Telstra Corporation Ltd added 0.8 percent after Australia's biggest phone company posted a 9.7 percent rise in the first-half net profit.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged 0.1 percent higher to 4,873.98.

($1 = 1.2663 Singapore dollars) (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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