Australia shares steady, investors digest earnings

Sun Aug 17, 2014 10:31pm EDT

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SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, August 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares were marginally positive on Monday, propped up by miners and the defensive sector as investors digested a raft of earnings results released earlier in the session.

Ansell Ltd jumped 2.4 percent after the world's biggest maker of condom and gloves, said it anticipated improved demand in developed economies this year. The move higher supported stocks in the health sector, with biotech firm CSL Ltd adding 0.3 percent.

The mining sector was boosted by Oz Minerals Ltd, which climbed 3.3 percent after saying its Carrapateena pre-feasibility study showed the project was viable.

BHP Billiton Ltd added 0.3 percent, while Sirius Resources Ltd bounced 2.4 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 4.7 points to 5,571.2 by 0207 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Friday, ending the week up 2.4 percent.

"It's very quiet in terms of trade this morning and people are digesting all those different results," said Simon Twiss, partner and dealer at Arnhem Investment Management.

A total of 125.7 million shares had traded hands by 0208 GMT, compared with a daily moving average of 471.9 million.

Banks dragged the market lower with National Australia Bank tumbling 1.3 percent after posting a 7 percent rise in third quarter unaudited cash profit, led by higher mortgage growth and lower bad debt charges even as revenues dropped.

Analysts said the growth outlook for banks would make it difficult to push share prices aggressively higher.

Westpac Banking Corp slipped 0.5 percent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia was flat.

Elsewhere, rail operator Aurizon Holdings plumbed 2.6 percent after warning on Monday that current fiscal year earnings may be hit by strikes.

Qantas Airways Ltd jumped 1.2 percent on its plans to slash the cost base of its international business over the next three years by a third.

New Zealand stocks gave up early gains and turned negative with softness among leading and mid-cap stocks overshadowing strong gains for smaller stocks.

The benchmark NZX-50 index was down 0.2 percent at 5,069.84.

Telecommunications company Spark Ltd, the second-ranked stock which reports its annual result later in the week, was down 1.7 percent at NZ$2.83.

Other leading stocks to give ground included retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare Ltd, down 1.58 percent at NZ$7.61, and Infratil Ltd, which fell 1.4 percent to NZ$2.41.

On the rise was software company Xero Ltd, which clawed back some of its losses of last week. It rose 5.8 percent to NZ$21.35 after it slumped to a 10-month low last week amid talk of investor concerns about the company's earnings outlook.

The spate of company results had no major surprises. Contact |Energy and Meridian Energy eased slightly, although results were close to expectations, while Freightways was flat despite posting a record profit. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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