Australia shares dip on miners, Caltex helps pare losses

Sun Aug 24, 2014 10:55pm EDT

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SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, August 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares lost 0.3 percent on Monday, slipping from six-year highs as Wall Street lost ground and iron ore hit a two-month low dragging miners lower.

An uptick in the earnings of oil company Caltex Ltd , however, helped temper losses among energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 15.1 points to 5,630.5 by 0223 GMT. The benchmark edged 0.1 percent higher on Friday, its seventh consecutive session of gains and its longest streak since mid-July. The ASX 200 gained 1.4 percent for the week, its second straight week of rises.

U.S. stocks ended mostly lower on Friday as Ukraine-Russia tensions reignited and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the Fed needed to move with caution on when to raise interest rates even as economic data shows improvements.

Iron ore dropped below $92 to its lowest since June, hitting stocks in the resource sector. Among top global miners, BHP Billiton Ltd lost 1.1 percent, while Rio Tinto Ltd dropped 1 percent.

Iron and steel producer Bluescope Steel Ltd slumped 12.6 percent to trade near February lows of A$5.33, after reporting a sharp recovery in annual earnings, but missed market forecasts for earnings and core profits.

Caltex Ltd jumped 4.5 percent to its highest since June 2007 of A$26.70 after reporting its half-year profit on replacement costs at A$173 million compared with A$171 million, while saying it would cut 350 jobs across its operational and support divisions.

Among gas and energy companies, Santos Ltd added 0.3 percent, while Australia's top oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum Ltd edged 0.1 percent higher.

The Australian benchmark index hit a 5-1/2 week trough of 5,509.0 on Aug. 8, but has since jumped some 140 points to trade at six-year highs, underpinned by a robust earnings season.

"The market is just dribbling higher until the big picture changes in regards to U.S. monetary policy," said John Zhu, a portfolio manager at Triple 3 Partners, an independent investment manager in Sydney.

"Apart from stock-specific news which would drive individual stocks, volatility would be on the low side."

Among earnings, NIB Holdings Ltd gained 1.8 percent after its full-year net profit rose 4 percent to A$69.9 million, while UGL Ltd lost 2.4 percent after the Australian engineering and property services company said underlying net profit came in at A$111.7 million, below its forecast of A$120 million.

Orora Ltd bounced 9.5 percent to A$1.61, an all-time high after reporting a 29.6 percent rise in proforma earnings before interest and tax to A$192.1 million.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX-50 index rose 32.45 points to 5,199.45, its best intraday level since mid-May.

Gains were led by a 5.2 percent rise in accounting software developer Xero to a near one-month high of NZ$25.01, extending gains on a company announcement last week that its customer base had nearly doubled in Australia in the past year.

Metlifecare jumped 3 percent to a 2-1/2-month high of NZ$4.44 after the retirement home operator raised its final dividend after underlying profits came in line with company forecasts.

Chorus slipped 0.6 percent to NZ$1.72 after the struggling telecommunications network operator reported a fall in profit and issued a lower earnings forecast for 2015. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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