* S&P/ASX 200 gains 0.5 pct in thin trade ahead of Easter &
Anzac Day break
* Benchmark index set to rise 0.3 percent in shortened
* Finance underpins market, energy sector lower
(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
By Thuy Ong
SYDNEY, April 17 Australian shares rose 0.5
percent on Thursday morning as investors took heart from a
modicum of stability on Wall Street after the recent heavy
tech-driven selloff, though activity was subdued ahead of the
long Easter and Anzac Day holiday break.
The index-heavy finance sector underpinned the market.
Westpac Banking Corp gained 0.9 percent and National
Australia Bank added 0.6 percent. NAB said it has
appointed Anthony Healy as managing director and chief executive
officer of Bank of New Zealand, replacing Andrew Thorburn.
U.S. stocks rose 1 percent overnight, advancing for a third
straight session as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
reaffirmed the central bank's commitment to keeping interest
rates low. A major selloff in U.S. tech shares
in recent sessions had raised worries of a deeper pullback and
valuation concerns, hitting sentiment across the globe
The S&P/ASX 200 index tacked on 26 points to 5,445.9
by 0212 GMT. Trading was relatively thin, with 231 million
shares trading hands, compared to a daily moving average of
618.1 million shares so far in 2014.
The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Wednesday and is so far up
0.3 percent in a shortened week. Markets will be shut on Friday
and Monday for Easter, and close again on April 25 for Anzac
"We're getting cautious at this level, people are very
comfortable," said Simon Ho, executive director at Triple 3
Partners, an independent investment manager in Sydney,
suggesting valuations were high. The benchmark touched a near
6-year high of 5,503.5 on April 10.
"We think it's likely equities are going to experience more
volatility and potentially more downside than we have seen
In the defensive space, consumer retail staple Woolworths
Ltd jumped 1.8 percent.
Elsewhere, Australian businesses reported an improvement in
activity last quarter as sales, profits and forward orders all
picked up, helping underpin sentiment.
The energy sector tempered the market's gains, with Karoon
Gas Australia Ltd losing 2.2 percent. Santos Ltd
was trading flat as the company said quarterly gas
production was 4 percent lower than the corresponding period.
Woodside Petroleum bucked the trend, adding 0.4
percent after Australia's largest independent oil and gas
producer reported a 5 percent rise in first quarter production.
NRW Holdings Ltd jumped 4 percent after being
awarded a contract worth A$200 million by Samsung C & T
Corporation for the construction of the Package One Works at Roy
Meanwhile, Padbury Mining requested that its shares
remain on a trading halt until it can provide details on
investors involved in a $6 billion-plus port and rail project in
Western Australia's iron ore belt. The stock last
rocketed 65 percent to A$0.03 on April 11.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.1
percent or 7.3 points to 5,097.8.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)