(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)
MELBOURNE Jan 10 Australian shares were almost
flat in late morning trade on Thursday, retracing early gains as
investors worried about a possible pullback in iron ore prices
and waited on December trade data from China, Australia's top
China's imports of crude oil, iron ore and soybeans are
expected to have risen in December as confidence in the economy
grew and buyers stocked up for 2013.
But investors were showing growing concerns about iron ore
prices, which have shot up sharply since last September's low,
said Credit Suisse's equity strategist Damien Boey.
"They don't believe the sustainability of it," Boey said.
"There is a major restocking cycle of commodities which is going
on in China, and they are not sure whether it will last."
"My suspicion is that it has to fall back because the
restocking cycle is very seasonal," he added.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was down just 0.9
points at 4,707.2 by 0102 GMT. It rose 0.4 percent on Wednesday
to snap a three-day losing streak.
Top miners weighed on the market, with BHP Billiton Ltd
dropping 0.5 percent and Rio Tinto Ltd losing
Banks were mixed, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia
bouncing back 0.4 percent and Westpac banking Corp
easing 0.2 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged up 0.1
percent to 4,107.2.
New Zealand posted a bigger-than-expected NZ$700 million
($583 million) trade deficit for November, its fourth straight
monthly trade deficit..
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Australian construction firm Macmahon Holdings Ltd
climbed 1.8 percent to A$0.28, having jumped as much as
5.5 percent after it received a revised offer from Sembawang
Sembawang, a subsidiary of India's Punj Lloyd Ltd,
stepped up its offer for Macmahon's construction business on
Thursday, looking to trump a current deal with Leighton Holdings
* Australia's biggest gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd
fell 1.8 percent to A$21.62, declining for a fifth
session in a row to hit a near six-month low.
(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Richard Pullin)