(Updates with stock moves, analyst comments)
SYDNEY Aug 21 Australian shares edged 0.1
percent higher on Wednesday morning, as a mixed bag of earnings
kept buyers in check with top miner BHP Billiton Ltd
sliding after its profits undershot forecasts, though a rebound
in the banking sector helped support the market.
Investors were also cautious ahead of the release of the
U.S. Federal Reserve's minutes of its July meeting as they look
for clues on when Fed plans to trim its massive stimulus.
BHP dropped 2.5 percent after it missed analysts' forecast
in its full-year profit late on Tuesday and said it delayed
production the $14 billion Canadian potash project.
A few other companies reporting their earnings also got a
negative response from investors.
Australia's biggest oil and gas company Woodside Petroleum
fell 2.4 percent after reporting a 1.5 percent fall in
first-half net profit as lower prices and increased costs
overrode record production.
Building materials maker Boral Ltd fell 2.8 percent
after a modest 3 percent rise in full-year net profit as low
domestic building activity, pricing pressures and restructuring
costs restrained earnings.
"No one's really shot the lights out today with earnings,
that's why we're seeing the market just down," said
Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG in Melbourne.
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 4.2 points to 5,082.4
by 0147 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.7 percent on Tuesday.
The local market has been on the defensive in recent weeks,
with investors continuing to fret about an eventual end to the
Fed's stimulus programme, which have supported risk assets in
The ongoing earnings season, which has been a mixed bag so
far, has also buffeted trading in the past two weeks.
"I think the market wants to see a situation where they
have significant leads, better or upbeat (earnings) outlook than
what the market is looking for," Shamu said.
Rail and ports operator Asciano Ltd added 1.7
percent after it posted a 41 percent rise in 2013 full-year net
profit, in line with analysts' forecast, but said it expected
slower growth in 2014.
Gold miners had a better run as bullion gained overnight,
while financials also enjoyed a modest recovery. Newcrest
Minings Ltd rose 1.1 percent, while National Australia
Bank Ltd climbed 1.3 percent.
"They (financials) were sort of sold off (yesterday) after
their results. I think there has been a little bit of a recovery
there...and we've seen the strength return back to the level
where it should actually be," said Christopher Nelson-Smith,
market maker at City Index.
New Zealand's biggest listed company Fletcher Building Ltd
leapt 5.6 percent to a one-month high, after reporting
a 76 percent rise in annual profit on a recovery in its home
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.7
percent to 4,540.1.
(Reporting by Thuy ong and Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri