Australia shares choppy, weak jobs take shine off solid earnings

Reuters - UK Focus

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SYDNEY, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped 0.1percent in a choppy Thursday morning, after weak jobs numberstempered interest in firms reporting strong earnings.

The resources sector kept the market from going too farbackwards. BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd (Xetra: 855018 - news) rose 0.6 percent and 0.2 percent as copper bounced on Wednesday,boosted by Chinese trade data showing record January imports.Rio is due to report its results after the closing bell onThursday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 4.2 points to 5,305.9by 0143 GMT, snapping five sessions of gains, its longestwinning streak since mid-October. The benchmark rose 1.1 percenton Wednesday.

The positive sentiment sparked by the strong trade data fromChina, Australia's biggest export market, gave way to some weakdomestic employment numbers.

Australian employment fell unexpectedly in January, drivingthe jobless rate to its highest in over a decade.

"Certainly not good, another decline in jobs after a biggerfall in December, the jobs market is still very weak as aresult," said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP CapitalMarkets.

"My feeling is that as business gradually improves withprofit results, the labour market should start to improve in thesecond half of the year."

The 'Big Four' banks reversed earlier gains after thedisappointing jobs data. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Other OTC: CBAUF - news) and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, which havetopped earnings expectations with their results this week, lost0.2 percent and ANZ rose 0.1 percent.

National Australia Bank fell 0.3 percent.

Thursday's corporate results maintained the solid start tothe season.

Webjet Ltd surged more than 23 percent to aone-month high of A$3.08, after the company posted a strong 64percent jump in first half revenue to A$52.2 million.

Australian Securities Exchange Ltd reported a 10.8percent rise in first-half profit, slightly ahead of marketforecasts, buoyed by a jump in share floats over the past sixmonths, but it also warned that costs were climbing. Shares in ASX climbed 2 percent,

SingTel Ltd rose 1 percent as the companysaid its third quarter net profit increased 6 percent to S$872million ($688.62 million)

Elsewhere, Telstra Corporation Ltd added 0.8percent after Australia's biggest phone company posted a 9.7percent rise in the first-half net profit.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged 0.1percent higher to 4,873.98.

($1 = 1.2663 Singapore dollars) (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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