Australia shares fizzle in thin trade as Wall St closes for MLK day

Reuters - UK Focus

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SYDNEY, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares added 0.1percent in choppy trade on Tuesday, led by banking and defensivestocks, with Wall Street closed overnight for Martin Luther KingDay and offering no leads to follow.

An uptick in some banking and defensive stocks helped buoythe index. Top (Taiwan OTC: 8419.TWO - news) lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Other OTC: CBAUF - news) added 0.5 percent while National Australia Bank rose0.6 percent.

Among defensives, biotechnology firm CSL Ltd (Other OTC: CMXHF - news) gained0.6 percent while consumer staple retailer Woolworths Ltd edged 0.3 percent higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 2.8 points to 5,297.8 by0051 GMT. Trading was thin, with 129.1 million shares changinghands by 0049 GMT compared to an average of 678.7 million sharestraded daily in 2013. The benchmark slipped 0.2 percent onMonday.

The local bourse is down 1.1 percent so far in 2014 asinvestors fret over slowing growth in China, Australia's largestexport market, and uncertainty over how quickly the U.S. FederalReserve will cutail its bond buying program.

"The index has just been trailing off, it's obviouslytrading sideways with traders waiting for what the Fed's goingto do in the U.S. and how investors will react to that news,"said Jonathan Fyfe, investment advisor and portfolio manager atWilson HTM Investment Group.

The resource sector was worst hit as copper dipped afternear-term demand prospects from top consumer China remainedmuted despite slightly better-than-expected Chinese growth data.

Heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd (Xetra: 855018 - news) lost 0.3 percent and 1.2 percent each.

Steel producers were also hit after Shanghai steel futuresfell for a third straight session to trade near record lows.World no.4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd plumbed 3.5 percent, while Arrium Ltd dropped 3.3percent.

Tiger Resources Ltd fell 1.2 percent after jumpingearlier in the session to touch near two-year highs. Tiger saidstage 2 production at its Kipoi Copper project in the DemocraticRepublic of Congo is expected to produce 532,000 tonnes ofcopper cathode over 11 years, an increase of 41 percent.

Elsewhere, Sandfire Resources NL lost 3 percentafter maintaining its full year 2014 production guidance.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd (Other OTC: WOPEF - news) stumbled 1.1 percent. Thecompany is stuck in the middle of a dispute between East Timorand Australia over seized documents relating to the twocountries' negotiations over oil and gas reserves thought to beworth tens of billions of dollars.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index advanced 0.2percent to 4,898.0 points.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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