[SYDNEY] Australian shares trimmed losses on Thursday after employment data surged past all expectations, but weakness in energy firms kept a lid on the market as crude oil struggled at two-month lows.
In an unambiguously upbeat report, employment jumped 58,600 last month, driving the unemployment rate down to a five-month low of 5.9 per cent. Market consensus was for a modest 15,000 increase in jobs and a steady jobless rate of 6.2 per cent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index, which had been down as much as 0.8 per cent, bounced back to be nearly flat on the day. It was a mere 0.04 per cent, or 2.02 points, lower at 5,120.60 by 0140 GMT. "We are always wary of reading too much into the monthly labour force 'lottery', but even looking through the noise it's hard not to conclude that current labour market conditions in Australia are strong," said Justin Fabo, senior economist at ANZ.
The major banks were all higher led by a 1.5 per cent rise in Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Westpac Banking Corp climbed 1.3 per cent.
In contrast, energy firms remained in the doldrums amid a gloomy outlook for crude oil.
Woodside Petroleum shed 1.3 per cent. Santos plunged 16.3 per cent after completing a A$2.5 billion capital raising program.
For more individual stocks activity, click on New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index barely moved as it consolidated after hitting record highs for five straight sessions over the past week.
The index ticked up 17.19 points, or 0.28 per cent to 6,030.72, adding to Wednesday's 10.7-point gain. It is on track to end the week in the red after a steep fall on Tuesday, leading to its worst performance since the week ended Oct.2.
For the year so far, the index is still up over 8 per cent.
a2 Milk Company was the most traded stock for a second day, up 5.8 per cent, after media reports the dairy company was considering building its own infant formula plant in Australia, which is in the midst of a baby formula shortage.