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[SYDNEY] Australian shares pared heavy early-session losses to be down less than half a percentage point as investors looked past a plunging oil price and focused instead on better-than-expected local jobs data.
The equity market fell as much as 1.3 per cent in early trading after the oil price slid to a five-year low on news that Saudi Arabia vowed to maintain its production even though OPEC slashed its 2015 forecast. Oil stocks fell the most.
But the late morning release of official jobs data showing Australian employment grew far faster than expected in November - albeit it was mostly part-time employment - sparked a rebound.
By 0140 GMT the S&P/ASX 200 index was down 23.6 points or 0.45 per cent at 5235.4. The share market has lost 2.7 per cent in the past three sessions. "After all the negatives on crude and OPEC this morning, it was good to see a bit of a positive come through," said Quay Securities head of trading Tristan K'Nell, referring to the employment figures. "It would have been good if it was full time (employment) numbers but it's better than nothing."
Santos led oil majors lower, shedding 5.1 per cent to A$7.24 after it joined the ranks of resources firms cutting spending amid tumbling commodities prices. Woodside eased 1.3 per cent to A$34.44 and Oil Search fell 2.3 per cent to A$7.08.
Smaller Horizon Oil tumbled 10 per cent to A$0.14.
As the iron ore price also continued to slide, large iron ore miners fell. BHP Billiton dropped 1.3 percent to A$29.02 and Rio Tinto was down 2 per cent to A$55.29 while Fortescue Metals Group lost 2 per cent to A$2.51. It has lost a third since Oct 22.
Banks fell as investors braced for tough new shockproofing regulations recommended by a major government inquiry. Westpac Banking Corp was down 0.8 per cent at A$32.27, Australian and New Zealand Banking Group was down 0.5 per cent at A$31.33 and National Australia Bank was down 0.4 per cent at A$32.17.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index fell 37.68 points or 0.7 per cent to 5,485.89, further easing from a record closing high of 5,542.93 due to losses in commodity-related shares, which tracked lower global prices for gold and oil.
Gold prospector OceanaGold fell 3.29 per cent to NZ$2.35, while New Zealand Oil and Gas lost 3.1 per cent to NZ$0.63, falling for the third consecutive day.
Outdoorwear manufacturer Kathmandu fell 4.3 per cent to NZ$2.92, further easing from a one-month high of NZ$3.11 touched early the week as investors booked profits on gains made when Commonwealth Bank of Australia on Tuesday said it had taken a substantial holding in the underperforming company.