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Australia: Stocks steadier, take China data in stride


[SYDNEY] Australian and New Zealand shares were a shade firmer on Tuesday as a slew of Chinese data offered no nasty surprises, even as it confirmed that growth in Asia's economic giant had slowed to a pace not seen since the global financial crisis.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.28 per cent, or 13.60 points, to 4,872.30 by 0249 GMT, pulling away from a 2-1/2 year low of 4,803.90 plumbed a day earlier.

New Zealand's S&P/ASX 50 index drifted up 0.19 per cent, or 11.56 points, to 6,113.00, off a one-month low of 6,035.88 set on Monday.

China's economy grew 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, roughly matching forecasts. Other data including industrial output and retail sales fell short of expectations.

"We haven't seen a sharp selloff as one might have expected and partly this is reflective of just how oversold levels are at the moment in the market and people were just looking for a bounce," said Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG. "But I do think as we slowly digest (the Chinese data), perhaps a bit of selling might come into the market in the afternoon."

Helping underpin the Australian market for now, the big four banks all rose led by a 1.1 per cent gain in National Australia Bank.

Rio Tinto was flat, having turned around from a near seven-year trough of A$38.08 (S$37.52) set early in the session.

Before the market open, the global miner reported an 11 per cent rise in annual iron ore shipments that was roughly in line with its guidance. It also said it planned to increase iron ore production and shipment in 2016.

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In New Zealand, the biggest gainers included casino operator Skycity Entertainment Group, up 7.2 per cent after upbeat first-half guidance.

New Zealand Refining Company added 4.1 per cent after it said its gross refining margin for the November/December period was US$10.82 a barrel. A2 Milk reversed early losses to be up 2.4 per cent.