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Australia: Shares edge higher; set for worst week in 11 months

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Australian shares ticked up on Friday in thin trade, as investors refrained from making big bets ahead of a key US jobs report following a series of dismal data that put the index on track for its worst week in almost 11 months.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ticked up on Friday in thin trade, as investors refrained from making big bets ahead of a key US jobs report following a series of dismal data that put the index on track for its worst week in almost 11 months.

The country's fourth biggest firm CSL pushed the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index 4 points, or 0.1 per cent, higher to 6,496.9 by 0209 GMT.

On Thursday, the Australian benchmark lost A$42 billion (S$39.1 billion) in value as two consecutive days of weak US data and Washington's latest trade salvo, this time against Europe, fanned worries about an economic slowdown there.

The index is set to fall 3.2 per cent this week, its biggest drop since mid-November.

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The non-farm payrolls report due later in the day could cement expectations for further US Federal Reserve interest rate cuts after poor manufacturing and private jobs figures earlier this week.

"Simply put, the more disappointing the report the more likely we are to see a rate cut this month and potentially another one towards the end of the year," said Steven Daghlian, a market analyst with CommSec.

National Australia Bank dropped the most among the "Big Four", extending losses in a week that has seen it forecast a A$1.12 billion cash earnings hit after nearly doubling the total amount it has set aside to repay wronged customers.

It also faced a rating downgrade from Morgan Stanley, coupled with warnings from analysts that all the major banks face intense margin pressure from the three interest rate cuts this year by the Reserve Bank of Australia and any further easing.

The country's third-biggest lender was down 7 per cent for the week.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.4 per cent as Australian authorities charged its life insurance arm with 87 counts of unlawfully offering to sell products via unsolicited telephone calls.

Drugmaker CSL climbed as much as 3.4 per cent, set for its best day since Aug 14 after Morgan Stanley upgraded the company.

Energy and mining stocks, which suffered sharp losses on Thursday, rose as oil and commodities prices edged higher.

Fortescue Metals Group strengthened 1.1 per cent, while Rio Tinto added 0.4 per cent.

The country's top independent oil and gas explorer and producer Woodside Petroleum advanced 0.7 per cent

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.7 per cent, or 77.63 points to 10,898.84.

Fonterra and NZX Ltd climbed 2.2 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS