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Australia: Shares edge up amid mixed earnings, Fed uncertainty

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares edged higher on Monday as investors digested a mixed bag of earnings results and the possibility of a United States rate hike before long, while New Zealand stocks continued their ascent to record highs.

Companies in Australia were showing they could cope with a mining downturn. But recent comments from Federal Reserve policymakers indicating a rate hike could come at a September policy meeting kept investors cautious.

After see-sawing between positive and negative territory, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 5.817 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 0234 GMT.

The benchmark was 0.1 per cent lower last week, the first with annual earnings results.

"Volumes are low so it indicates that the largest players are sitting on their hands until they've had a chance to look across the full company landscape," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets.

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"The hedges are in place, and now we're waiting for more information." Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group fell 0.9 per cent despite tripling annual profit and upping its final dividend. But that was better than bigger rivals BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, both down 1 per cent.

Steelmaker Bluescope Steel rose 4 per cent after doubling its annual profit.

Energy producers also fell after the oil price retreated overnight. Santos, which reported its worst annual result in years the previous week, was down nearly 6 per cent, while Oil Search fell 2 per cent and Origin Energy lost 1.7 per cent.

Bank stocks were mostly up, with Westpac Banking Corp adding 0.2 per cent, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group 0.1 per cent and National Australia Bank advancing 0.2 per cent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia slipped 0.2 per cent.

Health insurer NIB Holdings skidded nearly 4 per cent after its annual result, while jobs advertiser Seek held steady despite a 4 per cent profit fall.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit record levels for a second straight day, up 15.36 points or 0.2 per cent to 7,420.61. Earlier, it hit a record intraday high of 7,443.0.

Heartland Bank led gains, rising 2.6 per cent. Air New Zealand, which will report full-year earnings on Friday, was up 1.3 per cent.

Dairy company A2 Milk rose 0.9 per cent and Fletcher Building rose 0.7 per cent, as the construction firm continued to rise following its strong full-year results released on Wednesday.

Retirement village operator Summerset lost 0.9 per cent while Sky TV fell 0.6 per cent.


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