November 14, 2012 / 6:38 AM / 5 years ago

Australia shares propped by banks in cautious trade

MELBOURNE, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged up 0.2 percent on Wednesday, recovering from seven-week lows as top banks rose in cautious trade to offset losses in other sectors, notably energy stocks.

A successful bond auction in Greece lent some support. But investors are increasingly nervous the looming U.S. fiscal cliff will slow economic growth and could even tip the world’s largest economy into recession. That in turn could reduce growth in China, Australia’s biggest export market.

“Investors still appear unwilling to venture into risk assets,” said Tim Waterer, trader at CMC Markets.

“The specter of the fiscal cliff is serving to downplay financial market performance until such time as this colossal hurdle is overcome by Washington. In the meantime, downward shifts in the market will likely be sharper than any shifts to the upside while the chance of a double dip recession remains even a faint chance,” he said.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 8.6 points to 4,388.4, according to the latest data. It dropped 1.5 percent on Tuesday, and fell as low as 4,372 in Wednesday trade, its weakest since Sept. 28.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia led bank gains with a rise of 0.7 percent, partly recovering a fall of 1.2 percent seen on Tuesday. QBE Insurance recovered 2.4 percent. It had plunged 7.5 percent on Tuesday.

New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.4 percent to 3,955.6.

Credit Suisse equity strategist Damien Boey said the onus was now on policymakers, but economic theorists were divided between whether austerity or stimulus were best to solve global debt and growth dilemmas.

“It’s really a case of picking the dog with the least fleas. People are saying that if all that’s going to happen is we’re going to kick the can down the road and in another six months or a year we’re going to face exactly the same situation, well I don’t like that future. So there’s a big change in sentiment (toward stimulus),” he said.

Fairfax Media rose 4 percent to A$0.40 after it sold its United States rural media business for $US79.9 million to Penton Media..

BHP Billiton slipped to A$33.73, its weakest close in a month. The company said earlier it sees less need to grow iron ore operations aggressively..

CSR rallied 7 percent to A$1.67 after reporting net profit for the half year of A$20.4 million. CSR said it saw some encouraging signs of a recovery in housing construction beyond the current year.

Wesfarmers rose 0.6 percent to A$33.94. The conglomerate said its Coles food and liquor business was showing growth into the second quarter and price deflation was easing.

Myer rose 0.3 percent to A$2. Analysts on average expect the department-store operator to report a 0.4 percent rise in like-for-like first quarter sales on Thursday, according to a Reuters survey of six forecasters. Forecasts ranged from a fall of 0.9 percent to a rise of 2 percent. (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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