Australia shares up 0.4 pct as RBA maintains easing bias; miners weaker
(Adds details, comments) SYDNEY, April 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended 0.4 percent higher on Tuesday, driven by banks and defensive stocks as investors looked for bargains after recent dips, but miners remained pressured by worries about demand from China. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) kept its main cash rate at a record low of 3.0 percent, but left open the possibility of further easing if the economy failed to respond to past cuts. The RBA statement triggered a very mild bid for equities, as some investors had earlier thought the central bank would remove its easing bias after a slew of better domestic data, said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets. "However, the statement that accompanied the 'no change' verdict was a carbon copy of last month's, and gave little indication of a change of mindset from the RBA," Weston said. The S&P/ASX 200 index added 19.0 points to close at 4,985.5, according to the latest data. The benchmark dropped 0.6 percent in the last trading day ahead of the Easter holidays. "It's a very defensive-looking day. People are still happy to build up equities today, but it's selective," Weston said. "It's in the defensive nature sectors as well." Australia's big four banks all ended higher, led by the largest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which gained 1.4 percent. Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd fell 0.1 percent and 1.2 percent respectively, after iron ore prices sank more than 2 percent on Monday. Shares in rare earth producer Lynas Corp dived 9.8 percent to its lowest since June 2010. Analysts said the fall may be related to China's latest warning of weak demand for rare earths. Energy stocks had a strong run on firmer oil prices. Australia's biggest oil producer Woodside Petroleum Ltd pushed up 0.5 percent, and smaller peer Origin Energy Ltd gained 1.3 percent. Toro Energy Ltd surged 13.0 percent after the Australian government approved its plans to develop the Wiluna uranium mine in the Western Australia state. Consumer staples advanced, with supermarket chain Woolworth Ltd gaining 1.7 percent and rival Coles-owner Wesfarmers Ltd adding 1.3 percent. The property sector climbed higher, led by a 3.3 percent rise in Australia's second-largest property group Stockland Corp Ltd. Figures from property consultant RP Data-Rismark showed home prices climbed 1.3 percent in March from February, suggesting lower mortgage rates were breathing some life into the long moribund housing market. Australia's flagship airline Qantas Airways Ltd gained 2.5 percent, after it said Competition Commission of Singapore has approved its partnership with Emirates Airline. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index dropped 0.3 percent to 4,411.4. (Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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