Aust stocks unchanged at noon

Local market pares slight early gains despite Wall Street lead.

The Australian stock market pared minor early gains to sit unchanged at noon, with investors shrugging of gains on Wall Street overnight after United States Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke saying tapering of stimulus measures was not on a "preset course".

In testimony to Congress, Dr Bernanke reiterated that the Fed would likely scale back its $US85 billion-a-month bond-buying program later this year, but only if the economy improved.

At 1205 AEST, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rose 0.1% to 4986.6 points and the broader All Ordinaries index rose 0.13% to 4,973 points.

IG market analyst Evan Lucas said Mr Bernanke managed to separate QE monetary stimulus tapering and the cash rate, as well as clarifying that bond purchases were "by no means in a pre-set course".

"You could hear the market taking a big deep breath on this news," he said.

He said the week of production results continued to be a bright spot for the local market.

"With earning seasons in the US hitting full stride this week, US leads will continue to drive global markets, and because Mr Bernanke’s testimony to the Senate tonight will be a tape recording of last night’s speech, earnings season will be more important," he said.

Materials were mixed, with the major miners moving in opposite directions.

Rio Tinto rose 0.71% to $56.55, while BHP Billiton shed 0.41% to $34.05.

Fortescue Metals added 1.48% to $3.765.

Whitehaven Coal rose 0.47% to $2.16, while Newcrest tumbled 4.23% to $10.985 as it reaffirmed full-year production guidance for gold and copper, flagging a challenging gold environment.

In energy, Santos edged up 0.65% to $14.03, Oil Search lost 0.74% to $8.10 and Woodside inched 0.03% lower to $37.44 as it announced slightly lower second-quarter production.

Financial stocks was mixed, with the big four banks posting gains.

Commonwealth Bank gained 0.38% to $71.48, while ANZ Banking Group rose 0.31% to $28.89.

National Australia Bank increased 0.9% to $30.30, while Westpac Banking Corporation put on 0.49% to $29.545.

Investment bank Macquarie Group lost 0.56% to $44.08.

In the insurance sector, QBE retreated 0.97% to $16.34, Insurance Australia Group slipped 0.76% to $5.895 and Suncorp inched down 0.12% to $12.655.

The retail sector was mixed.

Wesfarmers gained 0.36% to $39.03, while Woolworths fell 1.87% to $33.06 as it announced losses for its home improvement joint venture Masters will blow out to $157 million for the 2013 financial year.

Myer lost 0.2% to $2.505 while rival David Jones retreated 0.61% to $2.455.

Harvey Norman put on 0.4% to $2.51 while JB Hi-Fi rose 0.3% to $16.58.

In media, Fairfax Media expanded 0.5% to 50.75 cents, while 21st Century Fox shed 0.09% to $32.82.

Ten Network gained 0.86% to 29.25 cents and Southern Cross Media lost 0.51% to $1.4775, while Seven West was decreased 0.91% to $2.17.

Meanwhile, blue chip Telstra added 0.62% to $4.86, while Qantas was flat at $1.34.

On Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 4.3 points, or 0.09%, at 4,981.7 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 2.1 points, or 0.04%, to 4,966.5 points.

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