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Aust shares up in lacklustre trade

 

Australian shares are slightly higher in lacklustre early trade as investors turn cautious ahead of key US data and a slew of local earnings.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 stock index was up 0.16 per cent after the first half-hour of trade, with losses in financial and energy companies offsetting gains in healthcare and utilities.

Patersons strategist Tony Farnham says the local market is indecisive despite overnight gains on Wall Street.

"The key focus for investors is the inflation data in the US tonight, and there are lots of major company results still to come, so that will determine the course for the market," he said.

Overnight, Wall Street climbed for a third straight session, buoyed by Amazon.com and Apple, even as investors focused on inflation data due out on Wednesday (US time) that could upset the market's fragile recovery.

The US consumer prices and retail sales data will be key to where US stocks move in the short term after interest-rate fears sparked a stock market rout earlier in February.

Wall Street's Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 0.16 per cent higher, while the S&P 500 gained 0.26 per cent.

In the local market, financial stocks were under pressure, led by a 2.8 per cent fall in Commonwealth Bank, which turned ex-dividend.

Among the other big banks, Westpac and ANZ were slightly lower, but NAB shares rose 0.5 per cent.

Among energy companies, Oil Search and Santos were trading lower, while shares in Woodside, which reported full-year results and a major acquisition, remained in a trading halt ahead of a capital raising.

Healthcare shares were higher, led by a 5.5 per cent rise in CSL after the vaccines and blood products supplier reported a 35 per cent jump in half-year profit.

Shares in Insurance Australia Group were up 3.5 per cent after the insurer lifted first-half profit by 23.5 per cent.

Myer also bounced, by 3.7 per cent, after the struggling department store giant said chief executive Richard Umbers had stepped down.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar has slipped amid weakness in commodities and traders' risk-averse sentiment.

The local currency was trading at 78.57 US cents at 1030 AEDT on Wednesday, down from 78.64 on Tuesday.

ON THE ASX:

* At 1030 AEDT, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 was up 9.1 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 5,865 points.

* The broader All Ordinaries index was up 7.8 points, or 0.13 per cent, at 5,964.8 points.

* The SPI200 futures contract was up 20 points or 0.35 per cent at 5,813 points.

* National turnover was 630 million securities traded worth $810 million.