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Shares up but investors still wary of China

Australian shares picked up nearly 0.1 per cent today, as investors locked in gains in defensive stocks and turned to cyclical sectors while remaining cautious about China's growth-stimulating measures and Europe's debt crisis.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index added 2.8 points to 4,387.0, for an overall 7.1 per cent gain in the third quarter.

Index-heavy BHP Billiton edged up 0.1 per cent to $33.04, while major rival Rio Tinto lost 0.4 per cent.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining climbed 3.3 per cent as gold prices hovered near a one-week high today.

The move from defensive stocks to the cyclical sectors turned the market round from losses in earlier trade, analysts said.


"We saw some rebalancing with fund managers locking some of those gains in the defensive places," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG Markets.

"That money was flowing into the cyclical place."     

Defensive stocks lost some momentum after recent gains, with both blood product maker CSL and telecommunications company Telstra ending the session flat.

Australia's top supermarket chain Woolworths lost 0.8 per cent after it said its chairman would retire in November. Rival Wesfarmers also fell 0.9 per cent.

The big four banks ended mixed, with top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia losing 0.1 per cent, while Westpac Banking and Australia and New Zealand Banking ended more than 0.2 per cent higher.

Energy stocks got a modest lift from higher oil prices, with Woodside Petroleum up 0.1 per cent and Santos Ltd up 0.7 per cent.   

Oil refiner Caltex Australia jumped 4.0 per cent after it said its loss-making Kurnell refinery in Sydney would shut down in the second half of 2014 and be converted into an import terminal. 

The market had been struggling to gain momentum after a weak open, as investors digested Spain's economic reform plans, analysts said.

"They are starting to see that actually a lot of target and growth assumptions they've used are very unrealistic," said Damien Boey, an equity strategist at Credit Suisse. 

Investors remained cautious on China, Australia's biggest resources customer, as Fitch Ratings cut its 2012 growth forecast for China from 8 per cent to 7.8 per cent. After halting production at a loss-making plant, China's biggest listed steelmaker Baoshan Iron & Steel  expressed doubt that attempts to prop up the slowing economy would revive demand in the world's biggest metals consumer.