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Aussie shares continue to climb despite another weak lead from Wall St overnight. The ASX 200 is advancing by 15 points or 0.24% to 6260 heading towards lunch.
Leading the improvements have been the communications and consumer discretionary sectors. Telstra (TLS) is more than 1% higher while Wesfarmers (WES) is stronger by 0.5%.
Financials are improving with three of the big four banks higher. National Australia Bank (NAB) is leading the gains for the major lenders following the announcement that the bank has appointed current director & interim CEO, Philip Chronican as the next chairman. He will replace Dr Ken Henry later in 2019. NAB shares are up 1%.
Materials are the main laggard for the broader market with some of Australia’s largest miners trading ex-dividend. BHP Group (BHP) and Rio Tinto (RIO), along with South32 (S32), are all easing as the miners look to pay out close to $5 billion in dividends. RIO shares are falling 4.7% and are down the most as it looks to pay a special dividend. BHP and S32 are both down close to 1%.
Also trading ex-dividend is insurer QBE Insurance (QBE), Treasury Wine Estate (TWE), Iluka (ILU), ASX Ltd (ASX) and Corporate Travel Limited (CTD). The IT ctor is also weaker on the back of losses for Afterpay Touch (APT), Alltium (ALU) and Appen (APX) down roughly 2% each.
In company news, CIMIC Group (CIM) has secured a $172 million contract extension via its mining services business, Thiess, securing a 12-month extension with Bayan Resources in Indonesia. CIM shares are gaining 1.3%.
 On the economic front, retail sales for January have missed expectations, lifting marginally by 0.1% over the month compared to consensus estimates of 0.3% growth. This comes after sales fell 0.4% in December. However, Australia’s trade surplus managed to beat estimates to come in at $4.55 billion, well above estimates of a $2.75 billion surplus as exports outgrew imports in January. The Aussie dollar is hovering around 70.3 US cents following the releases.
 So far, 1.1b units have been traded worth $2.8b with 501 stocks higher, 407 weaker and 356 unchanged.
 Published by CommSec