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Australia, NZ: Shares drop on global jitters, gold stocks shine

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[MELBOURNE] Australian and New Zealand shares fell 1 per cent on Friday as worries about global growth hauled down most stocks except gold miners, which continued to climb as gold prices surged to a one-year high.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 49.78 points at 4,772.8 by 0220 GMT, erasing all of the previous session's gains.

Analysts and investors said there was no sign of a turnaround given there was little that could drive economic growth, and doubted further steps to ease monetary policy worldwide would have much impact.

"The world's suffering from lack of growth, a lack of confidence, and that explains why equity markets are breaking down," said Don Williams, chief investment officer at Platypus Asset Management.

Three of the big four Australian banks fell more than one per cent, while the biggest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia held up better, trading unchanged after defying gloom earlier this week with a steady half-year dividend.

Among the big miners, Rio Tinto slipped 0.1 per cent after announcing it would scrap its long-defended 'progressive dividend' in face of a poor outlook for 2016, though it held its dividend steady for 2015 even after its earnings halved.

BHP Billiton inched up one cent, buoyed by a jump in oil prices on a whiff of hope that Opec producers may cut output and expectations it will follow Rio in abandoning the strait jacket of its progressive dividend.

Gold miners were among the market's top five gainers, with Independence Group up 8.4 per cent, Evolution Mining up 5.3 per cent and Northern Star Resources up 4.8 per cent.

Bluescope Steel was the biggest gainer, after it surprised the market by raising its earnings forecast by 28 per cent, sending its shares up almost as much to a one-year high.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell one per cent or 60.37 points to 5,926.65.

The index was headed for a weekly loss of 3.8 per cent, which would be its worst weekly loss since 2010.

Air New Zealand led losses, falling 3.66 per cent while Z Energy fell 2.1 per cent and Sky TV lost 2.05 per cent.

Health software company Orion Healthcare rose 1.09 per cent as investors bargain hunted the stock, which had fallen for five consecutive sessions.

REUTERS