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Australia: Shares at 2½-year lows on China jitters, New Zealand shares skid


[SYDNEY] Australian shares plunged to 2½-year lows on Monday, while their New Zealand peers also fell, as concerns about China's policymakers' ability to calm the country's share market took a toll on risk appetite.

The S&P/ASX 200 index crumbled 1.6 per cent, or 79.43 points, to 4,911.4 by 0105 GMT. The benchmark shed 5.7 per cent last week, its largest such loss since 2011 and the worst opening week on record.

The absence of Tokyo for a holiday made liquidity even thinner, heightening volatility and sending investors to the safety of the yen and government bonds. "Ongoing concerns about China, the Federal Reserve and commodity prices, it's all one-way traffic at the moment, resulting in very negative sentiment," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at OptionsXpress, seeing key support for the index around 4,900.

Losses were across the board, but heavyweight resource sector was among the hardest hit with miner BHP Billiton at a fresh 10-year low. Rio Tinto skidded 4 per cent to its weakest in seven years.

Investors sold the financial sector with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Westpac Banking Corp and Commonwealth Bank of Australia at least 1.5 per cent lower. National Australia Bank plumbed its weakest levels since mid-2013, while Macquarie Group fell 3.6 per cent.

Likewise, there was not much love across the Tasman Sea with New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index off 0.9 per cent or 56.7 points to 6,101.410, heading for its fifth session of losses on Monday.

Sky TV led losses, falling 2.12 per cent whilst Fletcher Building lost 1.7 per cent.

Accounting software company Xero lost 1.14 per cent, continuing to edge down after a rally in the final days of last year.

The biggest gainer was Z Energy Ltd which rose 1.2 per cent as investors sought bargains from the energy retailer's lower price after five consecutive sessions of falls.