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Australia: Shares dip on US Ebola scare, Wotif soars

[SYDNEY] Australian shares lost 0.7 per cent on Thursday, tracking Wall Street's drop after the first Ebola diagnosis in the United States rattled investors, although construction stocks capped losses and travel website Wotif soared.

US stocks fell more than 1 per cent overnight amid national concern over the possible spread of the deadly virus from West Africa, where 3,338 people have died in the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

The resource sector slipped with iron ore miners dipping as iron ore for immediate delivery to China rebounded 1 per cent to steady at US$78.30 a tonne, though still hovering at 5-year lows.

BHP Billiton Ltd lost 1.6 per cent to its lowest since July 2013 of A$33.44 while world no.4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd dipped 0.9 per cent.

Elsewhere, Holdings Ltd jumped 6.8 per cent to one-month highs of A$3.30 after Australia's antitrust regulator cleared online travel giant Expedia Inc to buy the company. "Online travel is a very dynamic industry, there's lots of emerging threats to the traditional ATAs," said Daniel Meuller, an analyst at Morningstar, referring to accredited travel agencies.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 38.1 points to 5,296.0 by 0219 GMT.

The benchmark traded on a downward trajectory in September as a rise in bond yields, China's slowing growth and a slump in iron ore prices pinched investor appetite for Australian equities. "Our market has broken down through lows witnessed since February this year, and may now rely upon buying support at 5,000 as the next elevator stop down," said Scott Schuberg, CEO at Rivkin Securities in a note to clients.

Elsewhere, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a better-than-expected 3 per cent uptick in building approvals in August compared to a forecast of 1 per cent.

Stocks linked to the construction sector lifted on the news. Building materials supplier Boral Ltd climbed 1.3 per cent, while property and infrastructure company Lend Lease Corporation Ltd jumped 1.6 per cent.

Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd dropped 2.7 per cent to May lows of A$0.37 after the foreign investment review board allowed the proposed acquisition of a 35 per cent stake in its frequent flyer programme by private equity firm Affinity Equity Partners.

New Zealand stocks succumbed to the broader negative global mood although they trimmed early losses, with the benchmark NZX50 index down 0.3 percent at 5,260.29, having been down more than 0.5 per cent at one stage.

The investment fund based on dairy giant Fonterra's dividend stream gained 0.6 per cent to NZ$6.35, despite another sharp fall in prices. That will hit farmer incomes but also lowers the raw material cost for its consumer products business.

Campervan and tourist attractions operator Tourism Holdings rose 3.4 per cent to hit a four-year high of NZ$1.50, before edging back a couple of cents, albeit on modest volumes. - Reuters