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Australia: Shares down 1.2% as China concerns linger

China will keep in effect its ban on share sales by listed companies' major shareholders until the government publishes new rules on such share disposals, the Shanghai Securities News reported on Wednesday.

[SYDNEY] Australian shares extended losses for the fourth straight day on Wednesday falling 1.2 per cent in light trade and amid cautious sentiment as investors eye China's slowing growth.

China is Australia's major trading partner.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 62.13 points to 5,122.3 by 0137 GMT. The benchmark fell 1.6 per cent on Tuesday, a level last seen on Dec 24. "It's hard to read into it today because of the lack of volumes going through the market, but it is the fourth consecutive day of loses for the market which means every trading day in 2016 so far has been negative for the Aussie share market," said Julia Lee, equities analyst, Bell Direct.

The major banks led the losses with Westpac down 0.95 per cent followed by National Australia Bank, down 0.85 while ANZ lost 0.89 per cent and Commonwealth Bank of Australia down 0.71 per cent.

The materials sector came under pressure after iron ore prices fell 2.8 per cent overnight. "Once again, it looks like the bears taking over that materials/mining space," Mr Lee said.

Fortescue Metals Group fell 6.07 per cent, while Rio Tinto lost 2.7 per cent and BHP Billiton down 2.1 percent.

Among the retailers, leading grocer Woolworths slipped 1.27 per cent while rival Coles rose 0.12 per cent.

Mineral explorer Ardiden Ltd jumped 71 per cent, its highest level in three years on Canada lithium project buy.

Communications service provider Spark New Zealand rose as much as 3 per cent after being upgraded by brokerage Morningstar.

Asian stocks were subdued as floundering crude oil prices continued to dampen risk sentiment. Risk markets were waiting to see how Chinese equities will fare later in the session.

Wall Street offered little direction after a 2.5 per cent drop in Apple Inc. weighed on all three major indexes cutting short a feeble recovery.

For more individual stocks activity click on New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index slipped 0.22 per cent or 14.27 points to 6,263.83.

The biggest gainers were Xero, which added 1.6 per cent and Spark, which was up 1.5 per cent.

The biggest losers were Sky TV, down 2.4 per cent and Kathmandu, down 1.9 per cent.

Shares in Fonterra's fund, which provides investor exposure to the farmer-owned dairy exporter, fell 0.65 per cent. Dairy prices fell in the overnight GlobalDairyTrade auction, adding to the view that Fonterra might not make its forecast payout to its 10,500 farmer shareholders for the current season.