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Australia: Shares drift as casino operator slumps, NZ drops


[BENGALURU] Australian shares drifted lower on Monday, with Crown Resorts falling the most after it said 18 of its employees including its head of VIP gambling had been detained by Chinese authorities.

Crown Resorts Ltd, Australia's biggest casino company slumped as much as 12.5 per cent, poised for worst percentage performance in nearly eight years.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged down 0.4 per cent or 23.43 points to 5,410.6 by 0154 GMT.

Sentiment also remained subdued following comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Friday when she expressed concerns of weakening US economic potential and said aggressive steps may be needed to rebuild it, adding the Fed may need to run a "high-pressure economy" to reverse damage from the 2008-2009 crisis.

Though she did not address interest rates or immediate policy concerns directly, traders continued to price in a 67-per cent chance of a rate hike in December.

Australian financial stocks, which have tended to outperform during past rate hike cycles, offset losses in other sectors and rose 0.6 per cent. The "Big Four" banks rose 0.4 to one per cent.

Declining issues in Australia marginally outpaced advancers by a 1.05:1 ratio, with 158 issues hitting new lows as at 0111 GMT.

Healthcare companies were among the top percentage losers on the benchmark, with medical device maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare stumbling 2.8 per cent.

Energy shares fell for a third session after oil prices receded on Monday following a rising rig count in the United States, record Opec output, and slowing global economic growth.

Beach Energy shed as much as 3 per cent before recovering some of its losses, while oil majors Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search fell 0.6 to one per cent.

Bucking the trend, Whitehaven Coal rose 3.5 per cent to its highest in nearly 3 1/2 years after reporting September quarter coal sales of 5.03 million tonnes, up 12 per cent from last year.

Iron miner Fortescue Metals Group inched up 1.4 per cent after Shanghai steel futures climbed to a five-week high on Friday, amid solid demand that has kept production high and boosted appetite for raw material iron ore.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slid one per cent or 72.12 points to 7,061.14, its lowest in around three months.

Skycity Entertainment Group was the biggest percentage loser on the index, wilting 4.3 per cent, while Air New Zealand and Fonterra Shareholders' Fund were among the biggest percentage gainers.