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Australia: Shares drop on Chinese growth concerns


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on the first trading day of 2016 as a sell off in Chinese equities dampened risk sentiment, though gains in energy and healthcare shares capped losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dipped 0.3 per cent or 16.85 points to 5,279.0 by 02:40 GMT, on disappointing factory activity surveys in China.

Earlier in the session, the benchmark had risen 0.2 per cent.

But dealers said trading was volatile with many investors still out after the holidays.

The Australian benchmark index fell 2.1 per cent in 2015, its first annual loss in four years as slumping iron ore and metal prices hit blue-chip mining stocks, while onerous capital rules hurt the heavyweight banking sector.

Industrial stocks came under pressure with Sydney Airport off 2.2 per cent.

The "Big Four" major banks were also in the red with Westpac Banking Corp leading the losses with a 1.3 per cent decline. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ Bank shed nearly 1 per cent, while National Australia Bank dropped 0.6 per cent.

The energy sector, however, was a clear outperformer after oil futures jumped over 2 per cent. Liquefied natural gas leapt 7.5 per cent, while WorleyParsons gained 5.6 per cent and Santos 4.3 per cent.

The healthcare sector was also in good form with cancer treatment developer Sirtex up 2.05 per cent. Blood-products maker CSL scaled a record peak, having leapt 26 per cent in 2015.

Miners also got a lift with Rio Tinto up 0.6 per cent and BHP Billiton 0.4 per cent higher.

Electronics retailer Dick Smith Holdings Ltd was on trading halt ahead of an expected debt announcement. Its shares plunged 83 per cent last year to touch record lows on poor sales.

For more individual stocks activity click on New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 index was shut for a public holiday and will re-open on Tuesday. The benchmark leapt 13 per cent in 2015, the fourth annual gain. Dairy producer A2 Milk was among the top outperformers with a 220 per cent rise.