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Australia: Shares end lower, led by banks

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[SYDNEY[ Australian shares ended lower on Friday, weighed down by sell-offs in the major banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 1.64 per cent, or 83.385 points, to close at 4999.400.

The Big Four Australian banks were a major drag on the index, led by a 2.6 per cent fall in Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a 2.1 per cent drop in National Bank of Australia.

The close put the ASX down 1.5 per cent for the week, the second negative week in a row.

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Bucking the negative trend were the global miners after China's manufacturing activity unexpectedly expanded in March for the first time in nine months.

"That seems to be driving some buying into the material space," said Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both ended modestly higher, also helped by firmer copper prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.658 per cent or 44.400 points lower to finish the session at 6708.020.

REUTERS

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