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Australia: Shares fall 1% to hit 6-day low, NZ shares little changed

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell 1 per cent on Thursday as negative market sentiment towards the country's financial sector dragged the index to a six-day low.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.94 per cent, or 52.01 points, to 5,491.7 by 0145 GMT, near the session low of 5,485.6 - the lowest since Aug 5. The benchmark closed down 0.16 per cent on Wednesday.

The losses were driven by concerns over the country's financial sector, further fuelled after Australia's No 3 lender Westpac Banking Corp said on Thursday it expects to see higher defaults in the third quarter.

"Financials are driving the losses today. The Australian economy is slowing and there are concerns about the future of Australia's financials," said Chris Weston, institutional dealer, IG Markets.

Shares in Westpac fell more than 3 per cent, touching a near one-month low. Shares in Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell more than 2 per cent, while National Australia Bank Ltd and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd fell more than 1 per cent.

Shares in Telstra Corporation Ltd, Australia's largest telecom company, fell 1 per cent despite reporting it would reward shareholders with a A$1.5 billion (S$1.55 billion) buyback and posting a 36 per cent rise in annual net profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 7,348.79 after closing down 0.18 per cent on Wednesday.

Auckland Airport lost 2.4 per cent, while energy company Mercury fell 2.4 per cent.

Casino operator Sky City fell 1 per cent after its full-year results released on Wednesday failed to meet investor expectations.

Steel goods manufacturer Steel & Tube led gains, rising 3.3 per cent ahead of the companies 2016 full-year results due out on Friday.

Telecommunications company Spark NZ rose 1.6 per cent while Fletcher Building was up 0.5 per cent.