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Australia: Shares fall on global growth worries, slide in copper

[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell 0.6 per cent on Thursday, continuing their losing streak this week as a dive in copper prices spooked investors and on renewed fears about global growth after the World Bank cut its economic growth forecasts for 2015 and 2016.

Better-than-expected local job data helped pare some of the early losses but was not enough to turn the index positive.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 32.5 points to 5,321.1 by 0118 GMT, after falling 1 percent on Wednesday. If falls continue at the same pace over Friday, it would be its worst weekly performance since June 2013.

The benchmark, which barely moved in 2014, has started the new year on a tepid note with the global commodities slump hitting sentiment. The index is down 1.7 per cent so far this month. "The employment data actually surprised on the upside ... hopefully a positive driver for gains into the afternoon session," said Tristan K'Nell, head of trading at Quay Equities.

Financials and resource stocks led the falls on Thursday while consumer staples, healthcare and energy were trading in the black.

Among major miners, BHP Billiton was down about 1 per cent while Rio Tinto fell 2.4 per cent. The "Big Four" added to the weakness with Westpac Banking Corp and ANZ Banking Group falling about 1 per cent.

Iluka Resources fell 3 percent, the most since Dec 23, after it announced a drop in 2014 revenue and a slow start to zircon sales in 2015.

Energy shares saw some short covering, analysts said, with LNG, Horizon Oil, Senex and Beach Energy up between 4.5 and 8 per cent after oil futures rebounded.

US stocks fell for a fourth day on Wednesday. Adding to investor concerns. US retail sales registered their biggest drop in 11 months in December.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index was down 21.6 points or 0.4 per cent at 5,627.07.

Market leader Fletcher Building was down 0.6 per cent at NZ$8.25, and top-10 stock casino operator Sky City fell 0.7 per cent to NZ$3.98.

The biggest listed retailer The Warehouse hit a near 2-1/2-year low of NZ$2.72, down 1.5 per cent for the session, following last week's profit downgrade.

The strongest gains were among small cap stocks, largely on slight volumes, with fruit grower and logistics firm Scales Corp up 2.1 per cent at NZ$1.44, and software company ikeGPS rose 6.7 per cent to NZ$0.80.