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Australia: Shares fall on Greek unrest, China slide, commodities drop

[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on Wednesday as banks led most sectors lower on concerns about political unrest in Greece, sluggish Chinese economic growth and weak commodities prices.

Overnight, Greece unexpectedly brought forward an election, raising uncertainty about its ability to transition from its European bailout, sending its shares down nearly 13 per cent.

Meanwhile Brent crude, which has fallen more than 40 per cent in the last six months, slipped again to a five-year low on worries over a supply glut, before rebounding.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.5 per cent or 27.17 points to 5256.40 by 0157 GMT, extending the previous session's fall. "The main driver has been that lead out of Europe, with fresh Greece uncertainty as investors are starting to experience jitters once again," said IG Markets strategist Stan Shamu.

China's biggest share market fall in five years on Tuesday could constrain growth within Australia's biggest trading partner, Shamu added.

Global banks fell by the most among the financials. Investment bank Macquarie Group dropped 1.7 per cent to A$59.61 and global insurer QBE fell 2 per cent to A$10.93. Fund manager-insurer AMP was down 3 per cent to A$5.39.

Westpac lost the most of the retail banks, down 1.5 per cent to A$32.56.

Resources majors BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gained 1 per cent to A$29.19 and 0.8 per cent to A$56.25 respectively after hefty selloffs in step with falling iron ore prices.

Primary Healthcare, a general practice company which gets income from state subsidies, dropped more than 6 percent to A$4.51 after the government said it will scrap a planned patient tax on doctor visits and will instead cut the amount it pays doctors.

Diversified investor Wesfarmers, which owns supermarket chain Coles, fell 1.3 per cent to A$42.10 while rival grocer Woolworths fell 0.8 per cent to A$30.06.

In one of the last initial public offerings of the year, vacuum cleaner retailer Godfreys Group had a solid debut, trading as high as A$2.88 against an issue price of A$2.75, before easing to A$2.85.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index was modestly lower for the first time in six sessions, down 0.3 per cent to 5,523.43, after it had set a record high the previous day.

The market's top stocks were mostly weaker, with the biggest company, Fletcher Building, falling 2 per cent to NZ$8.15, and top-10 stock Sky TV down 2.1 per cent to NZ$6.04.

The weakness, however, was tempered by the second-biggest stock, telecommunications company Spark, rising 2.6 per cent to NZ$3.11 after it said it would hike phone and internet prices because of planned rises in regulated prices next year.

Small cap stocks were making gains, with Chatham Rock Phosphate, which is proposing a seabed mining venture, leaping 29 per cent to NZ$0.22 after saying it would receive a research grant.

REUTERS