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Australia: Shares fall on profit taking; US reporting season in focus


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell 0.6 per cent on Monday as investors booked profits across the board following a strong 5-day rally which led to the index's best weekly performance in four years.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 33.99 points to 5,245.7 by 0046 GMT. The benchmark rose 1.3 per cent on Friday and ended 4.5 per cent higher for the week.

The market will look for direction from Wall Street this week with the five biggest US banks by market capitalisation - Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo , Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase - due to report results.

"It just seems to be some profit-taking after a strong run in the market last week, particularly in some of the oil-related stocks," said Bill Keenan, general manager equities and researcher at Lonsec. "We're still keeping a cautious view with the key direction from here, it being the US profits season."

Banks and energy stocks were the hardest hit on Monday but analysts expect the sell-off to be limited with the index seen trading around 4,900-5,300 in the near term.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank fell about 1 per cent while Westpac was down 0.7 per cent.

Energy-related shares such as Santos and Oil Search fell about 2 per cent each while healthcare stocks CSL and Ramsey were down 1.6 per cent each.

Investors adopted a cautious approach on miners - while BHP Billiton fell 0.8 per cent rival Rio Tinto rose 0.2 per cent.

Fortescue surged 6.4 per cent after it said on Friday it was open to asset sale discussions.

Gold miners such as Evolution and Oceanagold jumped between 3 and 11 per cent after the precious metal hit a seven-week high on Friday.

US stocks closed slightly higher on Friday, ending the S&P 500's best week for 2015.

For more individual stocks activity click on In contrast, New Zealand stocks put in a spirited performance with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 climbing 0.8 per cent to 5,681.7, extending last week's 0.8 per cent gain.

Among the top performers, A2 Milk Company rallied 5.1 per cent, communications services provider Spark rose 1.3 per cent, while retail store chain Kathmandu Holdings put on 3.4 per cent.

Gains were broad with only a handful of stocks either flat or in the red.