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Australia shares fall to over 2-week lows, New Zealand shares ease

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell to more than two-week lows on Thursday as market sentiment remained under pressure from weak Chinese economic data and expectations that Australia may delay widely expected interest rate cuts.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.9 per cent, or 48.07 points to 5,275.1 by 0254 GMT, the lowest since May 9. The benchmark fell one per cent on Wednesday.

"There are a range of factors weighing today. The key one I think is the disappointment over China's PMI data, concerns are increasingly turning to China," said Angus Nicholson, market analyst, IG Markets.

China's manufacturing activity showed signs of steadying in May but remained weak amid soft demand at home and abroad, suggesting the world's second-largest economy is still struggling to regain traction.

"The fact that (Australian) GDP figures were much stronger than many had expected has cast some doubt on where the market was positioned for interest rate cuts."

Australia's economic growth boomed past expectations in the first quarter with the annual pace speeding to its fastest in over three years, an upbeat result that all but assures the central bank will be on hold at its policy meeting next week.

The strong Australian economic data and subsequent interest rate uncertainty weighed on the country's financial stocks, with the sector falling 0.35 per cent.

Shares in Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group all fell more than one per cent.

National Australia Bank Ltd fell more than 1.5 per cent as shares hit a near one-month low.

Australia's largest miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd both fell more than one per cent as the price of iron ore fell.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index looked set for a second day of losses as it retracted from six consecutive sessions of gains which saw the market at record levels.

The index was down 0.10 per cent or 6.68 points at 7,015.47.

Restaurant Brand which operates KFC and Pizza Hut, lost 1.08 per cent after announcing its first-quarter sales.

Outdoor equipment retailer Kathmandu lost 3.2 per cent and A2 Milk fell 2.46 per cent.

Accounting software Xero led gains, rising 3.06 per cent, while health software company Orion Health Group rose 0.97 per cent and Sky TV was up 1.32 per cent.

REUTERS