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Australia: Shares hit 1-mth lows as banks stumble, NZ up slightly

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares slumped to one-month lows on Tuesday, pressured by losses in the financial sector on concerns over rising bad debt, while the New Zealand market edged up slightly.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.8 per cent, or 41.1 points, at 5,043.1 by 0158 GMT.

The index hit a low of 5,040.500 earlier, levels not seen since March 3, although it's still up 3.5 per cent this month thanks to fading expectations the Federal Reserve will resume raising rates soon.

Banking stocks were a major drag on the index, led by a 3 per cent drop in Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) shares. ANZ fell to a one-month low, having been hit hard since last week's revelation that bad debts were rising.

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Commonwealth Bank, Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank all fell between 1.5 per cent and 2.2 per cent.

Health stocks also came under pressure with the index down 1.5 per cent. The sector has been clouded by rising operating costs.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 23.620 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 6,686.17, a whisker away from Thursday's record high of 6,692.09.

The index has leapt 7.3 per cent so far in March, which if sustained would mark the biggest monthly gain since 2009.

Analysts say an interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) earlier in the month and expectations of more policy easing have helped underpin appetite for stocks.

Local units of Australian banks led gains, with ANZ rising 4.3 per cent and Westpac up 1.7 per cent.

Property companies also advanced, with Kiwi Property rising 1.1 per cent and industrial property investment company Property for Industry up 0.9 per cent.

Health software provider Orion Health Group led losses, falling 1.6 per cent, while consumer goods retailer Warehouse Group lost 0.7 per cent.

Veritas Investments plummeted 14.81 per cent after the investment company announced its joint venture partners were winding down one of its food production companies.

REUTERS

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