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Australia: Shares hit 3-week low as China woes, weak data dampen spirits


[SYDNEY] Australian shares hit a three-week low on Thursday as weak domestic economic data, concerns about the slowing Chinese growth and a slump in the oil price all weighed on investors.

Financial stocks led the benchmark index lower for a fifth straight session after official data showed building approvals down nearly 13 per cent for November, four times the rate of decline forecast by analysts.

Mining and energy stocks posted hefty losses as commodity prices hit multi-year lows, based on fears of a supply glut and faltering demand from No. 1 export partner China.

By 0133 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 index was down 74.2 points or 1.5 per cent to 5,048.9, its lowest level since Dec. 18. The benchmark has fallen every trading day in 2016 and is already down 4.7 per cent for the year so far.

Shanghai shares tanked 7 per cent, while Wall St hit a three-month low.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group led the major lenders lower, down 2.6 per cent, while Westpac Banking Corp dropped 2.1 per cent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 1.5 per cent and National Australia Bank declined 2.4 per cent.

Miners fell even more sharply, with BHP Billiton, rival Rio Tinto and iron producer Fortescue Metals Group all down 4.3 per cent, while BHP spin-off South32 dropped 5.3 per cent.

Energy producers tracked the oil price to multi-year lows, with Origin Energy down 6.8 per cent, Santos down 6 per cent and Woodside Petroleum 3 per cent lower.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4 per cent or 26 points to 6,236.48 as sentiment remained dour following the gloomy Wall St session.

Investors are jittery about China and slower global growth as well as heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula.

The biggest gainers were Steel & Tube, which added 2.7 per cent and Trade Me, which was trading up 1.9 per cent.

The biggest losers included Mighty River Power, which shed 3.6 per cent and Sky City, which was down 1.6 per cent.