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Australia: Shares pressured by banks, Wall St; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged lower on Thursday, hurt by pressure on US markets amid fears of a trade spat with China, though strong oil and copper prices limited the downside in Sydney.

Wall Street struggled for traction overnight after US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hinted at action against China over alleged infringement of intellectual property.

Those comments came on the heels of US President Donald Trump's decision to impose steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels earlier in the week, stoking worries of a trade war.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.1 per cent or 7.7 points to 6,047 by 0147 GMT, having risen 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

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The benchmark, however, is set to finish its four-day week higher. Australian financial markets will be closed on Friday for a national holiday.

Banking stocks weighed the most on the index, with the financial index slipping as much as 0.7 per cent.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.8 per cent to its weakest in over seven weeks, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and Westpac Banking Corp shed 1 per cent each, and National Australia Bank Ltd lost 0.9 per cent to touch its lowest in over a year.

Big-cap telco Telstra Corp was among the biggest drags on the index, falling 1.1 per cent to an over seven-week low.

Toll road developer Transurban Group slid 1.9 per cent for its biggest loss in more than two weeks.

"It appears that the combination of recent rises and a strong Australian dollar has made it an attractive proposition for international investors to sell today," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The Aussie dollar rose to a four-month high on Wednesday, as its US counterpart was knocked after US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he welcomed a weaker currency.

Global miner BHP Billiton, which has a large exposure to oil, offset some of the losses on the index with a 1 per cent jump.

Oil prices rallied on heavy volume on Wednesday, boosted by a record 10th straight weekly decline in US crude inventories, while a weaker US dollar drove up copper prices.

Gold prices also found cheer from a weak dollar, with Newcrest Mining Ltd rising 2.9 per cent to its highest in over a week. The Aussie gold index jumped 2.6 per cent in its best day in nearly two weeks.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent or 8.63 points to 8,332.72 at 0147 GMT.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company led the gains with a 3.6 per cent spike to record levels.

Ryman Healthcare and utility company Infratil capped the gains on the index, falling 2.6 per cent and 2.8 per cent, respectively.

On the data front, New Zealand's consumer price index rose only 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, well short of expectations and sparking a selloff in the local currency.

REUTERS

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