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Australia: Shares show broad-based losses as US data looms, NZ edges higher

[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell 0.6 per cent on Monday, incurring broad-based losses as weak oil prices took their toll while markets waited for US January inflation data due on Wednesday, US time.

The indicator is widely watched as a signal of a potential rate hike, with Wednesday's data under especially close scrutiny after rising bond yields roiled global markets last week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.6 per cent or 35 points to 5,803 by 0051 GMT, weighed by financials and energy stocks. The index was set to fall for the second straight session, after ending the previous week 4.6 per cent lower.

"It is very volatile situation but it is the safest assumption to assume there is downside risk," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

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"A lot will depend on consumer price data from the United States on Thursday morning, Asia time. This will be a key event for the near team outlook."

Weak oil prices took Australia's energy index down as much as 1.8 per cent to touch its lowest since November. Oil prices slid more than 3 per cent on Friday as US futures fell below US$60 a barrel for the first time since December on renewed concerns about rising crude supplies.

The biggest loser on the energy index was Beach Energy, which hit its lowest since Dec 22.

The Australian financial index was also under pressure, trading 0.8 per cent lower. Three of the main index's biggest burdens were financial stocks.

Westpac Banking Corp was the benchmark's biggest drag as it fell as much as 1.2 per cent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group slipped as much as 1.3 per cent and was the second biggest drag.

Similarly, Commonwealth Bank of Australia was down as much as 0.9 per cent.

A powerful government-backed inquiry into Australia's finance sector opened on Monday to investigate alleged misconduct among banks, pension funds and insurance providers after a run of scandals.

In mining, global giant BHP Billiton and its rival Rio Tinto were trading 1 per cent and 0.7 per cent higher, respectively.

"If trends do continue, then potential for a stronger US dollar can be a headwind for commodities...but in the worst case, when equities fall fairly quickly because of concerns of inflation, I suspect commodities may not be down as much as equities," added CMC Markets' Spooner.

The metals and mining index gained 0.3 per cent on Monday after losing 4.5 per cent the previous week.

Retailer JB Hi-fi Ltd was the biggest loser on the main index; slumping to its lowest in more than three years after declaring its interim results. JB Hi-fi's comparable sales growth in January was lower than the prior year's.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was up 0.1 per cent to 8,101.03; on course to finish higher for the first session in five.

Real estate and consumer staples stocks were the biggest contributors to the gains, with a2 Milk Company gaining as much as 1.3 per cent, nudging up the index.

REUTERS

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