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Australia: Shares tumble to 2-week low as materials drag; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares slipped to their lowest in two weeks on Tuesday, with materials weighing on the index on weak iron ore and coking coal prices.

Chinese iron ore futures fell 2 per cent on Monday as stockpiles of the steelmaking commodity at China's ports surged to the highest since at least 2004, with weaker steel prices also adding pressure.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.6 per cent, or 33.4 points to 6,043.7 by 0031 GMT, its biggest intraday percentage loss since Jan 2. The benchmark closed up 0.1 per cent on Monday.

"Iron ore was lower last night and that's dragged down our material stocks this morning," said Peter Spanos, volatility risk manager at CMC Markets.

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Trading was slow ahead of the upcoming earnings season, and on weak global sentiment as US markets were closed on Monday.

"The market's just on hold at the moment... we're getting really close to our profit reporting season, so I think a lot of investors are preferring to wait to see what happens then," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The materials and mining index dropped as much as 0.8 per cent, with mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto each falling over 1 per cent.

Rio Tinto reported a 1 per cent rise in iron ore shipments for 2017 to 330.1 million tonnes, in line with its guidance, but weak iron prices kept the stock down.

"Maybe the market might need a little more than a solid report in line with guidance to maintain momentum," said Mr Spooner.

Australia's financial stocks hit a two-week low, falling as much as 0.5 per cent, with the "Big Four" banks losing between 0.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent.

The biggest loser on the main index was Retail Food Group Ltd, shedding as much as 0.6 per cent and touching its lowest in one week.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index, on the other hand, rose 0.7 per cent, or 56.35 points, to 8,267.53, posting its biggest intraday percentage gain since Dec 8.

Consumer staples, utilities and industrials led the gains on the index.

a2 Milk Company Ltd was the top gainer on the index, gaining as much as 6.4 per cent, its biggest intraday percentage gain in more than three months.

REUTERS

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