Australia: Shares fall to 7-week low as oil slump hits energy firms

[SYDNEY] Australian shares slipped to seven-week lows on Monday as investors fretted about a slide in global oil and commodity prices, which knocked energy- and mining-related stocks and raised concerns about the broader hit to the economy.

Upbeat data on Australian company profits was also eclipsed by weaker than expected growth in factory activity in China, Australia's No 1 trading partner.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 44.7 points to 5,268.3 by 0115 GMT, its lowest level since Oct 17. The benchmark has fallen on seven out of the last ten sessions. "Oil's demise, has investors concerned that there could be worse to come in vulnerable commodities like iron ore," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst, CMC Markets. "The upcoming drop in petrol prices will be a plus for other areas of the economy. However, investors may be concerned about the overall headwind for the Australian economy created by falling commodity prices." PanAust, Northern Star Resources and Sundance Energy were among the worst performers, falling between 11 and 15 per cent after US crude tumbled 10 per cent .

WorleyParsons fell over 7 per cent on concerns about its future outlook following weak oil prices.

Qantas Airways continued to reap the benefits of falling oil prices on hopes cheaper jet fuel will help drive profit growth. The stock rose about 11 percent.

Recently-listed Medibank Private was down 1.2 per cent after a solid debut last week.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index was little changed at 5,431.82, as blue-chip Air New Zealand held strong gains made last week, offsetting losses in commodity shares.

The national carrier rose 1.7 per cent to NZ$2.47 (US$1.92), holding near a seven-year high of NZ$2.50 hit last week.

Dual-listed gold prospector OceanaGold tumbled 14 per cent to a two-week low of NZ$2.27, stung after a Swiss vote against increasing its gold reserves triggered selling in gold-related shares.

New Zealand Oil and Gas fell 4 percent to NZ$0.605, its lowest since August 2011.


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