Australia shares slip as materials falter; New Zealand up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Thursday, heavily pulled down by the materials sector, with Rio Tinto slumping after trading ex-dividend.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was off 0.4 per cent, or 20.399 points, at 5,784.7 by the close of trade. The benchmark ended 0.2 per cent up in the previous session.

The S&P/ASX 200 materials index fell nearly 2 per cent, with shares of Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest miner, facing their biggest fall in eight months.

BHP Billiton Ltd slid 2.7 per cent, its second straight day of losses, as copper prices drifted lower.

London copper prices slipped on Thursday, with the US dollar firming as the market reassessed minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting that kept the prospect of a March rate hike in play.

South32 Ltd fell 3.9 per cent while Fortescue Metals Group Ltd dropped to a more than one-week low.

The worst performer on the main index, however, was Ardent Leisure Group plunging to a more than three-year low after it posted a half-year net loss of A$49.4 million, hurt by sales of health clubs as well as a ride accident at its Dreamworld theme park in October.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.4 per cent higher, or 27.04 points, to finish the session at 7,089.52.

Healthcare, industrial and material stocks led the gains with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp and Fletcher Building Ltd rising 1.7 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively.

Air New Zealand Ltd hit more than a five-week high after it reported first-half profit decline but provided a bright outlook that it expects a reduction in flights by Chinese competitors.


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