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Australia, New Zealand: Shares ease on weakness in banks, miners

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[MELBOURNE] Australian and New Zealand shares fell on Wednesday, as investors took profits in banks, miners and energy stocks, but surprisingly strong Australian first quarter economic growth helped stem market losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.9 per cent, or 47.3 points, at 5,331.3 by 0209 GMT after touching a low of 5,306.3.

Australia's gross domestic product grew 1.1 per cent in the March quarter from the previous quarter, well above forecasts thanks to strong exports, which drove the Australian dollar up nearly half a US cent as the need for another rate cut dwindled.

"The economic growth numbers came in quite strong which helped reduce the (market's) losses," said Steven Daghlian, a market analyst at Commonwealth Securities.

Selling across most sectors reflected investors looking to take some money off the table following a seven-week winning streak, Mr Daghlian said.

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Three of the big four banks were down more than 1.2 per cent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.9 per cent.

A private survey showing China's manufacturing growth remained weak weighed on the mining sector. BHP Billiton and South32 fell more than 3 per cent, and Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group were down more than 1 per cent.

Australian explorer Rox Resources defied weakness in the resources sector, more than doubling in value after it announced what it called a "world class" zinc discovery in Australia's Northern Territory. Rox was the day's most active stock, rocketing to an 18-month high of 3.3 Australian cents.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was trading down 0.2 per cent, or 14 points, at 7,025.14 as the market re-set after heavy month-end trading on Tuesday, said Nigel Scott, a broker for Craigs Investment Partners.

The biggest gainers included Freightways, up 3.8 per cent, while the biggest losers included Heartland Bank , down 2.3 per cent.

Mr Scott said there were few local drivers so investors were largely focused on global events. There were some jitters, he said, after two polls showed British voters were leaning in favour of exiting the European Union in a June 23 referendum.


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