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Australia, New Zealand: Shares in the red as growth fears rattle global markets

[BENGALURU] Australian shares slid on Friday, tracking moves on Wall Street, which fell sharply after weak US data and Apple's revenue warning stoked fears about the outlook for the global economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1.1 per cent, or 61.2 points, to 5,572.2 by 0023 GMT, and is set to end a holiday-shortened week 1.1 per cent lower.

Apple blamed its lowered revenue forecast for the holiday quarter on sales in China, ratcheting fears that Australia's largest trading partner is being dragged under by the uncertainty of the Sino-US trade battle.

Apple's surprise cut comes at a time of increasing concern that growth in China is slowing at a sharper pace than many expected.

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Financial stocks fell 1.2 per cent, with insurers leading the losses. Suncorp Group fell as much as 2.5 per cent to its biggest intraday percentage drop in two weeks.

On Thursday, Suncorp said it expects the total natural hazard costs across Australia and New Zealand to well exceed the amount it made allowances for in the half-year ended Dec 31.

Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist, said the Australian summer has so far been bad for insurers with claims from natural hazards and other events likely.

Suncorp's peers, Insurance Australia Group and QBE Insurance Group fell 2.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively.

Mirroring broad-based losses on the benchmark, resource stocks dropped 1.4 per cent with global miners BHP and Rio Tinto both down around 2 per cent.

In the other direction, global growth worries fuelled safe-haven bets in the form of gold stocks. Australian gold miners reaped the benefits, with the sub-index up 1.5 per cent.

Newcrest Mining and St Barbara gained 2.5 per cent and 2.2 per cent, respectively.

In the healthcare space, Healius Ltd was 2.7 per cent higher after it received a A$1.7 billion (S$1.63 billion) offer on Thursday from Chinese construction company and top shareholder Jangho Group Co Ltd.

However, at A$2.705 per share at 0023 GMT, the stock was still below Jangho's indicative offer price of A$3.25.

Blue Ocean Equities' Somasundaram said investors are not optimistic that the deal will go through, despite the gains. He added that an offer closer to A$4 would be more compelling for investors.

In its second session of 2019, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 0.5 per cent to 8,693.34.

Index heavyweight a2 Milk Company weighed on the benchmark, falling 4.1 per cent to a near two week low.