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Australia: Shares dragged by banks as miners rally, NZ gains

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares eased 0.2 per cent on Tuesday amid profit-taking on banks and telecoms, even as the recent mood of extreme pessimism lightened a little globally and lifted resource stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 9.9 points to 4,991.3 by 0140 GM, with losses in index heavyweights Commonwealth Bank , Westpac and Telstra.

BHP Billiton slashed its interim dividend by 75 per cent on Tuesday, cutting it for the first time since 1988 following a collapse in resource prices.

Yet its shares added 3 per cent, aided by a hefty US$3.30 jump in the price of iron ore to US$50.30 a tonne, the highest since late October and a long way from December's trough of US$37.

Competitor Rio Tinto gained just over 1 per cent on top of a steep jump in London trade.

Qantas Airways reported first-half profit more than doubled to a record, though mainly thanks to sharply lower fuel costs.

The market had already priced in much of that improvement and was quick to take profits on the results, knocking the stock down 4 per cent.

QBE Insurance Group climbed 9 per cent after reporting a rise in both profits and dividends.

The takeover war for Asciano took a new twist as the competing bidders said they were considering a joint offer worth A$9 billion (S$9.1 billion).

Australian bidder Qube Holdings saw its stock rise 11.9 per cent on the news.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.58 per cent or 35.93 points to 6,175.390 on Tuesday, tracking gains in global markets.

Heartland Bank led with a rise of 2.61 per cent after announcing its half-year revenues.

Air New Zealand rose 1.44 per cent, while retailer The Warehouse Group added 1.12 per cent.

Freightways fell 1.48 per cent, losing more ground after a offering a cautious outlook in its half-year earnings results on Monday.

Mighty River Power edged down 0.75 per cent after its half-year operating earnings dipped amid intense market competition.


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