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Australia shares drop to 2-year low on trade, global growth worry; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed near two-year lows on Monday as investors turned risk-averse on concerns over US-China trade tensions and slowing global growth, with the healthcare and financial indexes clocking the biggest losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was lower for a second straight day, falling to its lowest since December 2016, and closing at 5,552.5, down 2.3 points.

Investor apprehensions were stoked by US officials saying they would move forward with their strategy to raise tariffs on China if the two nations do not come to an agreement during the 90-day negotiating period.

China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou's arrest in Canada on Washington's directive last week added to fears the United States and China could fail to resolve their trade differences.

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Worries over global economic growth also heightened after tepid US jobs data on Friday, and China's far weaker-than-expected November exports and import numbers on the weekend, which revealed the extent of its worsening trade relations with the world's largest economy.

China is Australia's top trading partner and any changes in the economic fortunes there are likely to affect markets Down Under.

The "Big Four" Australian lenders were in the red throughout the session with Westpac Banking Corp falling as much as 3.4 per cent, while National Australian Bank fell 2.5 per cent to their lowest since November and December, 2012, respectively.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia closed 3 per cent lower at a near three-week low, while Australia and New Zealand Bank fell 4.2 per cent, the lowest since July 2016.

The healthcare sector fell 3.7 per cent weighed by Cochlear, which fell 5 per cent to a 2-1/2-week low, and CSL Ltd which ended the session 3.95 per cent lower.

Australia's energy index fell 0.8 per cent, with WorleyParsons Ltd and Beach Energy Ltd being the top percentage losers and biggest drags.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 1.2 per cent to finish the session at 8,660.02, after the country's official data agency showed that third-quarter manufacturing sales volumes had slipped 1.6 percent.

Diary giant a2 Milk Co was the top percentage loser, falling as much as about 5 per cent to its lowest in slightly more than a week.

Volumes for dairy and meat products, the country's biggest export earners, fell 6.7 per cent in the third quarter, data from Statistics New Zealand showed on Monday.

REUTERS