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Australia: Shares drop to near 3-week lows after poor US data

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Australian shares slid to near three-week lows on Wednesday, rattled by the same poor US manufacturing data that increased worries across Asian markets about slowing global growth.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares slid to near three-week lows on Wednesday, rattled by the same poor US manufacturing data that increased worries across Asian markets about slowing global growth.

US manufacturing activity tumbled to a more than decade-low, fuelling worries the US-China trade war was catching up with the world's largest economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined as much as 1.5 per cent, its biggest intraday drop in more than a month, to 6,641.7.

The benchmark had closed 0.8 per cent higher on Tuesday, after the Reserve Bank of Australia cut rates for a third time this year to shore up the sluggish economy and signalled it was prepared to do more if needed.

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Market voices on:

"The risks are probably going to outweigh what central banks can do at the moment," said Nick Twidale, a director & co-founder at Sydney-based trade finance provider Xchainge.

Financial stocks were Wednesday's biggest drags on the index. At 0212 GMT, the Big Four banks had slumped between 1 per cent and 2.7 per cent.

The biggest loser was National Australia Bank, the country's third largest lender. At one point, it was down 3.4 per cent - its biggest intraday loss since mid-May - after setting aside a further A$1.18 billion (S$1.1 billion) to repay wrongly charged customer fees.

The charge stems from a government-backed inquiry last year into Australia's financial sector.

The weak US data overnight sent oil and commodity prices lower, hurting energy and mining companies in Australia.

The world's biggest miner BHP Group and peer Rio Tinto dropped 1.8 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively.

The only sector managing to eke out some gains was gold stocks, with its sub-index up 0.5 per cent.

Helping generate that gain was Newcrest Mining, which edged 0.3 per cent higher. Evolution Mining and St Barbara opened higher but then turned negative.

Gold prices inched higher in Asian trade after jumping 1 per cent overnight following the US data.

Consumer-focused sectors, which bounced on Tuesday's rate cut, all fell.

Qantas Airways dropped 1.4 per cent, and the largest supermarket chain Woolworths Group fell 1 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.6 per cent, or 68.74 points to 10,928.25.

Fletcher Building fell 2.3 per cent, while the local listing of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group declined 2.4 per cent.

However, Fonterra Shareholders' Fund climbed 1.7 per cent as international milk prices rose. 

REUTERS