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Australia shares end down, but post 1st weekly gain in four; NZ lower

[BENGALURU] Australian shares slid on Friday as weak steel and iron ore prices weighed on material stocks while the country's biggest banks fell on profit-taking after recent gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.8 per cent, or 43.678 points at 5,695.

However, it gained 0.4 per cent for the week, after three weeks of losses.

Iron ore futures were under heavy pressure as investors placed bearish bets on the steelmaking ingredient in anticipation of slower demand due to enforced steel output cuts to curb pollution during the colder months.

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Heavyweight miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto shed about 2.3 per cent each.

Steel prices in China fell more than two per cent and were on track for their biggest weekly loss since early June.

Meanwhile, safe-haven assets like gold inched up as North Korea's latest missile launch over Japan triggered buying. Newcrest Mining Ltd ended 0.5 per cent higher.

North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan's northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean, South Korean and Japanese officials said.

"As far as the banks are concerned, I think today's selling is just a bit of caution related to the Korean missile tests ... it's also possible that it's a bit of profit-taking with the rally we have seen in banks recently," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The financial index declined, ending the week's rally to close 0.7 per cent lower, with Westpac Banking Corp and Commonwealth Bank of Australia's down 1.2 per cent and 0.6 per cent, respectively.

The ASX 200 Financial index ended the week higher for the first time in three weeks.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group slipped one per cent while National Australia Bank was 0.3 per cent lower.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.7 per cent, or 56.57 points to finish the session at 7,762.66. The benchmark index ended the week l.1 per cent lower, from a 0.4 per cent gain in the previous week.

The country's home sales fell sharply in August in the latest sign that its recently overheated housing market was losing steam. On the other hand manufacturing activity picked up pace in August.

Declines in telecom, consumer staples and industrial shares pulled the index lower.

Spark New Zealand ended 0.1 per cent lower while a2 Milk Company shed 3.6 per cent.

Air New Zealand and Freightways slid 2.6 per cent and one per cent, respectively.

REUTERS