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Australia: Shares end lowest in three weeks


[SYDNEY] Australia's share market fell to its lowest in three weeks on Thursday, while its New Zealand counterpart retreated from yet another record high as investors turned defensive ahead of the long Easter weekend.

Australian and New Zealand financial markets will be shut Friday and Monday and reopen on Tuesday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 1.1 per cent, or 58.066 points lower at 5082.200, the lowest since March 3.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 0.095 per cent or 6.320 points lower to finish the session at 6662.550.

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Australia banking stocks were a major drag on the index, led by a near 5 per cent drop in Australia and New Zealand Banking Group shares.

ANZ disappointed investors after it flagged bad debt charges of more than A$900 million (S$923 million) for first-half 2016, A$100 million more than its previous guidance.

The bank said this was due to its exposure to pockets of weakness associated with low commodity prices in the resources sector and in related industries.

The warning cast a shadow over the wider banking sector. Commonwealth Bank, Westpac Banking Corp WBC.AX and National Australia Bank NAB.AX all suffered losses of between 2 per cent and 4 per cent.