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Australia: Shares fall most in over a month, financials, materials weigh; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell the most in over a month on Friday morning, pressured by a selloff in financials and materials and as Wall Street took a breather from a strong run.

The backdrop of downbeat commodity and metals prices was enough to send the S&P/ASX 200 index down 55.388 points or 1 per cent to 5721.2 by 0036 GMT. The benchmark index rose 1.3 per cent on Thursday.

The index was on track to lose 0.4 per cent this week.

Gary Burton, a market analyst at IG Markets, attributed some of the weakness to investors cashing in on Thursday's strong gains.

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Financial stocks tracked their US peers, as Wall Street retreated on Thursday.

The "big four" banks all fell around 1 per cent.

Materials were hampered by commodity prices, as gold and copper prices fell in the face of a strong dollar. "We saw commodities prices down overnight...There was a bit of weakness in the space of commodities in general," Mr Burton said.

The metals and mining index shed 2.12 per cent, with miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto falling as much as 2 per cent and 3.4 per cent, respectively.

Rio Tinto has deferred for at least two years a decision on former chief executive Sam Walsh's performance-related pay, after a scandal over US$10.5 million in payments to a consultant in Guinea.

Fortescue Metals Group fell as much as 5.1 per cent to over a month's low.

Consumer staples also dropped, with supplements maker Blackmores Ltd losing as much as 1.5 per cent, while GrainCorp dropped to its lowest in over three months.

On the flipside, insurer QBE Insurance Group rose as much as 1.2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 per cent or 20.57 points to 7155.26, weighed down by industrials and materials stocks.

Airport operator Auckland International Airport fell 1.4 per cent, while building materials maker Fletcher Building Ltd lost about 1 per cent.

Consumer staples however, were up with dairy product maker a2 Milk Co Ltd rising nearly 3 per cent.

a2 Milk said it would acquire 8.2 per cent of the fully paid ordinary shares in Synlait Milk Ltd from FrieslandCampina.

Telecom stocks also rose, with telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand rising 1 per cent.