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Australia: Shares fall on weak commodity prices and banks


[SYDNEY] Australian shares slid on Monday due to weak commodity prices and a sell-off in bank stocks that at one point took the benchmark index to its lowest level in more than six weeks.

At the close of trade, the S&P/ASX 200 index was down 34.74 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 5,688.1 The benchmark fell 0.7 per cent on Friday.

The subindex for energy stocks dropped 2.7 per cent for the day, after being down 3.1 per cent - its biggest intra-day fall in nearly 32 weeks.

Sentiment was hit by a consultancy's forecast of a rise in output by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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Bank stocks accounted for about half of the benchmark's losses, with the 'Big Four' banks ending 0.5 to 1 per cent lower.

Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto closed off 0.4 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively, as iron ore prices fell for a third day amid oversupply concerns.

Bucking the trend, gold miners stepped up. Newcrest Mining Ltd, the biggest by market capitalisation, ended 0.9 per cent higher after its biggest intra-day surge in almost 10 weeks put it 2.4 per cent up. The surge came after Newcrest said it met its full-year output targets.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 11.43 points, or 0.1 per cent, to finish at 7,682.29.

The bourse inched up as losses in healthcare and consumer discretionary stocks were outweighed by upbeat industrials.

Auckland International Airport rose 1.7 per cent to become the biggest percentage gainer on the benchmark after reporting a growth in total passengers for the year.