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Australia shares fall to over one-month low as trade war fears heat up; NZ also lower

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[BENGALURA] Australia's benchmark share index tumbled to its lowest level in over a month on Friday as global equities reeled after US President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that could impose heavy tariffs on imports from China - sparking fears of a global trade war.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 2 per cent, or 116.5 points, to 5,820.7.

It lost nearly 2.2 per cent on the week, its biggest weekly loss since early February.

Responding to US import tariffs on steel and aluminium that went into effect on Friday, China unveiled plans to levy additional duties on up to US$3 billion of U.S. imports.

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A global trade war would particularly threaten economies such as Australia's which rely on exports of basic commodities used in the world supply chain.

In Australia, materials and financial stocks led the losses on the main index.

The materials sector slid 3.0 per cent on a drop in commodity prices, with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto losing 3.1 per cent and 4.4 per cent, respectively.

Base metal prices fell on trade tensions but oil recovered after Saudi announced plans for Opec and Russian led production curbs to be extended into 2019.

Financial stocks fell 2.2 per cent to close at its lowest in over a year, with the "Big Four" banks slipping between 1.7 per cent and 2.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 1 per cent lower, or 85.45 points, to 8,515.36 but posted its third straight week of gains.

Consumer staples and material stocks dragged the index down, with a2 Milk Company Ltd and Fletcher Building Ltd shedding 2.6 per cent and 3.6 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS