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Australia shares falter on weak US, China data; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Monday, led by financial and energy stocks, after downbeat data from the United States and China stoked concerns about a global economic slowdown.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dipped 0.4 per cent, or 23.6 points, to 6,180.20 at the close of trade. The benchmark fell 1 per cent on Friday.

Markets retreated after payroll data from the United States on Friday showed employment growth in the world's largest economy almost stalled in February, adding to signs of a cooling economy.

Risk sentiment was also dampened by weak Chinese inflation and new loans data released on the weekend, adding to dismal trade figures on Friday and pointed to lacklustre demand in Australia's largest trading partner.

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However, a pledge by the People's Bank of China to further support the economy by spurring loans and lowering borrowing costs helped to cushion some market losses.

Mining majors BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd slipped 1 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Energy stocks slumped 1.6 per cent to a more than three-week closing low ahead of a Norwegian deal on Friday that is expected to affect Australia's biggest oil and gas explorers.

Norway's trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund, the world's biggest, will sell its stakes in oil and gas explorers and producers, according to a government plan.

Among the firms affected are Woodside Petroleum Ltd, Santos Ltd and Beach Energy Ltd, which lost between 1.7 per cent and 2.4 per cent on Monday.

The financial sub-index slipped 0.2 per cent after chief executives of Australia's largest lenders appeared before a parliamentary hearing on Friday. The chiefs of other major banks are expected to appear later this month. Adding to the sector's woes, Australia's corporate watchdog rebuked banks and financial services firms on Monday for delays in fixing internal systems that resulted in customers paying fees for services they had not received.

Investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd fell 2.3 per cent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank Ltd edged lower.

Gold stocks added 4.5 per cent.

Newcrest Mining Ltd, Australia's largest gold miner, advanced 3.8 per cent after it announced a deal to buy a copper and gold mine in Canada for US$806.5 million and said it was open to more deals.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 0.52 per cent, or 49.42 points, to finish the session at 9,390.85.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company Ltd slipped 2.7 per cent and electricity retailer Meridian Energy Ltd dipped 1.9 per cent.

REUTERS