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Australia: Shares hit one-month lows, NZ slips


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell to their lowest in a month on Friday as bank stocks came under renewed pressure, while the New Zealand market snapped a run of record highs.

The S&P/ASX 200 index shed 1.6 per cent, or 81.2 points to 5,001.60 by 0220 GMT, having earlier fallen as far as 4,987.9 - a low last seen on March 2. The benchmark was on track to end the week down more than 1 per cent.

The Big Four Australian banks were a major drag on the index led by a 2.1 per cent fall in Commonwealth Bank of Australia .

Bucking the negative trend were the global miners after China's manufacturing activity unexpectedly expanded in March for the first time in nine months. "That seems to be driving some buying into the material space," said Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne.

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BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were both up around 1.0 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.3 per cent, or 22.1 points, to 6,730.33, retreating from an all-time high of 6,758.01 set on Thursday. It was still up 1.0 per cent on the week.

The market had been scaling successive peaks in the past month following a surprise cut in interest rates by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and expectations of more easing to come.

The biggest losers on Friday included The Warehouse Group , down 4.1 per cent.

Fletcher Building shed 2.3 per cent and Spark NZ lost 1.8 per cent.