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Australia shares hurt by weak metals, earnings woes; NZ edge up


[BENGALURU] Australian stocks declined on Monday morning, dragged down by weaker metals prices and earnings concerns, with shares of Brambles tumbling after the company issued a profit warning.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 24.32 points or 0.4 per cent to 5,781.5 points by 0055 GMT. The benchmark eased 0.2 per cent on Friday.

Ric Spooner, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets, said softer metals prices were a drag on the market. "The other real driving factor is the earnings season, and a lot of what is happening on the index level is decided by profit results," he said.

Brambles dropped as much as 10 per cent to its lowest since September 2015 after it forecast a flat full-year underlying profit. The pallets and container group posted a 3 per cent rise in first-half underlying profit amid increased competition in its North American business.

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Engineering services provider WorleyParsons fell as much as 13.4 per cent- its biggest percentage loss since May 2016 - to a more than three-month low after it reported a first-half loss.

On the brighter side on earnings, steel manufacturer Bluescope Steel hit a near 6-1/2 year high after tripling its underlying profit for the half-year ended Dec 31, 2016, and announcing a share buy-back of A$150 million. .

Elsewhere, miners were on the back foot, with South32 losing as much as 2.8 per cent, while BHP Billiton declined 1.1 per cent.

Energy stocks were also down, with the energy index shedding as much as 1.3 per cent and on track for its fifth consecutive session of losses.

Supermarket operator Wesfarmers, which went ex-dividend, dropped 2.2 per cent and was the second biggest drag on the benchmark index.

The Australian financials index retreated after earlier touching its highest in over a month.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected a call from his government backbench to exempt the county's big four banks from a tax package aimed at reducing company tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.15 per cent or 10.53 points to 7104.6, helped by gains in materials and utilities stocks.

Electricity provider Meridian Energy gained 0.8 per cent.

Spark New Zealand rose 1.2 per cent. The telecom company asked a New Zealand court to rule that a 36-hour pause must take place before Sky Network Television can buy Vodafone's New Zealand unit if the competition regulator approves the deal.