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Australia: Shares lose steam as materials retreat; New Zealand down


[BENGALURU] Australian shares eased on Friday as the recent commodity prices rally paused for breath, while a weak finish on Wall Street overnight, fuelled by concerns about smartphone demand, weighed on wider sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.1 per cent or 7.4 points to 5,873.6 by 0303 GMT, but was on track to finish the week higher for the third time in a row. The benchmark rose 0.3 per cent on Thursday.

"Some of it (the weakness) today is that we've rolled back from the previous sessions' good gains, while some of it is that we've had weak leads from Wall Street," said Christopher Conway, head of research and trading at Australian Stock Report.

Wall Street's three major indexes closed lower on Thursday, with tobacco stocks leading a tumble in consumer staples while concerns about smartphone demand hurt the technology sector.

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"We don't have the same positive sentiment towards commodities plays today," Mr Conway added.

Nickel and aluminium retreated in volatile trade after soaring to multi-year highs on fears over the impact of US sanctions on Russian companies, with analysts saying the gains were overdone, especially in nickel.

Gold miner Evolution Mining was the top loser on the index, down as much as 8.9 per cent in its biggest intraday drop since Jan 2017.

The Australian Financial Review on Thursday reported that JPMorgan and Citi's equities desks are selling 84.6 million shares in Evolution, representing a 5 per cent stake.

The gold index dropped as much as 2.4 per cent, with Newcrest Mining falling over 1 per cent.

Meanwhile, an Australian inquiry into misconduct in the financial sector claimed its first scalp on Friday as the chief executive of the country's largest wealth manager, AMP Ltd AMP.AX, stepped down over revelations of deception and poor advice.

AMP slipped 0.2 per cent at 0229 GMT after rising as much as 2.7 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 per cent or 29.04 points to 8,343.99 by 0303 GMT.

Healthcare stocks accounted for most of the losses on the index, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation and Ryman Healthcare down between 2.6 per cent and 3.2 per cent.

Fletcher Building, meanwhile, rose as much as 4.8 percent after a three-day trading halt to allow the company to carry out a capital raise.