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Australia: Shares lower, banks lead declines

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Tuesday with banks leading declines, while energy shares also weakened despite global oil prices steadying the previous day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined 0.8 per cent, or 46.541 points, to 5,701.9 by 0048 GMT. "There's across the board selling, albeit, volumes are very light at this stage. We'll be taking cues from US futures," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst with Optionsxpress.

Overall, market activity was light due to the lack of cues from US markets, which were closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Day holiday, and investors globally were cautious over what the new US presidency might bring once Donald Trump is inaugurated on Friday.

Australian bank stocks led declines. The ASX financial index lost 1.2 per cent, with the "Big Four" bank, dropping between 1 per cent and 1.7 per cent.

Energy shares also fell despite oil prices settling up on Monday. "It's probably just a sentiment thing, there's a lot of uncertainty in oil price regarding Opec and US oil producers," Mr Brun said.

Santos Ltd fell 1.8 per cent and Beach Energy dropped 3.5 per cent.

At the other end of the board, higher gold prices drove the ASX gold index up, with Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources adding 1.6 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, the mining index touched more than a two year high following a rally in iron ore prices.

BHP Billiton hit a 1-1/2 year high, while Rio Tinto flirted with a 2-year high.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing by 3:2 on the overall exchange.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.2 per cent, or 12.67 points, lower at 7062.27.

Healthcare and financials led declines. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp fell over 1 per cent, while Westpac Banking lost 1.5 per cent.


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