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Australia: Shares near 5-week lows as growth concerns weigh; New Zealand at record high

[BENGALURU] Australian shares teetered toward five-week lows on Wednesday as concerns about global growth dampened the mood, while financials dropped in the wake of parliamentary questioning of CEOs of two of the country's "Big Four" banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.4 per cent or 24.7 points to 6,105.9 by 0108 GMT, having tacked on a modest 0.1 per cent on Tuesday.

Stock markets around the world were hit hard late last week after a sharp shift in US bond markets suggested the world's biggest economy might be facing trouble ahead.

The worries were fed by an inverted US yield curve - rates on three-month Treasuries going above the 10-year paper - which has historically signalled an oncoming recession.

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Asian equity markets were down as the US growth anxiety added to broader concerns about the global economy.

Financial stocks dropped 0.5 per cent to their lowest since Feb 15 and accounted for most of the losses on the benchmark.

The chief executives of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) and National Australia Bank Ltd (NAB) are facing a day of parliamentary questioning, the first such hearing since a landmark misconduct inquiry called for many rule changes last month.

ANZ shares dropped 0.7 per cent to a near two-month low, while NAB traded 0.2 per cent weaker.

Gold stocks, which had rallied in the last two sessions on safe-haven buying, also fell sharply as prices of the precious metal fell against a stronger US dollar.

Newcrest Mining, the country's top gold miner, slid 2.1 per cent, for its worst day in over two-weeks, while St Barbara dropped as much as 4.3 per cent.

Elsewhere, Eclipx Group saw its best day ever and was the top performer on the benchmark as it soared 18.9 per cent after announcing it had received interest from multiple parties for its Grays and Right2Drive businesses.

Investment manager Challenger Ltd extended gains to hit a near three-week high. Challenger jumped 9.1 per cent on Tuesday after it said top shareholder MS&AD Insurance Group Holdings Inc will raise its stake in the firm to over 15 per cent and seek a board seat.

Rare earths miner Lynas Corp Ltd also advanced after declaring it would not engage with conglomerate Wesfarmers on its "highly conditional" US$1.1 billion takeover approach

Wesfarmers shares were little changed.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.8 per cent or 80.08 points to hit a record high of 9,653.9.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand held the official cash rate at a record low of 1.75 per cent but revised its outlook to say the next move in borrowing costs was more likely to be down, boosting rate sensitive stocks.

Utilities and industrials stocks dominated the gains, with Meridian Energy and Auckland International Airport rising 1.8 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS