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Australia: Shares retreat as Greek worries flare up, NZ also sag


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on Thursday, tracking declines in global markets as investors uttered a collective groan after yet another setback in talks to avert a Greek debt default.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.6 percent, or 35.1 points, at 5,651.6 in early afternoon trade, retreating from a three-week peak of 5,705.8.

The big four banks were all in the red, while the major miners including Rio Tinto struggled to make much headway.

With Athens resisting measures regarded by its lenders as essential to balance its public finances, eurogroup ministers cut short an emergency meeting summoned to approve an agreement because there was no deal ready for them to discuss.

Greece has to repay 1.6 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund next Tuesday or be declared in default, potentially unleashing a bank run and capital controls, followed by a slide out of the single currency area. "The less said about this the better, as the level of frustration among financial market participants is clearly elevated," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG. "The positive is that markets haven't really shown any major concern by the rejection overnight." Among the biggest losers was Slater and Gordon Ltd, which slumped more than 20 per cent in its biggest one-day loss ever.

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For other stocks on the move, click on New Zealand's benchmark NZ50 share index slipped 0.4 per cent, or 26.6 points, to 5,748.9 with utilities and materials stocks under pressure.

Meridian Energy fell 2.3 per cent as investors awaited a deadline next week to see if Rio Tinto will extend or terminate its power supply contract with the energy retailer, a deal worth 13 per cent of the Meridian's total demand.

Other energy companies fell in sympathy, with Mighty River Power down 1.1 per cent, while Genesis Energy shed 1.4 per cent to a nine-month low of NZ$1.805.

Construction materials maker Fletcher Building declined 1.6 per cent to a five-month low of NZ$8.11.


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