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Australia shares retreat on global growth anxiety; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares stepped back on Thursday as signs of a broadening slowdown in the global economy jolted riskier assets around the world.

Benchmark US Treasury bond yields fell again on Wednesday, keeping the yield curve inverted and leaving investors worried about the outlook for the world's largest economy. The growth anxiety dented Wall Street stocks.

James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut, said global uncertainties coupled with weak growth data at home and looming elections were prompting investors to minimise their risk.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was off 0.2 per cent, or 13.9 points to 6,122.10 by 0049 GMT.

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The benchmark had tacked on 0.1 per cent on Wednesday, reversing from earlier losses after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's shift to a dovish stance raised expectations of a rate cut by Australia's central bank.

Mr McGlew said there is a high chance of a rate cut by Reserve Bank of Australia in the next six months.

Financials stocks, which account for nearly half of the benchmark, slipped 0.3 per cent and dominated the losses.

The country's "Big Four" banks lost between 0.3 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

The CEOs of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank on Wednesday said a crackdown on consumer credit checks was affecting their ability to write new home loans, even though approval rates were unchanged, a sign the tougher regulatory environment is squeezing the economy.

Energy stocks, hit by lower oil prices and global demand concerns, slid as much as 0.6 per cent to their lowest since Feb 12.

Elsewhere, gold stocks regained their sheen on safe-haven buying as investors sought conservative assets to shelter from the rising global risks.

Saracen Mineral Holdings rallied 3.3 per cent to a five-week peak, while Dacian Gold climbed 2.7 per cent.

Lithium miner Pilbara Minerals saw its best day in over three weeks as it soared 4.3 per cent and was the top performer after it announced commercial production at its Pilgangoora project in Australia.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index retreated from a record high touched earlier in the session but traded 0.1 per cent or 7.94 points higher at 9,706.83.

The benchmark soared on Wednesday after the country's central bank stunned investors by raising the possibility of a rate cut as its next move.

Air New Zealand rose as much as 3.5 per cent to an over two-week high after it said it was launching a two-year cost reduction plan and deferred aircraft capital expenditures of about NZ$750 million (S$691 million) as part of a business review.

REUTERS