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Australia: Shares slide further, Telstra slumps; NZ dips


[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell for a fifth-straight day on Wednesday, pulled down by materials and telecom stocks with Telstra Corp slumping after going ex-dividend, as investors awaited US President Donald Trump's address to Congress.

"There is a cautious tone to trade today and the reason for that is the potential game changing speech, that will come in the middle of the trading session, from President Trump," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist with CMC Markets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 17.4 points or 0.3 per cent to 5,694.8 by 0103 GMT. The benchmark is on track to post its longest streak of losses sinch June 2016.

"Markets are hungry for details on the new administration's economic policy, but at the end of the day (they) will probably be prepared to settle for a confident outlining of the general agenda at this stage," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note.

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Australia's largest telecom company by market value, Telstra was the biggest drag, falling as much as 4.2 per cent to hit its lowest in more than 3-1/2 years.

Global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto fell 0.6 per cent to 1.2 per cent on the back of weaker iron ore prices overnight.

Chinese steel and iron ore futures fell nearly 3 per cent on Tuesday amid reports that the country's top economic planner was investigating the recent surge in futures markets.

The gold index was dull for a third-straight session, sliding 2.1 per cent as the bullion price turned lower on Tuesday. Newcrest Mining led declines, shedding as much as 2.3 per cent to hit a one-month low.

Among other stocks, Harvey Norman Holdings was down 6.2 per cent, while Crown Resorts Ltd fell 2.6 per cent.

At the other end, the financial index was trading 0.2 per cent firmer after the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported gross domestic product (GDP) climbed 1.1 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The data beat market forecasts and was a welcome recovery from the third quarter's shock 0.5 per cent decline - the first quarterly contraction for the economy since 2011, according to Thomson Reuters Datastream.

Regis Healthcare rose 3 per cent and was among the top gainers on the index.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the benchmark by a 1.8-to-1 ratio.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2 per cent or 16.02 points to 7,151.44.

Fletcher Building and Spark New Zealand were among the biggest decliners, dropping 0.6 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.

Sky Network Television was trading flat after it said it will not yet cancel its agreement to buy Vodafone's New Zealand unit after the country's competition regulator rejected the proposal.