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Australia shares slump as materials, energy drag; NZ down


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on Thursday and looked set to snap a 4-day winning streak as worries over rising stockpiles hit shares of resource producers.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.9 per cent, or 51.358 points, at 5,882.5 at 0248 GMT. "There's been a decent selloff in mining stocks because iron ore's been absolutely flogged last night, the futures market continues to gravitate lower in a raging bear market now," said Chris Weston, Institutional lender at IG Markets. "So people are all concerned about holding materials equity here." Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange was 0.3 per cent lower after falling to its lowest price since Jan. 10 in the previous session, while copper slid to three-month lows on Wednesday.

Crude oil futures moved away from one-month highs as worries on rising US inventories stoked concerns about global oversupply.

The market also tracked Wall Street, which fell overnight on geopolitical tensions and after President Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the dollar "was getting too strong,"and he would like to see interest rates stay low.

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The materials and mining index fell 3.4 per cent as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals lost between 4.9 per cent and 6.6 per cent.

BHP Billiton extended losses into a third session, falling as much as 4.3 per cent. The company rejected minor shareholder Elliot Advisor's proposal to overhaul its corporate structure and spin off its US oil division on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse sees BHP and CSL Ltd as a potential targets of hedge fund activism.

Trade data from China showed that iron ore imports rose 12.2 per cent year-on-year, in the first quarter of the year, though worries are growing about swelling inventories at Chinese ports.

Fortescue Metals reported a 6 per cent fall in third-quarter shipments on Thursday but assured it was still headed for a bumper year.

The energy index slid up to 2 per cent as Woodside Petroleum and Oilsearch fell over 2 per cent.

Whitehaven coal plunged as much as 8.1 per cent after reporting a 11 per cent decline in quarterly coal sales while also warning that outages caused by cyclone Debbie will impact coking coal prices for months.

On the brighter side, job data showed that March employment in Australia rose by 60,900, beating expectations.

Gold stocks in the region gained as safe haven demand rose after Trump's comments on the dollar weakened the greenback.

Newcrest Mining gained 0.6 per cent, while Evolution Mining gained nearly 2.3 per cent.

Telecom stocks lost as Telstra and Vocus Group lost 1.3 and 6.2 per cent respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 1.1 per cent, or 7.7 points, to 7,243.84.

Tegel Group and Restaurant Brands led the losses, falling 3.4 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively, while Argosy Property and Fisher and Paykel Healthcare led gains, rising 2 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.