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Australia: Shares trim losses after China data, NZ subdued


[SYDNEY] Australian shares trimmed losses on Tuesday as investors gave a small sigh of relief after growth in China did not slow as much as feared.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was a mere 0.1 per cent lower at 5,302.7 by 0321 GMT. Earlier, the benchmark index was down 0.5 per cent.

Market sentiment improved after China's economic growth held steady at 7.3 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, beating forecasts for 7.2 per cent. "It certainly helped the materials space on the Aussie market, but all in all the market has taken the data in its stride, which in my view is a little bit disappointing," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG.

China's growth for all of 2014 slowed to 7.4 per cent, Tuesday's data also showed, below the government's 7.5 per cent target and the weakest expansion in 24 years.

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That should sustain worries about demand for commodities such as iron ore, Australia's top export.

Stocks including global miner BHP Billiton climbed off their lows in the wake of the Chinese data, but remained in the red. BHP last traded at A$27.58, down 0.5 percent on the day, but off the session low of A$27.16.

Rio Tinto fared better after reporting a sharp rise in fourth quarter iron ore output. Shares in the miner were little changed at A$54.15.

The top performer in the S&P/ASX 200 index was Sirius Resources, which rallied 8.2 percent after reporting it had discovered a significant zone of gold mineralisation at the Baloo prospect on its Polar Bear project.

New Zealand shares were generally flat with the benchmark NZX-50 index at 5,631.75 with most activity centred on small and medium cap companies.

The strongest gain was posted by refinery operator NZ Refining, which said it expected a full year profit between NZ$9.5 million and NZ$10.5 million against last year's loss, sending its shares 8.3 per cent higher to NZ$2.48. The price rose as far as NZ$2.50, its highest since April 2013.

Gold miner Oceana Gold was 4.0 per cent higher at NZ$2.62 after it said it produced more gold in the fourth quarter and expected stronger results this year.

Telecommunications company Spark edged up to NZ$3.34, the highest since December 2007, and Fletcher Building and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare posted modest losses.