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Australian shares fall on dismal China trade data; NZ inches up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares stumbled 1 per cent on Friday after weak Chinese trade data stoked further fears of global economic slowdown, while financials led declines as heads of the country's top banks faced parliamentary questioning.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 60.10 points to 6,203.80 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.3 per cent on Thursday.

Adding to concerns about weakness in the global economy following a warning from the European Central Bank, data from China showed exports tumbled the most in three years in February while imports fell for a third straight month.

Mining stocks ended 1.2 per cent lower as China's iron ore imports fell to a 10-month low in February while coal arrivals for the month nearly halved from January. China is Australia's largest importer of raw materials.

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Global miner BHP Group Ltd slid 1.3 per cent, while peer Rio Tinto Ltd fell 1.6 per cent. Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd dipped 1.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, the financial sub-index slumped 1.6 per cent and snapped two sessions of weekly gains with a 0.9 per cent decline.

Chief executives of Australia's two biggest lenders, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp appeared before the parliament on Friday, in their first hearing since a Royal Commission inquiry delivered its final report last month.

A year-long inquiry into widespread misconduct in the financial sector culminated into a report that listed 76 recommendations to be implemented by lenders.

CBA shares were down 2 per cent, while Westpac saw a 1.3 per cent fall. The remainder of the "Big Four" banks, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank Ltd slipped 2.3 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively.

Declines in oil prices pushed energy stocks to a 3-week closing low, with the index declining for a second straight week.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Oil Search Ltd lost 1.3 per cent and 2.2 per cent, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged up to finish the session at 9,440.27. The benchmark advanced 1 per cent this week, its fifth straight week of gains.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company Ltd added 1.5 per cent and Auckland International Airport Ltd rose 0.8 per cent.

REUTERS