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Australian shares kick off 2019 in the red on weak China factory survey

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Wednesday on the first trading day of the year as a disappointing Chinese manufacturing survey raised concerns about the health of the world's second-largest economy and Australia's largest trading partner.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.6 per cent lower at 5,557.8. The benchmark ended 0.1 per cent lower on Monday and was closed for the New Year's Day public holiday on Tuesday.

Broader Asian risk sentiment soured after a private sector survey showed China's factory activity contracted for the first time in 19 months in December, as domestic conditions and export orders weakened.

This follows global equities' run lower last year, weighed by concerns about Sino-US trade tensions and sluggish global economic growth.

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Despite occasional relief, such as US President Donald Trump's "long and very good call" with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the weekend, uncertainty about a definite resolution to the trade war continues to cloud investor sentiment.

Financial stocks and miners led the main benchmark lower, with the sector sub-indices giving up 2 per cent and 1.7 per cent, respectively.

The "big four" banks fell between 1.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent. The financial index was among the worst hit in 2018 after a national inquiry into the sector led to a massive selloff among Australian banks.

Global miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd slid 1.6 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively, with China concerns weighing down copper prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was closed on Wednesday for a public holiday. The index gained about 5 per cent in 2018.

REUTERS