(Updates to close)
Feb 23 Australian shares ended lower on
Thursday, heavily pulled down by the materials sector, with Rio
Tinto slumping after trading ex-dividend.
The S&P/ASX 200 index was off 0.4 percent, or 20.399
points, at 5,784.7 by the close of trade. The benchmark ended
0.2 percent up in the previous session.
The S&P/ASX 200 materials index fell nearly 2
percent, with shares of Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest
miner, facing their biggest fall in eight months.
BHP Billiton Ltd slid 2.7 percent, its second
straight day of losses, as copper prices drifted lower.
London copper prices slipped on Thursday, with the U.S.
dollar firming as the market reassessed minutes from the Federal
Reserve's last policy meeting that kept the prospect of a March
rate hike in play.
South32 Ltd fell 3.9 percent while Fortescue Metals
Group Ltd dropped to a more than one-week low.
The worst performer on the main index, however, was Ardent
Leisure Group plunging to a more than three-year low
after it posted a half-year net loss of A$49.4 million, hurt by
sales of health clubs as well as a ride accident at its
Dreamworld theme park in October.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.4
percent higher, or 27.04 points, to finish the session at
Healthcare, industrial and material stocks led the gains
with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp and Fletcher
Building Ltd rising 1.7 percent and 1.2 percent,
Air New Zealand Ltd hit more than a five-week high
after it reported first-half profit decline but provided a
bright outlook that it expects a reduction in flights by Chinese
($1 = 1.3016 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Christina Martin; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)