March 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell the most in over a month on Friday morning, pressured by a selloff in financials and materials and as Wall Street took a breather from a strong run.
The backdrop of downbeat commodity and metals prices was enough to send the S&P/ASX 200 index down 55.388 points or 1 percent to 5721.2 by 0036 GMT. The benchmark index rose 1.3 percent on Thursday.
The index was on track to lose 0.4 percent this week.
Gary Burton, a market analyst at IG Markets, attributed some of the weakness to investors cashing in on Thursday’s strong gains.
Financial stocks tracked their U.S. peers, as Wall Street retreated on Thursday.
The “big four” banks all fell around 1 percent.
Materials were hampered by commodity prices, as gold and copper prices fell in the face of a strong dollar.
”We saw commodities prices down overnight...There was a bit of weakness in the space of commodities in general,” Burton said.
The metals and mining index shed 2.12 percent, with miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd falling as much as 2 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
Rio Tinto has deferred for at least two years a decision on former chief executive Sam Walsh’s performance-related pay, after a scandal over $10.5 million in payments to a consultant in Guinea.
Fortescue Metals Group fell as much as 5.1 percent to over a month’s low.
Consumer staples also dropped, with supplements maker Blackmores Ltd losing as much as 1.5 percent, while GrainCorp Ltd. dropped to its lowest in over 3 months. On the flipside, insurer QBE Insurance Group rose as much as 1.2 percent.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 percent or 20.57 points to 7155.26, weighed down by industrials and materials stocks.
Airport operator Auckland International Airport Ltd fell 1.4 percent, while building materials maker Fletcher Building Ltd lost about 1 percent.
Consumer staples however, were up with dairy product maker a2 Milk Co Ltd rising nearly 3 percent.
a2 Milk said it would acquire 8.2 percent of the fully paid ordinary shares in Synlait Milk Ltd from FrieslandCampina.
Telecom stocks also rose, with telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand Ltd rising 1 percent.
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Reporting by Ambar Warrick; Additional reporting by Sindhu Chandrasekaran; Editing by Shri Navaratnam