February 20, 2017 / 1:30 AM / 6 months ago

Australia shares hurt by weak metals, earnings woes; NZ edge up

Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian stocks declined on Monday morning, dragged down by weaker metals prices and earnings concerns, with shares of Brambles tumbling after the company issued a profit warning.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 24.32 points or 0.4 percent to 5,781.5 points by 0055 GMT. The benchmark eased 0.2 percent on Friday.

Ric Spooner, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets, said softer metals prices were a drag on the market. "The other real driving factor is the earnings season, and a lot of what is happening on the index level is decided by profit results," he said.

Brambles dropped as much as 10 percent to its lowest since September 2015 after it forecast a flat full-year underlying profit. The pallets and container group posted a 3 percent rise in first-half underlying profit amid increased competition in its North American business.

Engineering services provider WorleyParsons fell as much as 13.4 percent- its biggest percentage loss since May 2016 - to a more than three-month low after it reported a first-half loss.

On the brighter side on earnings, steel manufacturer Bluescope Steel hit a near 6-1/2 year high after tripling its underlying profit for the half-year ended Dec. 31, 2016, and announcing a share buy-back of A$150 million. .

Elsewhere, miners were on the back foot, with South32 losing as much as 2.8 percent, while BHP Billiton declined 1.1 percent.

Energy stocks were also down, with the energy index shedding as much as 1.3 percent and on track for its fifth consecutive session of losses.

Supermarket operator Wesfarmers, which went ex-dividend, dropped 2.2 percent and was the second biggest drag on the benchmark index.

The Australian financials index retreated after earlier touching its highest in over a month.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected a call from his government backbench to exempt the county's big four banks from a tax package aimed at reducing company tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.15 percent or 10.53 points to 7104.6, helped by gains in materials and utilities stocks.

Electricity provider Meridian Energy gained 0.8 percent.

Spark New Zealand rose 1.2 percent. The telecom company asked a New Zealand court to rule that a 36-hour pause must take place before Sky Network Television can buy Vodafone's New Zealand unit if the competition regulator approves the deal.

For more individual stocks activity click on ($1 = 1.3036 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Suhail Hassan Bhat; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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