March 7, 2013 / 5:57 AM / 4 years ago

Australia shares down after trade data, defensives stumble

(Adds detail, comments)
    SYDNEY, Mar 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped 0.2
percent on Thursday, dragged down by defensive stocks after
official figures showed the country's trade deficit widened by
more than expected and investors awaited China's trade balance
due out on Friday. 
    The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the deficit widened
to A$1.06 billion ($1.08 billion) in January -- from A$688
million the month before -- as bad weather hit resource exports,
though a rebound in imports of capital goods and cars pointed to
resilience in domestic demand. 
    "A poor trade balance reading this morning really set the
downside tone and saw the market lose its grip," said Stan
Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets.
     Defensives dragged on the market: Blood products maker CSL
Ltd dropped 1.5 percent, top telecoms provider Telstra
Ltd lost 0.7 percent while supermarket chain Woolworths
Ltd slipped 0.1 percent. 
    "Straight after the data came out we had the market pulling
back, we're down modestly," said Steve Daghlian, market analyst
at Commonwealth Securities. 
    The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 7.6 points
lower at 5,109.2. The benchmark rose 0.8 percent on Wednesday to
fresh 4-1/2 year highs.
    Blue chip miners BHP Billiton Ltd and rival Rio
Tinto Ltd both finished the day flat.
    BHP Billiton said it was committed to a transparent iron ore
market, in response to allegations by China that major iron ore
miners had manipulated the market to drive an 80 percent jump in
prices over the past six months. 
    Gold miners were stronger, with Regis Resources 
jumping 2.2 percent while Perseus Mining Ltd soared 4.7
percent.
    Insurers gained with Suncorp climbing 1.9 percent
and Insurance Australia Group rallying 1.4 percent.
    Financials were mixed with Westpac Banking Corp 
dropping 1.2 percent after reaching all-time highs on Wednesday.
Australia New Zealand Banking Group lost 0.8 percent.
National Australia Bank notched up 0.8 percent and top
lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia was up 0.5
percent.
   Australia's economy grew 0.6 percent in the quarter as a
long-awaited surge in resource exports helped offset softness
elsewhere, according to official data. 
   The Dow Jones industrial average hit another record closing
high of 14,296.2 with stocks bolstered by improved labour market
data. 
     New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index closed the
session 0.8 percent or 35.5 points lower to 4,333.5.

 (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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