March 2, 2018 / 1:37 AM / 6 months ago

Australian shares lower as Trump tariff plans hit miners; NZ falls

* BHP hits lowest in over two weeks

* Benchmark on-track for weekly loss

By Susan Mathew

March 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Friday, with miner BHP Billiton leading losses after President Donald Trump announced U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminium, hitting commodity prices and raising concerns about a potential trade war.

Declines were across the board on the S&P/ASX 200 index , which fell 0.7 percent, or 44.1 points, to 5,929.2 by 0103 GMT, on track for a third straight session of losses. The benchmark finished Thursday 0.7 percent lower. The index is set to log a weekly loss, snapping two straight weeks of gains.

“The challenge has been thrown out to world trade given the tariffs, and Australia, apart from Canada, is probably the most exposed to commodity prices,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities. “Any kind of challenge to world trade and global growth means there is real risk for our markets.”

BHP dropped as much as 1.6 percent to its lowest in over two weeks. BHP’s American Depository Receipts closed 1.7 percent lower on Thursday.

Steel futures and iron ore on the Dalian Commodities exchange closed 1 percent lower each in their previous session.

Rio Tinto fell 1.2 percent, while world number four iron ore miner Fortescue Metals dropped up to 1 percent.

Sentiment seeped into other sectors with the Australian financial index falling 0.5 percent, in tandem with its U.S. counter part’s 1.9 percent drop.

The “Big 4” banks were lower between 0.2 and 0.8 percent.

Healthcare stock CSL Ltd, which has significant U.S. exposure, shed 1 percent.

On the other side of the spectrum, Woodside Petroleum gained as much as 1.2 percent after the Australian competition regulator said it would allow Chevron, INPEX , Shell, and Woodside to coordinate maintenance activities at their liquefied natural gas facilities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Gains in gold stocks helped cap losses on the benchmark, with Newcrest Mining rising 1 percent, as gold rose marginally on safety buying.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 51.24 points, or 0.6 percent, lower at 8,291.47.

Dairy company a2 Milk and healthcare stock Fisher & Paykel were the biggest drags on the index down over 2 percent each, while outdoor retailer Kathmandu Holdings was the worst performer, down 4.1 percent.

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Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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