REFILE-Australia shares down 0.4 pct from 19-month high; miners consolidate

Fri Jan 4, 2013 1:09am EST

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    SYDNEY, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares eased 0.4
percent on Friday, with miners consolidating recent gains and
investors taking a breather after some senior U.S. Federal
Reserve officials expressed concerns about continuing to expand
stimulative monetary policy.
    Top miners lost ground after hitting their highest since
last February on Thursday. BHP Billiton Ltd dropped 0.6
percent, while Rio Tinto Ltd fell 1.0 percent.
    "After the big relief rally we had on the fiscal cliff
decision and compromise, I would expect the market to
consolidate a little bit," said Matin Lakos, division director
at Macquarie Private Wealth.
    Statistics showed iron ore shipments to China from
Australia's Port Hedland surged 25 percent in December from the
previous month and total iron ore shipments in December jumped
20 percent to almost 26 million tonnes, the highest reading on
record. 
    Iron ore prices have been in a steep ascent over the last
three months and climbed to a 15-month high of $149.80 a tonne
.IO62-CNI=SI on Thursday, thanks to demand from China.
    Lakos said miners would continue to be supported by China's
expanding demand for iron ore.
    "We don't expect a lot more out of the iron ore price, but 
we do see a pick up in volumes taking place as China continues
to rebuild stocks," he said. "That's good news for stocks like
BHP and Rio."    
    The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 16.9 points at
4,723.8, according to the latest data. It rose 0.7 percent to
4,740.7 on Thursday, its highest since May 19, 2011.
    New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index inched down 0.2
percent to 4,075.0. 
    Although trading volume was low, as is normal at this time
of the year, the market has seen a high degree of retail
participation, said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at
CMC Markets.
    "Individual investors are buying this market rather than
institutional investors which normally dominate it," he said.
"It's a unusual situation but it's a sign of growing confidence
in the investment base generally."  
    Major banks ended the day moderately higher, led by a 0.3
percent gain in Australia and New Zealand Bank Group.
    The country's biggest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia
 was almost flat after shooting to a record high of
A$63.35 during the session.   
    Gindalbie Metals Ltd rallied 10.7 percent to
A$0.31, the biggest one-day rally in more than 10 weeks, after
it shipped the first shipment of magnetite concentrate to China
from the Karara iron ore project on Wednesday.  
    Shares in construction company Macmahon Holdings Ltd
 rose 1.8 percent after it confirmed receiving a
conditional proposal for its construction business from
Sembawang Australia, a local arm of India's Punj Lloyd Ltd
. 
    

 (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Richard Borsuk)