Australian shares fall 1 pct as miners drop
MELBOURNE, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell 1 percent on Thursday as mining and energy stocks slumped after gold, equities and resource-linked currencies were knocked by talk that a hedge fund had been liquidating positions in commodities. Traders said selling coincided with the release of minutes from the Fed which showed policymakers discussed the slowing or stopping of bond buying, which has calmed markets by ensuring the central bank will keep its ultra-accommodative stance. Index heavyweight miner BHP Billiton Ltd dropped 3.1 percent and rival Rio Tinto Ltd fell 2.3 percent. "Today could be the biggest fall of the year, with the largest drop so far being the 0.57 percent decline in early January," said Evan Lucas, strategist at IG Markets. "However, the yield-play seven -- the big four banks, Telstra, Wesfarmers and Woolworths -- look like continuing to outperform," he said. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was down 50.5 points to 5,048.2 by 0031 GMT. The benchmark hit a 4-1/2 year high on Wednesday, taking the market up about 17 percent since mid-November. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.3 percent to 4,203.6. Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Graeme Wheeler said the currency was significantly overvalued. Investors scaled back the expected speed and scale of any NZ rate tightening. Gold tumbled 2.5 percent and the Australian dollar slid 1 percent. STOCKS ON THE MOVE: * Qantas Airways Ltd rallied 4.6 percent after it said first-half underlying profit before tax was A$223 million, beating expectations for A$216 million.. 0027 GMT * Origin Energy Ltd slumped 7.6 percent after it posted a half-year underlying profit of A$362 million and said underlying profit for the financial year would fall 10 to 15 percent from a year ago. 0026 GMT * Paperlinx fell 6.2 percent after it said it lost A$57.3 million in the first half. 0026 GMT * Goodman Group Pty Ltd rose 2.4 percent after it said full-year earnings would be 32.3 cents a share. 0026 GMT * Brambles Ltd rose 0.9 percent after it said full-year profit would be in a range of US$1.03 billion to US$1.06 billion. 0026 GMT * Iluka Resources Ltd gained 1.9 percent after it revealed an annual net profit of A$363.2 million. 0025 GMT * Echo Entertainment fell 1.2 percent after it reported first half profit of A$66.5 million. 0025 GMT * Fairfax Media Ltd fell 2.4 percent after it said sales fell 7.1 percent in the first half on continuing weakness in real estate and the national advertising market. . 0024 GMT * Insurance Australia Group Ltd rose 3.1 percent after first half net profit rose to A$461 million, up from A$144 million a year earlier. 0024 GMT * Alumina Ltd fell 1.6 percent after it reported a full year underlying loss of A$52.5 million and said it remains cautious on the outlook for 2013, with prices expected to remain uncertain. 0024 GMT * AMP Ltd rose 1.1 percent after full year underlying profit came in at A$955 million. 0023 GMT * ASX Ltd fell 1 percent after it reported half-year underlying profit of A$171.1 million, down 5.3 percent. 0023 GMT (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Stephen Coates)
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