Australia shares slide to 8-week low on Fed concerns, US jobs eyed
SYDNEY, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Australian shares dropped to an eight week-low on Friday morning, as persistent speculation of an imminent reduction in U.S. stimulus kept investors nervously awaiting a crucial U.S. jobs report later in the day. The financial sector was on the backfoot, with Australia's "big four" banks all dropping around one percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 1.0 percent, and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd slid 1.2 percent. "The predominant global theme at the moment is that the US economy is recovering," said Craig James, chief equities economist at Commonwealth Securities. "For most investors they don't need to do anything today, they are sitting on the sidelines waiting for US job figures." The market took its lead from a weak session on Wall Street after stronger than expected U.S. GDP data kept alive expectations that the Federal Reserve will start to slow its stimulus sooner rather than later. "In typical post-GFC style, the US market sold off after better-than-expected market data signalled that the Fed might go back into 'Taper-on' rhetoric. When will this world return to normal?" said Rivkin CEO Scott Schuberg in a note to clients. The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.2 percent or 11.1 points to 5,186.9 by 0137 GMT, after hitting the weakest level of 5,154.6 since Oct. 14. The benchmark closed down 1.4 percent on Thursday. Global miner BHP Billiton Ltd pulled back 0.2 percent, and rival Rio Tinto ltd edged up 0.2 percent. Consumer stocks staged a modest bounce back, with top supermarket Woolworths Ltd adding 0.7 percent and Coles-owner Wesfarmers ltd edging up 0.2 percent. Meanwhile, Qantas Airways Ltd was put on a trading halt after the Australian carrier shocked investors on Thursday with a loss warning, sending its stock plunging 11 percent. Friday's trading halt came ahead of Standard & Poor's decision to cut the airline's credit ratings to junk grade with a negative outlook. Broadcaster Nine Entertainment dropped 1.0 percent on its trading debut after raising A$631 million from its initial public offering. Flight Center Travel Group Ltd tumbled 5.9 percent, after a court upheld Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's case against the company, accusing it of attempting to fix airfare prices. Oil and gas producer Neon Energy Limited surged 17.9 percent after its well in Vietnam was confirmed as a potentially significant gas discovery. IG market strategist Even Lucas said the Australian market may struggle to post gains in December. "I believe the Santa rally may not come this year, as profit taking, Fed fears, questioning of company earnings coupled with general sentiment all points to at best a flat month," Lucas said, noting volumes would drop away in the lead to the Christmas holiday. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.4 percent to 4,700.6. (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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