Australia shares ease 0.3 pct on cautious global backdrop, RBA eyed

Sun Feb 2, 2014 8:34pm EST

SYDNEY, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged 0.3
percent lower on Monday morning, hurt by losses in miners and
banks as disappointing building approvals data added to a weak
manufacturing report from China and a fall on Wall Street.
    Investors were generally cautious as stress in emerging
markets showed few signs of abating, with the domestic focus
turning to the Reserve Bank of Australia's first policy meeting
of the year on Tuesday.
    "This market had a fantastic year last year, and I think
people are just de-risking at the moment," said Will Cleland,
associate director of institutional dealing at PhillipCapital.
    Australia's "big four" banks were largely on the back foot. 
Commonwealth Bank of Australia shed 0.2 percent and
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group lost 0.9
percent. Westpack Banking Corp pared early losses to 
trade flat.
    The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 13.9 points to 5,176.1
by 0127 GMT. It finished flat on Friday, posting its first
January loss in four years in a patchy start to the year.
    Besides a weak showing on Wall Street on Friday, investors
were also greeted by a weekend report showing China's factory
growth eased to a six-month low in January. China is Australia's
biggest export market.
    Ahead of the central bank meeting, markets got another peek
on the state of the Australian economy.
     Australian job advertisements in newspapers and on the
Internet edged fractionally lower in January, a fourth month of
minor losses that pointed to some sign of stabilization in labor
demand. 
    Government data also showed that Australia building
approvals fell 2.9 percent in December, a disappointing report
for investors who are expecting low interest rates to lead to 
strength in dwelling starts.
    Meanwhile, a private gauge of Australian inflation rose only
marginally in January while the annual pace slowed a touch, a
welcome moderation after price pressures took an unexpected
spike higher the previous month. 
    "Tomorrow's rate decision is not expected to provide any
shocks with conventional wisdom expecting the RBA to hold," said
Niall King, sales trader at CMC Markets.
    "However, with domestic growth and employment continually
failing to sparkle, any further signs of weakness will add
pressure for local policy to be eased further."
    Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd
 slipped 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent respectively.  
    "There is still a lot of concern as where the mining sector
is," Cleland said. "It's Chinese new year, and there is no lead
on commodities."
    Consumer stocks helped contain the broad market losses, with
supermarket Coles-owner Wesfarmers ltd adding 0.2
percent. 
    Electronics retailer JB Hi Fi Ltd gained 1.7
percent after it said it expected full-year net profit for 2014
to increase between 8.3 percent and 10.8 percent from a year
earlier. 
    New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged down 0.4
percent to 4,853.8.
     

 (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by)
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