Banking stocks nudge Australia shares lower in quiet trade

Sun Jul 6, 2014 10:25pm EDT

* ASX 200 slips 0.1 pct as big banks weigh

* Housing sector rises as construction activity expands

* Wotif soars after Expedia offers $660 million for the travel group (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, July 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares declined 0.1 percent on Monday, slipping from one-month highs as banks nudged the market down in low volumes following Wall Street's close on Friday for a holiday.

The 'Big Four' banks lost ground after healthy gains last week. Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia was down 0.4 percent and Westpac Banking Corp 0.3 percent.

Wotif.com Holdings Ltd rocketed 24.4 percent to A$3.29, its highest since December after U.S. travel giant Expedia Inc agreed to buy the Australian online travel group for A$703 million in cash.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 3.1 points to 5,521.9 by 0206 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Friday and added 1.5 percent for the week, its biggest one-week gain since February.

"There appears to be a bit of a momentum trade - we bounced off some technical levels last week and the market's just found reason to go on with the job," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at brokerage firm OptionsXpress, though adding that volumes were still very low.

By 0203 GMT, 131.9 million shares were traded, compared to a daily moving average of 607.6 million shares this year.

The housing sector edged higher as a survey on Australian construction activity showed the sector expanding for the first time this year in June, led by strength in home building and a rebound in engineering work.

Property group Stockland Corporation Ltd and real estate investment trust the GPT Group both climbed 1.2 percent.

Miners turned lower after a bright start as London copper began the week little changed. BHP Billiton Ltd was flat, while Rio Tinto Ltd was down 0.5 percent.

Australian job advertisements in newspapers and on the Internet rebounded in June in a potential sign that budget-affected softness in May did no lasting damage.

Aditya Birla Minerals Ltd surged 22 percent to its highest since late April of A$0.25 after its prohibition notice was lifted by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.

The New Zealand share market shed most of Friday's gains, with the benchmark NZX-50 index 12.93 points or 0.25 percent lower at 5,175.98.

Contact Energy Ltd was 0.7 percent lower at NZ$5.43, and there were 0.6 percent falls for Telecom Ltd and Auckland International Airport Ltd.

However, overall movements were generally modest with most of the larger declines among second tier stocks.

A new issue was unveiled with glass manufacturer Metroglass Ltd looking to sell 143.7 million shares at NZ$1.70 each, which would value the company at nearly NZ$315 million. The company aims to list on the New Zealand and Australian bourses on July 30. (Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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