Australia shares ease to 2-week lows, retailers support

Sun Aug 3, 2014 10:42pm EDT

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* ASX 200 eases as banks, miners down; gold and retailers tread higher

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By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares eased 0.4 percent in early trade after Wall Street fell for a second session, though a rise in gold capped broader losses and better-than-expected retail sales buoyed sentiment.

U.S. stocks ended lower for a second day on Friday and the S&P 500 posted its biggest weekly decline since 2012 as U.S. job growth slowed in July and the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose.

The financial sector weakened with Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank losing 0.7 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively. Mid-tier Bank of Queensland Ltd was down 0.6 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 21 points to 5,534.7 by 0220 GMT to trade at two-week lows. The benchmark tumbled 1.4 percent on Friday and declined 0.5 percent for the week, snapping two weeks of gains.

The benchmark index hit a six-year high of 5,644.2 on July 31, but has been routed in recent sessions, in tandem with losses on Wall Street.

"Markets are a little vulnerable to itchy trigger fingers and jumpy nerves at present, so it won't be unusual to see larger swings than usual," said Scott Schuberg, CEO at Rivkin Securities, in a note to clients, adding however, that investors still preferred equities over other investments.

Elsewhere, retail sales for June added 0.6 percent month on month to beat forecasts, helping to underpin retail stocks. Department store operator Myer Holdings Ltd climbed 0.9 percent, while Scentre Group, which manages and develops Westfield brand shopping centres, jumped 1.4 percent.

Gold rose nearly 1 percent, snapping a four-day losing streak, as investors piled into the safe-haven commodity. Among gold miners, Newcrest Mining Ltd edged 0.2 percent higher, while Northern Star Resources Ltd soared 2.9 percent.

Treasury Wine Estates Ltd jumped 4.2 percent to A$5.15 after Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co LP raised its takeover offer by 10.6 percent to $3.15 billion.

Australia's Horizon Oil Ltd slumped 8.1 percent to 4-month lows of A$0.34 after its merger with Roc Oil Co Ltd was trumped by Chinese conglomerate Fosun International Ltd. Roc Oil soared 6.4 percent to 4-1/2-year highs of A$6.35.

Pharmaxis Ltd bounced 5 percent after filing a lawsuit against NovaQuest, seeking an injunctive relief from the court to prevent NovaQuest from terminating its obligations to provide a further $20 million in funding.

New Zealand stocks followed broader weak offshore sentiment with all the leading stocks knocked lower, pushing the benchmark NZX 50 index down 0.4 percent to 5,090.30, a two-week low.

Trading was uneventful, with investors reluctant to commit ahead of the reporting season, which starts next week.

Countering weakness in the leaders, was a positive tone among small caps, with Oceana Gold up 3.9 percent to NZ$3.95 on the lift in world prices.

Outdoor goods retailer Kathmandu made further gains, up 2.4 percent to NZ$3.45, after it raised its profit guidance last week.

Telecom Corp, the second-biggest stock, changes its name on Friday to become Spark.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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