Australia shares hit by blue-chips, Qantas soars as investors bet worst is over

Wed Aug 27, 2014 11:10pm EDT

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* ASX 200 0.4 pct lower, losses across major sectors

* 49 shares higher, 144 lower, 7 unchanged (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Naomi Tajitsu

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, August 28 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell 0.4 percent on Thursday morning as recent outperformers stepped back and as persistent weakness in iron ore prices hit miners.

Qantas Airways Ltd, however, soared 7 percent to A$1.39, its highest since early June as investors looked past a record annual net loss after the carrier predicted blue skies ahead, and on expectations a foreign investor may step in to revive its struggling international arm.

Among top 20 stocks on the ASX 200, top tier bank Westpac Banking Corp slipped 0.1 percent and insurance firm Suncorp Group dropped 1.1 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 27 points to 5,624.2 by 0305 GMT. The index added 0.2 percent on Wednesday, closing at a six-year high.

The benchmark hit a 5-1/2 week trough of 5,425.2 on August 8, but has since jumped 200 odd points to hover around six-year highs, underpinned by a solid earnings season which has taken the sting out of geopolitical worries over Gaza and Ukraine.

"Earnings have been well received in terms of profitability and bottom line numbers, (but) top line revenue growth which includes sales is still very lacklustre, so that is some cause for concern," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.

Spot iron ore slipped further below $90 a tonne to hit its lowest in nearly two years after futures prices in China and Singapore fell, hitting resource stocks. Australia's top miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd dipped 0.5 percent and 1.2 percent each.

Sales of new homes in Australia dipped 5.7 percent in July, a survey by the Housing Industry Association showed.

The data hit housing and construction stocks. Real estate company Mirvac Group lost 1.1 percent, while property development company Stockland Coporation Ltd dropped 0.9 percent.

Billabong International Ltd slumped 3.6 percent as the embattled Australian surfwear company posted an annual net loss and said its turnaround plan will take time to flow through.

Nine Entertainment Co Holdings Ltd lost 4.5 percent to A$2.00, its lowest since mid-June, after saying its underlying annual net profit beat prospectus forecasts although most of its earnings were wiped out by the costs of its listing and other one-offs in December.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX-50 index slipped 3.83 points to 5,239.86, as some investors booked profits after the bourse set a lifetime closing high of 5,243.70 on Wednesday.

Losses were led by a 2 percent slide in Nuplex, but overall, shares received underlying support from a solid domestic earnings season.

Air New Zealand rose 2.5 percent to a two-month high of NZ$2.23, extending gains after the national carrier on Wednesday posted a jump in full-year profits and a bright outlook for the 2015 year.

Cavalier jumped 6.4 percent to NZ$1.00, as investors returned to the soft floorings manufacturer after shares broke below the NZ$1.00 level this week for the first time since 1998.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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