SYDNEY Nov 2 Australian shares fell 0.5 percent on Monday, pulled down by softer metal prices and a Wall St sell-off, but signs of an improving U.S. jobs market and expectations of a rate cut by the local central bank on Tuesday helped pare losses.
U.S. employment rose by 171,000 last month, topping expectations. The jobless rate ticked up 7.9 percent as more workers restarted job searches, a positive signal for the economy.
Gold slid 2 percent in heavy trade on Friday, breaking below $1,690 an ounce for the first time in about two months. Gold miners Newcrest dropped 2.6 percent, while Regis Resources slid 1.8 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 21.2 points to 4,438.9 by 0008 GMT. The benchmark edged up 0.1 percent on Friday.
"The real tone of the market at the moment is trading ahead of what is going to be a huge news week," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.
"Investors are probably just waiting to see what happens."
The Reserve Bank of Australia will meet on Tuesday; the market expects the cash rate to be cut by 25 basis points to 3 percent.
ANZ Bank led losses in the banking sector, dropping 1.1 percent.
Bellwether miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto inched up 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent respectively.
The defensive sector was firmer, with telecommunications giant Telstra up 0.1 percent, retailer Wesfarmers inching up 0.1 percent and blood products makers CSL rising 0.4 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was down 0.2 percent or 9.7 points to 3,904.3.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE:
* Westpac Banking Corp edged up 0.1 percent to A$25.05, bucking the trend of losses in the banking sector. Australia's third-biggest lender by assets, reported a 9 percent rise in second-half cash profit, beating expectations on tight costs, and said it had improved its balance sheet even as bad debt provisions rose.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)