(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY, March 14 Australian shares tumbled 1.3
percent to one-month lows on Friday, hit by across-the-board
selling as a drop in copper prices compounded worries over
slowing growth in China and the crisis in Ukraine.
Miners took a beating in early trade as copper resumed its
decline overnight. Index heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd
and Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.6 percent and 1.7 percent
respectively. Iluka Resources Ltd and Oz Minerals Ltd
dropped 2.7 percent and 5.1 percent respectively.
China economy slowed markedly in the first two months of the
year, with growth rates in investment, retail sales and factory
output at multi-year lows -- decidedly soft readings that raise
the spectre of a deeper downturn.
The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 67.9 points to 5,344.7
by 0125 GMT. If the decline is maintained at the closing bell it
would mark the biggest one-day fall since early February. The
benchmark rose 0.5 percent on Thursday and is on track to lose
2.3 percent for the week.
"People are a little nervous especially since commodity
prices have dropped substantially this week," said Lucinda Chan
division director at Macquarie Bank, adding that tensions over
Ukraine and China's data were hurting sentiment.
"If sanctions do go ahead, you'll probably see banking
assets and lending being halted - people are concerned this is
not just an economic loss to Russia and Ukraine, but really
globally as we're all dependent on each other."
Russia launched new military exercises near its border with
Ukraine on Thursday, even as the U.S. cautioned that Moscow
risked facing serious steps if annexation was the outcome of a
referendum planned for Sunday in the Crimea.
The 'Big Four' banks all fell, led by Westpac Banking Corp
declining 1.5 percent and Commonwealth Bank of
Australia slipping 0.8 percent.
Gold stocks provided a modicum of relief as investors piled
into bullion as a safe-haven. Alacer Gold Corp jumped
4.7 percent while Beadell Resources Ltd climbed 1.3
Elsewhere, Adelaide Brighton Ltd tumbled 8 percent
to near 1-month lows of A$3.99 after the company said
negotiations with a major cement customer in South Australia may
end, meaning its estimated profit before tax would decline by
around A$15 million from 1 January, 2016.
Starpharma Holdings Ltd soared 6.2 percent to
5-week highs of A$0.77 after its vivagel-coated condom was
approved for marketing in Japan.
Unilife Corp climbed 9.9 percent to hover at near
6-week highs of A$0.89 after the company entered into a A$60
million debt financing agreement with an affiliate of OrbiMed,
with A$40 million funded to Unilife at the closing of the deal.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index lost 0.8
percent to trade at 5,069.0.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)