(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY, March 17 Australian shares were hovering
at one-month lows on Monday morning, as investors were unnerved
by tensions between the West and Russia over the referendum
results in Crimea, helping buoy safe-haven gold stocks and
limiting broad market losses.
The financial sector was on the backfoot, with Commonwealth
Bank of Australia slipping 0.5 percent. Mid-tiers
Adelaide and Bendigo Bank Ltd and Bank of Queensland
Ltd shed 0.2 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.
Russian state media said Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to
break with Ukraine and join Russia on Sunday, sparking anger in
the West and Kiev which described the vote as a sham.
The United States warned Russia that Western sanctions were
imminent, and called Moscow's actions "dangerous and
"The market's performance is being viewed through the prism
of Crimea," said Michael Heffernan, senior client adviser and
economist at broker Lonsec in Melbourne.
"But I don't think that that's going to have major impact on
the market (in the long term); I don't think anybody wants to go
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 1 point to 5,3330.4 by
0119 GMT, after hitting a low of 5,311.4 in the first hour of
trade. The benchmark dropped 1.5 percent on Friday and is down
0.5 percent so far in 2014.
The Australian market touched a 5-1/2 year peak of 5,462.3
on March 7, but has since drifted lower as geopolitical tensions
in Ukraine and weak economic data from China have weighed on
"I think if the market declines it's good value, and if the
market goes up there will be profit takers, there's ripples on
the sea now," Heffernan said.
Gold rose to a six-month high as investors turned to the
yellow metal as a safe-haven amid the Ukraine tensions, lifting
bullion stocks. World no.3 gold producer Newcrest Mining Ltd
jumped 2.8 percent and Northern Star Resources Ltd
soared 5.7 percent to a 14-month high.
Silver Lake Resources Ltd climbed 3.7 percent after
entering into a forward gold hedging programme for 50,000 ounces
spread evenly from April 2014 to March 2015.
The market was also weighed down by a handful of stocks
trading ex-dividend, with food retailer Woolworths Ltd
falling 2.3 percent, Leighton Holdings Ltd down 4.4
percent, and Retail Food Group Ltd losing 3.7 percent.
Lend Lease Corp Ltd jumped 1.7 percent after saying
its unit had been appointed as preferred tenderer for
Northconnex Motorway, which has a construction budget of A$2.65
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index slipped 0.4
percent to 5,059.7.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)