MELBOURNE, Feb 21 Australian shares fell 1
percent on Thursday as mining and energy stocks slumped after
gold, equities and resource-linked currencies were knocked by
talk that a hedge fund had been liquidating positions in
Traders said selling coincided with the release of minutes
from the Fed which showed policymakers discussed the slowing or
stopping of bond buying, which has calmed markets by ensuring
the central bank will keep its ultra-accommodative stance.
Index heavyweight miner BHP Billiton Ltd dropped
3.1 percent and rival Rio Tinto Ltd fell 2.3 percent.
"Today could be the biggest fall of the year, with the
largest drop so far being the 0.57 percent decline in early
January," said Evan Lucas, strategist at IG Markets.
"However, the yield-play seven -- the big four banks,
Telstra, Wesfarmers and Woolworths -- look like continuing to
outperform," he said.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was down 50.5 points
to 5,048.2 by 0031 GMT.
The benchmark hit a 4-1/2 year high on Wednesday, taking the
market up about 17 percent since mid-November.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.3
percent to 4,203.6. Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Graeme
Wheeler said the currency was significantly overvalued.
Investors scaled back the expected speed and scale of any NZ
Gold tumbled 2.5 percent and the Australian dollar
slid 1 percent.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE:
* Qantas Airways Ltd rallied 4.6 percent after it
said first-half underlying profit before tax was A$223 million,
beating expectations for A$216 million..
* Origin Energy Ltd slumped 7.6 percent after it
posted a half-year underlying profit of A$362 million and said
underlying profit for the financial year would fall 10 to 15
percent from a year ago.
* Paperlinx fell 6.2 percent after it said it lost
A$57.3 million in the first half.
* Goodman Group Pty Ltd rose 2.4 percent after it
said full-year earnings would be 32.3 cents a share.
* Brambles Ltd rose 0.9 percent after it said
full-year profit would be in a range of US$1.03 billion to
* Iluka Resources Ltd gained 1.9 percent after it
revealed an annual net profit of A$363.2 million.
* Echo Entertainment fell 1.2 percent after it
reported first half profit of A$66.5 million.
* Fairfax Media Ltd fell 2.4 percent after it said
sales fell 7.1 percent in the first half on continuing weakness
in real estate and the national advertising market.
* Insurance Australia Group Ltd rose 3.1 percent
after first half net profit rose to A$461 million, up from A$144
million a year earlier.
* Alumina Ltd fell 1.6 percent after it reported a
full year underlying loss of A$52.5 million and said it remains
cautious on the outlook for 2013, with prices expected to remain
* AMP Ltd rose 1.1 percent after full year
underlying profit came in at A$955 million.
* ASX Ltd fell 1 percent after it reported
half-year underlying profit of A$171.1 million, down 5.3
(Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Stephen Coates)