December 2, 2016 / 2:05 AM / a year ago

Australia shares fall ahead of key U.S. payroll data; NZ flat

Dec 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Friday in thin trade, with losses led by materials and financials, and investors were on the sidelines ahead of key U.S. data which could add momentum to expected increases in U.S. interest rates.

“We’ve got a major market event tonight...it looks like large institutional investors who have driven markets this week are sitting on the sidelines,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Investors are focusing on the U.S. payrolls report later tonight for confirmation that the American economy continues to strengthen, with an eye on an expected hike in benchmark U.S. interest rates later in the month.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.53 percent, or 28.941 points, to 5,471.1 by 0126 GMT. The bourse gained 1.1 percent on Thursday, and is on track to slide about 0.66 percent on the week.

The metals and mining index shed as much as 1.1 percent with most of the mining giants in the red.

BHP Billiton Ltd fell about 2 percent, reversing yesterday’s near 5 percent surge, while Rio Tinto Ltd dipped about 1 percent.

Fortescue Metals Group Ltd dropped as much as 4 percent.

Fortescue has quadrupled in value over the year and the share price is adjusting on that account, despite the jump in iron ore prices overnight, McCarthy added.

Energy stocks were in the red despite oil prices soaring overnight.

Financial stocks were lower with the “Big Four” banks weighing down the index most.

“For banks, index selling is being spread across the market. Given the prominence of banks and BHP, they are taking a hit.”

Consumer staples stocks also lost heavily, with losses led by Bellamy’s Australia Ltd, a manufacturer of organic baby formula.

Bellamy’s slid as much as 43.9 percent after it saying it expected sales momentum to be hit by import regulations in China.

This rubbed off on other China-exposed stocks such as Blackmores Ltd and Bega Cheese Ltd.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.12 percent to 6,973.450 at 0126 GMT with declines in consumer staples offset by gains in healthcare stocks.

China-exposed a2 Milk Co was the worst performer, falling up to 11.2 percent, its biggest percentage plunge in more than six months.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp was the top gainer, surging 7.8 percent to mark its biggest intraday percentage gain in more than 3 years after it won a German court case against ResMed Inc.

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Reporting by Geo Tharappel in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Suhail Hassan Bhat; Editing by Eric Meijer

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