March 29, 2018 / 1:27 AM / a month ago

Australia shares edge lower after volatile Wall Street finish; NZ down

March 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares were slightly weaker in thin pre-holiday trade on Thursday, as softer iron ore prices weighed on materials stocks and following a see-saw session on Wall Street.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 percent, or 16.40 points, to 5,773.100 by 0120 GMT, having declined 0.7 percent on Wednesday. The benchmark was on track to post a decline of about 4 percent for the month, its biggest since January 2016.

Australian and New Zealand markets are closed on Friday and Monday for public holidays.

U.S. stocks finished lower in a volatile session on Wednesday, dragged by losses in online retailer Amazon.com which fell after a report showed U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to rein in the company.

Investors are trying to minimise their losses ahead of the long weekend, said Christopher Conway of the Australian Stock Report.

A fall in iron ore prices led to weakness in material stocks, especially miners, with the Australian metals and mining index declining 1.2 percent to its lowest in more than three months.

Global miner BHP slipped 1.5 percent to its lowest in nearly three-weeks, while its rival Rio Tinto Ltd slid 0.8 percent to its lowest since Dec. 20.

Consumer staples were also under pressure, with Australian-listed shares of dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd leading the losses.

Nestle, the world's biggest packaged food maker, launched a brand of infant formula that uses the protein made popular by a2 Milk Company, The New Zealand Herald reported. [bit.ly/2pMYtQR ] The New Zealand Herald added that Nestle's product is available in China, raising concerns the Swiss group's version could eat into a2 Milk Company's market share there.

Following strong cues from their U.S. counterparts , Australian real estate stocks climbed as much as 1 percent.

Real estate investment trust Dexus firmed 1.6 percent, its biggest intraday percentage gain in more than six-weeks, while Goodman Group, Australia’s largest listed property owner, rose 0.8 percent.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.6 percent or 50.85 points to 8,337.23, it was on track to lose 0.4 percent for the month.

a2 Milk Company fell 4.6 percent to an over five-week low, accounting for about half of the losses on the benchmark.

Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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