* Weak Chinese economic data weighs on commodity prices
* Oil’s slump hits energy stocks
* Rio Tinto flags stronger 2018
By Nikhil Nainan
July 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Tuesday as a sharp decline in oil prices and weaker commodities piled pressure on material and energy firms.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4 percent, or 24.4 points, to 6,217.1 by 0200 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.4 percent lower on Monday.
The energy index fell 1.5 percent to its lowest point this month, pressured by a 4.6 percent tumble in oil prices overnight after Libyan ports reopened and traders eye supply increases by Russia and other producers.
Oil prices recovered slightly in early Asian trade.
All constituents of the index were in the red, with index heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Whitehaven Coal down as much as 2.1 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.
Oil Search was hit by a double whammy of the oil price worries and an 18 percent decline in first half revenue, sending shares down as much as 2.4 percent.
The Aussie mining index fell 0.9 percent on weaker commodity prices.
Global miner Rio Tinto reported a jump in iron ore output shipments from Australia and indicated annual production would be at the upper end of its guidance, though the stock fell 1 percent on concerns over weak prices. “The Rio result wasn’t too bad, but when you see copper and lead prices down they get a wash down from those negative price moves,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.
Concerns over signs of softening in the Chinese economy - Australia’s biggest export market - also dented sentiment after data showed second quarter economic growth expanded at a slower pace with June industrial output growth the weakest in over two years.
“The weak commodities prices and the Chinese data from yesterday are almost going hand-in-hand at the moment, because the big driver for materials comes from economies that devour them,” said Argonaut’s McGlew.
Financial stocks were up, led by the ‘Big Four’ banks, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 0.8 percent.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was slightly lower, down 5.77 points at 8,974.59, with losses in consumer stocks dragging down on the market.
a2 Milk and embattled Fletcher Building led the losses, while on the other end of the spectrum Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation rose 1.2 percent.
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Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Mensholong Lepcha Editing by Shri Navaratnam