Australia shares end lower as markets prepare for rate hikes

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  • Global equity sell-off weighs on benchmark
  • Financials and tech stocks top drags
  • ASX 200 lost 0.7% for the week
  • NZX 50 records worst week in six

March 11 (Reuters) - Australia shares closed lower on Friday as investors were on edge after the country's central bank cautioned about rate hikes in response to inflationary risks due to the recent surge in commodity prices, hurting technology and banking stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) ended 0.9% lower at 7,063.60. The benchmark dropped 0.7% on the week to clock its worst weekly performance since Feb. 25.

With U.S. inflation hitting a 40-year high, Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe told borrowers it would be prudent to prepare for a rise in interest rates this year. read more

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"You can expect them (interest rates) moving mid-year rather than the end of the year at this stage," said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

Financial markets are wagering heavily on a first rise in the 0.1% cash rate by June, partly because the U.S. Federal Reserve is widely expected to lift rates next week and several other major central banks have already tightened.

"The inflation rate is moving very quickly, both the core and CPI calculation excluding food and energy, so it's like a sweeping inflation right across the board."

Among growth stocks, the technology index (.AXIJ) slid 3.2% and led declines on the benchmark after its Wall Street peers ended in red overnight.

Xero (XRO.AX) and WiseTech Global (WTC.AX) slumped 5.9% and 4.1%, respectively.

Financials (.AXFJ) slipped 0.6%, but gained 2.2% this week to notch their best week in a month.

Among the "Big Four" banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX) and National Australia Bank (NAB.AX) shed 0.4% and 0.2%, respectively.

On the upside, the metals and mining index (.AXMM) advanced 0.3% on strong iron ore prices.

The energy index (.AXEJ) added 0.3% as oil prices clawed back some lost ground.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) fell 0.9% to 11,821.38. The benchmark lost 2.6% in five days, its worst week in six.

($1 = 1.3578 Australian dollars)

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Reporting by Upasana Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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