Business

Australian shares lead losses on Asian markets

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Image caption Australia's stocks led losses in Asia following share price falls in the US

Australia's stocks led losses across Asian markets after disappointing trade figures from the US raised fears over growth in the world's largest economy.

The US trade numbers showed the country's deficit jumped sharply to $51.4bn in March, its highest level in more than six years.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 2.3% at 5,692.20.

Shares were also held back by some worrying results from Australia's biggest banks.

Investors are concerned about the country's big four banks facing slower growth.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), one of the country's biggest, reported flat profits of some 2.2bn Australian dollars ($1.74bn; £1.15bn) for the three months to March, compared with a year earlier.

The lender said the result was due to higher regulatory costs, but it follows disappointing half-year figures from rival Westpac.

Earlier in the week, ANZ reported better-than-expected half-year results, which analysts described as a "welcome relief".

National Australia Bank (NAB), Westpac, ANZ and CBA make up the so-called big four lenders in Australia. NAB is due to release its half-year results on Thursday.

Also weighing on the Australian index were poor results from the country's biggest supermarket Woolworths, with shares in the retailer down as much as 5%.

Woolworths said its sales for the third quarter fell 2.1% to 15bn Australian dollars ($11.9bn; £7.85bn) partly due to falling petrol sales.

It also announced a further 400 job cuts in response to the weak sales results.

Australia's retail sales for March also disappointed investors, coming in below forecasts at 0.3% from a month earlier.

China shares

Chinese shares continued to fall after Tuesday's heavy declines.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 0.4% at 27,640.91, while the Shanghai Composite fell 1.6% to 4,229.27.

Investors shrugged off a private survey of China's services sector, which indicated it had grown in April at its fastest pace this year.

The HSBC/Markit services purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to a four-month high of 52.9 in April from 52.3 in March - well above the 50-point level that separates expansion from a contraction in the sector.

Elsewhere, South Korea's benchmark Kospi index closed down 1.30% at 2,104.58, following the US trend.

Japanese markets are shut for the Golden Week holiday. They will reopen on Thursday.

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