Australia shares slip, investors tread lightly ahead of China PMI survey

Reuters - UK Focus

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY, March 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell 0.2percent on Monday on Friday's Wall Street dip, with investorstreading carefully around the Crimea crisis and ahead of China'smanufacturing PMI survey due out later in the day.

Blue chip stocks lost ground with the 'Big Four' banks allfalling. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Other OTC: CBAUF - news) , Australia'stop bank by market capitalisation, slipped 0.3 percent whileWestpac Banking Corp shed 0.2 percent.

Supermarket giant Wesfarmers Ltd lost 1 percent.

"It's a lack of interest, I think there's also sweat (ahead)of the Chinese data," said John Milroy, investment adviser atMacquarie Bank, adding that volumes were very low.

A total of 138.5 million shares traded hands by 0037 GMT,compared to a daily moving average of 618.3 million so far in2014.

"I think the market's on a bit of a hold here for lack of adriver, the tendency is to drift off a bit really," Milroy said.

The S&P/ASX 200 index shed 8.5 points to 5,329.6 by0046 GMT. The benchmark bounced 0.8 percent in the last session.

The benchmark touched a 5-1/2 year high of 5,462.3 on March7 but has since drifted lower as political tension in Ukraineand fears of slowing growth in China, Australia's largest exportmarket, has soured investor sentiment.

A rally of 4.1 percent in February has been slightly offsetby a fall of 1.5 percent so far in March.

However, the resource sector bouyed the market as copperedged higher last week while bullion rose on bargain hunting.Index heavyweight Rio Tinto Ltd (Xetra: 855018 - news) added 0.7 percent whileOz Minerals Ltd climbed 3.1 percent. Among bullionstocks, Newcrest Mining Ltd jumped 3.2 percent.

Leighton Holdings Ltd lost 1.7 percent as it tradedex-dividend. Its new chief executive is pushing ahead with arestructure of its operating companies after Hochtief (Other OTC: HOCFF - news) 's takeoverbid, while Leighton was also awarded a joint venture contractworth $1.7 billion for a new highway in Qatar.

Top (Taiwan OTC: 8419.TWO - news) investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd gained 3.2percent after saying it expects a 40 percent to 45 percent risein annual profit for the year to March 31.

Kathmandu Holdings Ltd soared 9.7 percent totwo-week highs of A$3.40 after the New Zealand and Australianclothing and outdoor goods retailer reported a 10.7 percent risein first half profit on Monday on higher sales and improvedmargins.

Sino Gas & Energy Holdings Ltd plunged 11.9 percentto A$0.19 after its CEO says he intends to retire from hisposition.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged 0.2percent higher to 5,137.4. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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