Banking stocks nudge Australia shares lower in quiet trade

Reuters - UK Focus

* ASX 200 slips 0.1 pct as big banks weigh

* Housing sector rises as construction activity expands

* Wotif soars after Expedia (NasdaqGS: EXPE - news) offers $660 million for thetravel group (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, July 7 (Reuters) - Australian sharesdeclined 0.1 percent on Monday, slipping from one-month highs asbanks nudged the market down in low volumes following WallStreet's close on Friday for a holiday.

The 'Big Four' banks lost ground after healthy gains lastweek. Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Other OTC: CBAUF - news) wasdown 0.4 percent and Westpac Banking Corp 0.3 percent. Holdings Ltd rocketed 24.4 percent toA$3.29, its highest since December after U.S. travel giantExpedia Inc agreed to buy the Australian online travelgroup for A$703 million in cash.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 3.1 points to 5,521.9 by0206 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Friday and added 1.5percent for the week, its biggest one-week gain since February.

"There appears to be a bit of a momentum trade - we bouncedoff some technical levels last week and the market's just foundreason to go on with the job," said Ben Le Brun, market analystat brokerage firm OptionsXpress, though adding that volumes werestill very low.

By 0203 GMT, 131.9 million shares were traded, compared to adaily moving average of 607.6 million shares this year.

The housing sector edged higher as a survey on Australianconstruction activity showed the sector expanding for the firsttime this year in June, led by strength in home building and arebound in engineering work.

Property group Stockland Corporation Ltd and realestate investment trust the GPT Group both climbed 1.2percent.

Miners turned lower after a bright start as London copperbegan the week little changed. BHP Billiton Ltd wasflat, while Rio Tinto Ltd (Xetra: 855018 - news) was down 0.5 percent.

Australian job advertisements in newspapers and on theInternet rebounded in June in a potential sign thatbudget-affected softness in May did no lasting damage.

Aditya Birla Minerals Ltd surged 22 percent to itshighest since late April of A$0.25 after its prohibition noticewas lifted by the Department of Mines andPetroleum.

The New Zealand share market shed most of Friday's gains,with the benchmark NZX-50 index 12.93 points or 0.25percent lower at 5,175.98.

Contact Energy Ltd (NZSE: CEN.NZ - news) was 0.7 percent lower atNZ$5.43, and there were 0.6 percent falls for Telecom Ltd and Auckland International Airport Ltd.

However, overall movements were generally modest with mostof the larger declines among second tier stocks.

A new issue was unveiled with glass manufacturer MetroglassLtd looking to sell 143.7 million shares at NZ$1.70 each, whichwould value the company at nearly NZ$315 million. The companyaims to list on the New Zealand and Australian bourses on July30.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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