At 4.13pm AEDT, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 43.3 points, or 0.88 per cent, at 4856.7 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 43.6 points, or 0.87 per cent, at 4947.3 points.
On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 50 points weaker at 4845, with about 36,515 contracts traded.
The Singapore, Hong Kong and Japanese share markets were trading at least 1.3 per cent lower.
Burrell Stockbroking director of equities Richard Herring has said continued tension in the Middle East, along with profit-taking, led to broad-based selling across the market. “The market has had a fair run in the last two to three months, so an excuse for profit-taking is not hard to find,” he said, adding a correction is unlikely.
“The earnings season has been in line with expectations and the economic picture is still pretty clear that we’re tracking along fairly well.”
Some stocks including Wesfarmers started trading without a dividend, adding to the selling pressure, Mr Herring said.
BHP Billiton and Woodside Petroleum put a floor under the market, with BHP Billiton gaining 73 cents, or 1.59 per cent, to $46.58. Woodside added six cents to $42.64 after crude oil prices rose over six per cent overnight.
Oil Search eased three cents to $7.01 after reporting a 38.8 per cent leap in annual net profit to $202.03 million.
Major banks and financials were weaker, with Westpac leading the big four lower after it lost 37 cents, or 1.54 per cent to $23.70, and Bank of Queensland and Suncorp Group both lost over two per cent. Bank of Queensland was 22 cent weaker at $9.93 and Suncorp was down 21 cents at $8.58.
Investors had to digest the implications of a magnitude 6.3 earthquake which hit Christchurch, followed by three significant aftershocks later in the day.
Tower Ltd was the most likely insurer to have exposure to the earthquake region, Mr Herring said. Tower’s shares dropped five cents, or 3.36 per cent, to $1.44 after it said the earthquake damage would trigger its re-insurance arrangements, leading to an after-tax impact of $NZ3.5 million ($2.6 million).
QBE Insurance shares fell 45 cents, or 2.38 per cent, to $18.45 and Insurance Australia Group shed seven cents, or 1.89 per cent, to $3.63.
Job search website Seek Ltd posted a 31 per cent jump in first half profit to a record $47.897 million, but Mr Herring said this missed consensus expectations of $64 million. Seek’s shares plunged 83 cents, or 11.74 per cent, to $6.24.
“That’s the sort of market we’re in at the moment if you miss,” Mr Herring said.
Empire Oil and Gas was the top traded stock by volume with 572.8 million shares traded for a value of $11.3 million. Empire’s stock firmed 0.5 cents or 29.41 per cent to 2.2 cents.
Preliminary national turnover reached 3.51 billion shares, worth $6.73 billion, with 315 stocks up, 930 down and 341 unchanged.
Market Slips To Three-Week Low