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Australia, NZ: Australia shares fall as rate views hit banks, NZ also down

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares snapped a three-day winning streak on Wednesday as investors sold bank stocks amid concerns the central bank may put off cutting rates again this year, while New Zealand shares also sagged.

As expected, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) kept rates on hold on Tuesday, but investors interpreted its commentary as generally upbeat, a sign it may dash hopes of a second cut in 2016.

Bank stocks are seen as rival investments to bonds because of their steady dividends, so typically benefit from rate cuts and get sold down when there are signs rates may go up.

After entering positive territory briefly in the morning session, the S&P/ASX 200 index reversed course to be down 18.6 points, or 0.4 per cent, at 5,353.2 by 0247 GMT.

The benchmark rose for the previous three sessions.

"The RBA's apparent lack of interest in the next rate cut, which was gleaned from the commentary, (meant) we saw the Aussie dollar shoot up and we saw the banks drop off," said Argonaut executive director of corporate stockbroking James McGlew.

All the so-called "big four" banks fell.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank dropped 0.8 per cent, while Austrlaia and New Zealand Banking Group fell 0.9 per cent and Westpac Banking Corp was 0.2 per cent lower.

The big miners also lost ground, led by BHP Billiton and rival Rio Tinto, both down 2.2 per cent. World No 4 iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group gave up 2.7 per cent.

Energy stocks fared better after the oil price rose. Origin Energy gained 2.3 per cent, Santos jumped 2.6 per cent ad Woodsold Petroleum added 0.8 per cent.

Liquefied Natural Gas was the biggest gainer in the benchmark, up 19 per cent. The company told Reuters it was not aware of the reason.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 24 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 7,013.38, weighed by a 3.6 per cent slide in telecoms company Spark.

Spark fell after broadcaster Sky Network said it is in discussions with Vodafone Group Plc about a possible merger of their New Zealand businesses, potentially putting pressure on Spark.

The news "might have ruffled a few feathers," said Macquarie Equities Investment Advisor Brad Gordon.

In the other direction, dairy exporter A2 Milk recovered ground, adding 5 per cent on bargain hunting.