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Australia: Shares dragged down by basic materials - oil, NZ flat

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares reached their lowest in more than six weeks on Wednesday as the US dollar strengthened ahead of US jobs data this week, hurting basic materials and energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 53.39 points, or 0.97 per cent, to 5424.9 by 0239 GMT, its lowest since mid-July. The benchmark had closed marginally higher on Tuesday.

The dollar rose to a three-week high against a basket of currencies as investors looked ahead to US payroll data this week, seeking clues to when the Federal Reserve may next raise interest rates after US Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer said that jobs data could influence any rate decision.

"Traders are quite concerned that if we see strong (job) numbers on Friday, it could push up the US dollar further and drag down commodity prices," said Angus Nicholson, an analyst with IG Markets.

"I think people are trying to hedge a bit and position themselves against that potential outcome." Basic materials led the losses, with mining majors BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd falling about 3.2 per cent each. Fortescue Metals shed over 3 per cent.

Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources shed 4.4 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively as gold hit a two-month low.

Oil stocks fell on weaker crude oil futures, with oil producers Woodside Petroleum, Santos Ltd, and Oil Search Ltd down 0.9 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

Financials, the biggest constituent on the index, wiped out the previous session's gains, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia losing 1.6 per cent and Westpac Banking 1.3 per cent down.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat at 7388.81 points.

Minor gains in consumer staples and utilities were offset by financials falling over 1 per cent. Basic materials were also among the biggest losers.

Westpac Banking Corp, among top losers, lost 1.8 per cent, while Fonterra Shareholders' Fund was 1 per cent lower.