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Australia: Shares in 7th straight decline on broad economic concerns


[SYDNEY] Australia shares dipped into negative territory for a seventh straight session on Wednesday as higher oil prices failed to offset broader concerns about whether a series of recent rate cuts can kickstart the economy.

Consumer sentiment fell more than expected in June, a blow to hopes for a pick-up in household spending after two rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of Australia so far this year. "There's just no one buying this market right now," said IG Markets institutional dealer Chris Weston. "There's a lack of a catalyst and we're not cheap, at a time when the macro backdrop is fairly neutral. And if you look at the key central banks, including the RBA, everyone's still in a wait and see." The S&P/ASX 200 index see-sawed in a narrow range and was down 4.2 points or 0.1 per cent at 5467.1 by 0225 GMT. The benchmark has lost nearly 6 percent since May 29.

Bank stocks continued to fall amid concerns they won't keep increasing dividends because of tough new capital requirements, making them less attractive as yield investments.

Westpac Banking Corp fell 0.7 per cent, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group dipped 0.4 per cent while investment bank Macquarie Group dropped 1.4 per cent.

Resources fared better as the iron ore price held steady following a recovery rally over recent weeks. BHP Billiton firmed 0.3 per cent and its spin-off South32 added 1 per cent, while Rio Tinto slipped 0.8 per cent.

Among energy stocks, Woodside Petroleum jumped 1.9 per cent, Oil Search rose 3 per cent and Santos firmed 1.5 per cent after the oil price jumped overnight.

Supermarket No.1 Woolworths was steady and Wesfarmers, which owns its rival Coles, firmed 0.5 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark NZ50 share index fell 29.2 points or 0.5 per cent to 5,832.86 in early trade as utilities and healthcare shares came under selling pressure.

Healthcare software developer Orion fell roughly 10 per cent to a post-float low after it said a potential client had put contract talks on hold.

Orion's stumble kept the sector under selling pressure, pushing healthcare appliance maker Fisher and Paykel Appliances 1.4 per cent lower, while retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare eased 0.1 per cent.

Electricity retailer Meridian fell 2.2 per cent, while Mighty River Power slipped 0.9 per cent.