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Australia shares pulled down by banks, healthcare shares; NZ softens

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Wednesday weighed by financial stocks, which tracked their US counterparts lower and amid widespread caution ahead of Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen's semi-annual congressional testimony later in the day.

Markets will closely watch Ms Yellen's comments before the House Financial Services Committee for clues on the pace of US monetary policy tightening, though no major changes to the policy outlook are expected.

Investors are also lying low ahead of major US second quarter earnings reports later this week with big banks, including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup, due to report on Friday.

"There is just a lack of clean drivers, lack of fresh catalysts for the buyers to step up and buy in the markets," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at OptionsXpress.

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"We are looking at the US earnings season and at our own quarterly production reports season." Mining giant Rio Tinto will report its second quarter production numbers on July 18.

The Aussie benchmark index, which finished flat on Tuesday, lost 0.7 per cent, or 37.93 points, to 5,691 by 0250 GMT.

Financial stocks were the biggest drag on the benchmark with the losses concentrated in the big banks, which lost in a range of one per cent to 1.3 per cent.

Healthcare stocks too were among the top decliners with CSL Ltd, the biggest stock in the sector by market value with substantial exposure to US markets, losing 1.4 per cent to its lowest position in over a month.

The industrials sector was pulled down by a 1.5 per cent fall in Sydney Airport Holdings shares, while consumer shares were weighed down by a 0.7 per cent decline in Wesfarmers stocks.

The basic materials sector was the only one to gain with its miners supported by an uptick in commodity prices.

Big miners BHP, Rio Tinto, and Fortescue added in a range of 0.3 per cent to 0.6 per cent, helped by a surge in iron ore and base metals prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4 per cent or 27.64 points to 7,599.83, dragged down telecom and industrial stocks.

Building materials maker Fletcher Building Ltd and telecom infrastructure business Chorus Ltd were the biggest decliners on the benchmark, down 1.9 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS

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