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Australia: Shares slide as oil slumps, investors eye earnings reports


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell for the third straight session on Wednesday as energy stocks led the market lower and investors remained cautious heading into company reporting season.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 38 points or 0.7 per cent at 5,762.3 points by 0131 GMT.

A muted profit outlook from biopharmaceutical giant CSL sent its shares down sharply, weighing on the benchmark index, while continuing uncertainty about a resolution to the Greek debt crisis contributed to the hesitant tone.

A recent bull run lasting 12 straight sessions, equal to the country's longest ever, also has convinced many investors to take profits, traders said. "We're not seeing a great deal of commmitment, either from buyers or sellers," said CMC Markets chief strategist Michael McCarthy. "It looks like a lot of investors are caught between the reasonable results that are coming out in most cases and the high levels that we're seeing for the market overall." Blood plasma products maker CSL fell 8 per cent, the biggest decliner on benchmark, as it posted a half-yearly profit gain but warned uncertain market conditions will constrain future growth.

Energy firms dropped along with oil prices. Woodside Petroleum and Santos each dipped 3 per cent while Oil Search declined 2.4 per cent.

Power retailer AGL Energy rose 3.5 per cent after saying its purchase of power stations will help it grow earnings.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the first of the so-called "big four" banks to report earnings in 2015, slid 0.6 per cent after posting a record interim profit but warning sluggish business confidence will hurt the economy.

Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank fell about half of one percent.

While the broader market fell, bullish earnings reports led to a few isolated rallies. Construction giant Leighton Holdings rose 4.4 per cent after saying full-year profit rose by a third, mortgage insurer Genworth Mortgage Inusrance Australia soared 9 per cent after saying premiums grew 12 per cent in calendar 2014.

Property giant Stockland Corp rose 2 per cent, touching its highest intraday level in nearly seven years, after saying it benefited from low interest rates.

New Zealand stocks edged higher, with the benchmark NZX-50 index up 0.1 per cent at 5,788.96, buoyed by reporting season.

Casino operator Sky City was up 1.5 per cent after reporting a 10.6 per cent fall in first-half profit, although the normalised result was flat. It said it had seen a lift in trading in January.

Fletcher Building, the biggest listed company, eased 0.9 per cent, while Auckland International Airport hit a lifetime high of NZ$4.55.

Small-cap mineral explorer Chatham Rock Phosphate slumped 92 per cent after its undersea mining proposal was turned down by environmental authorities.