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Australia shares dip for third session; NZ lower

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Thursday as softer metal prices and technical selling drove miners and banks lower, pulling the index down for a third straight session.

The Australian was weakened by a strengthening in the US dollar after the Federal Reserve kept US rates unchanged and characterised weakness in the economy over the first quarter as temporary.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 15.942 points, or 0.3 per cent, lower at 5,876.4.

The 'Big Four' banks were the biggest drag on the index losing between 0.6 per cent and 1.7 per cent.

Market voices on:

"Financials constitute almost half of the index. We're seeing a number of technical buy/sell programs hitting the market, and because of their index weighting, that's turning into direct pressure on financial stocks," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

National Bank of Australia reversed trend to end 0.5 per cent lower after having gained as much as 2.2 per cent earlier in the session. NAB had posted a 2.3 per cent rise in half-year cash profit, beating analysts' estimates.

Miners in the region lost ground as Chinese iron ore posted its biggest single-day fall in more than five months, while London copper hit near two-week low.

Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals fell 1.8 per cent and 4.8 per cent. BHP Billiton, however, crept up 0.1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 0.4 per cent, or 27.43 points lower, at 7,378.41.

The financial and healthcare sectors fell as Westpac Banking and Australia and New Zealand Banking declined 1.4 per cent and 2 per cent respectively, a third straight losing day.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare dropped 1 per cent, while Ryman Healthcare shed 1.4 per cent.