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Australia shares drop, Insurance Australia slumps 10%; NZ gains


[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Wednesday, hurt by losses in financial and healthcare stocks as disappointing full year results from Insurance Australia Group and Healthscope Ltd dampened sentiment for the sectors.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 23.43 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 5726.70 by 0247 GMT.

Financial and healthcare sectors accounted for more than half the losses with the financial index dropping 0.6 per cent.

Insurance Australia Group, the country's biggest general insurer by market share, tumbled 10.1 per cent to its lowest in almost four months.

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The insurer on Wednesday said its underlying insurance margin fell by 2.1 per centage points to 11.9 per cent, due to higher claim costs in its motor businesses in Australia and New Zealand and losses in commercial classes.

Hospital operator Healthscope Ltd was the biggest loser among healtcare stocks tumbling 17.8 per cent to a record low after the company reported a 9.2 per cent drop in full year net profit.

"Markets are pretty much results-driven. The big negative results have been IAG and Healthscope. Apart from that, there isn't much in the market," said Mathan Somasundaram, a market portfolio strategist with Blue Ocean Equities.

"We've been in a tight trading band for about three-four months, and we're still stuck in that until something happens in global macro".

The metals and mining index fell 0.4 per cent despite a 5 per cent surge in Chinese iron ore futures which drove global mining giant BHP Billiton up more than 1.5 per cent and Rio Tinto up 1.2 per cent.

The energy index climbed 1.4 per cent to its highest in over two months, supported by overnight rise in oil prices.

Oil prices fell early on Wednesday, squeezed between concerns of oversupply, sparked by rising Libya output, and fears of reduced future investment in the industry.

Australia's top power and gas retailer Origin Energy gained as much as 2.8 per cent and Australia's biggest independent oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum climbed more than 1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 19.62 points, or 0.25 per cent, by 0118 GMT.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company clocked a record high, gaining nearly 6 per cent, after the dairy company said its full-year profit nearly tripled in 2017 to hit its highest-ever level.

SKY Network Television was the biggest drag on the index, falling 5.2 per cent to a record low.