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Australia: Shares drop on poor earnings, US sell-off; NZ flat

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares dropped on Wednesday after five sessions of gains, nudged down by a sell-off in US markets, some poor company results at home and a fall in some commodity prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 19.7 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 6,037.2 by 0100 GMT.

"The selling that we saw in U.S markets began after Powell's comments ... and that negative momentum is spilling over into the region," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

US stocks fell on Tuesday as comments from Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell spurred talk the central bank might squeeze in four rate hikes this year instead of the expected three.

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In Australia, shares in mining giant BHP fell 1.5 per cent amid a decline in prices for commodities such as oil, iron ore and copper.

It's a "perfect storm" for Australia today, said Mr McCarthy, with some poor earnings by companies that reported on Wednesday also adding to broad declines.

Australia's biggest electronics retailer Harvey Norman Holdings was the worst performer on the index, down nearly 15 per cent to its lowest in three months after its headline profit number for the first-half fell over 19 per cent.

"The main concern is around the headline profit number that came as a shock, and the reaction we're seeing represents a possible downgrading of Harvey Norman against its peers," said Mr McCarthy.

Cement producer Adelaide Brighton Ltd dropped 6.4 per cent after its annual net profit fell on expenses related to debt charges.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia was also among the biggest drags on the index, down as much as 0.8 per cent, its steepest intraday fall in two weeks.

Hospital operator Ramsay Health Care declined 4.3 per cent after reporting a fall in half-year profit.

"As the rest of the region comes online we could see some further pressure on the market", Mr McCarthy added.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat at 8,363.4, down 3.02 points.

An 8.4-per cent rise in Synlait Milk was outweighed by Sky Network Television's drop of as much as 10.4 per cent after it flagged shrinking subscribers in its first-half results amid stiff online competition from Netflix and Amazon.com Inc.

REUTERS