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Australia shares ease as BHP, Rio drop; NZ follows suit

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[BENGALURU] Australia's benchmark share index edged down on Tuesday as BHP and Rio Tinto declined on worries over a labour dispute at a mammoth copper mine in Chile, but energy stocks gained ahead of renewed US sanctions on major oil exporter Iran.

Financial stocks also dragged on the S&P/ASX 200 index , which fell 0.3 per cent to 6,253.9 in its fourth decline in five sessions. It rose 0.6 per cent on Monday.

BHP said on Monday that it had formally requested government mediation with the union at its Escondida copper mine in Chile, where a strike could start as soon as next week if a deal is not reached with workers. Rio is the No.2 shareholder in Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine.

Shares in BHP and Rio Tinto fell 1.4 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively on Tuesday in the wake of the news.

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In the industrials sector, Amcor Ltd, the world's biggest listed packaging company after announcing an all-stock deal worth about $5.25 billion to buy US-listed Bemis Company Inc.

The benchmark's biggest loser, fleet management services provider Eclipx Group, slumped 40.8 per cent after trimming its full-year profit outlook.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia's kept its cash rate at a record low of 1.5 per cent on Tuesday. The central bank has notched up two whole years with no move in interest rates as optimism on the economy is tempered by miserly wage growth and muted inflation.

Australia's financial stocks ended 0.3 per cent lower, mainly due to a 1 per cent loss in Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the last session before its scheduled annual results.

But the country's energy stocks closed at their highest in over 3-1/2 years, rising in lock step with oil prices in the wake of worries over tighter supply when new US sanctions on Iran are expected to kick in from November.

While all stocks on the sector index rose, Santos Ltd racked up the biggest gain.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.3 per cent, with losses in materials and healthcare stocks dragging.

Fletcher Building Ltd was the biggest influence on the benchmark, ending 2 per cent lower.

REUTERS