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Australia: Shares edge lower as energy firms lead losses, NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australia shares eased on Thursday, tracking declines on Wall Street while the energy sector led losses due to softer oil prices and Woodside Petroleum's disappointing quarterly revenues.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was 0.3 per cent lower at 6,655.30 by 2am GMT (10am SGT). The benchmark rose 0.5 per cent on Wednesday.

Oil prices entered their fourth straight day of decline after data showed US stockpiles of products such as gasoline rising sharply last week.

That clobbered the energy sub-index, which was the biggest drag on the main board, losing 1.8 per cent.

Shares of the energy sector's biggest constituent Woodside Petroleum slid to a six-week low after it reported a 32 per cent decline in second-quarter revenue, missing analyst forecasts by a big margin.

Meanwhile, overall sentiment took a beating on renewed concerns over a lack of progress in the Sino-US trade dispute as US President Donald Trump renewed his threat to tax another US$325 billion of Chinese goods on Tuesday.

The United States too could also face Chinese sanctions, following a World Trade Organization ruling on Tuesday, further souring trade talks between the world's two biggest economies.

"We are seeing noise again around the trade war that isn't really that much of a story but it does not inspire much optimism in the market," said Kyle Rodda, market analyst at IG Markets.

Shares of the country's top lenders sagged, losing between 0.1-0.6 per cent after credit rating firm Fitch cut its outlook for Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group to "negative" from "stable" on Wednesday.

Fitch cited greater capital requirements for its move, which comes after the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) told three of the country's biggest banks last week to each set aside a further A$500 million (S$476.9 million).

However, the ratings agency affirmed Westpac and ANZ's ratings at 'AA-'.

Aussie mining shares were flat as iron ore futures in China retreated from record levels after a rally in the steel-making ingredient took it to its highest level since 2013.

Shares of global miner Rio Tinto were 0.3 per cent higher, while those of its larger rival BHP Group were off nearly 1 per cent as softness in oil prices weighed. BHP has a significant exposure to oil, unlike Rio.

The world's number four iron ore miner Fortescue fell 1.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index advanced 0.3 per cent to 10,685.30.

The domestic energy sector comprising refiners and petroleum distributors cheered lower oil prices. New Zealand Refining Company added 1 per cent, while Z Energy Ltd gained 1.5 per cent. Utilities advanced too.

Elsewhere, the local financial sector slid as NZ-listed shares of Westpac and ANZ fell over 1 per cent each.