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Australia shares end lower on Fed comments as financials drag; NZ soars

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Thursday, in line with Wall Street losses overnight, as financial stocks dragged the benchmark lower after the US Federal Reserve dampened hopes of a near-term interest rate cut, while New Zealand scaled a record peak.

The S&P/ASX 200 index had its worst day in nearly one-month, closing down 0.6 per cent, or 37.5 points, at 6,338.40. The benchmark rose 0.8 per cent on Wednesday.

US stocks fell overnight as the US Federal Reserve held interest rates steady and signalled little appetite to adjust them any time soon.

In Australia, the financial index dropped 1.1 per cent, after disappointing results from fourth-biggest lender National Australia Bank and wealth manager AMP Ltd. It was sub-index's worst intraday performance since March 25.

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NAB cut its dividend for the first time in a decade in order to comply with capital requirements, after it was forced to set aside A$1.1 billion (S$1.05 billion) to compensate customers for wrongdoing exposed at a public inquiry last year.

Shares of NAB slipped 0.3 per cent as four of Australia's biggest banks ended in the red.

AMP dropped 2.6 per cent after it reported a near nine-fold increase in first-quarter cash outflows at its wealth management unit.

Meanwhile, the mining index closed at its lowest since Feb 13 on weak base metal prices. The index lost 0.9 per cent as mining heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto both fell to more than one-month lows.

However, gains in Kidman Resources capped losses on the mining index as the company jumped 45 per cent following Wesfarmers' bid to buy the lithium miner for A$776 million.

The gold sub-index ended lower for a third consecutive day as gold prices dipped further.

Elsewhere, Australia's biggest supermarket chain, Woolworths Group, reported a 4.2 per cent rise in third-quarter sales sending its shares to a more than four-year high.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 1.2 per cent, or 119.33 points at an all-time high of 10,085.75.

Fuel supplier Z Energy climbed 2.6 per cent after the company hiked its final dividend, while electricity retailer Meridian Energy advanced 1.1 per cent.

REUTERS