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Australia: Shares fall 0.5%, New Zealand close to record high

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares declined on Wednesday afternoon as weakness in miners and financials dragged on the broader market, while New Zealand stocks edged closer to all-time highs.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.5 per cent, or 25.02 points to 5,141.6 by 0130 GMT. The benchmark, which closed little changed on Tuesday, hit a more than a two-month high last week.

"The market needs new news to generate further upside and we need some hard hitting news to push it down because we have had some bearish news recently," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist, IG Markets. "We are in this key juncture in terms of price action."

Financials led the benchmark down, falling 0.26 per cent as several of Australia's largest banks came under pressure. Shares in National Australia Bank Ltd fell more than 1.5 per cent, while Westpac Banking Group Corp and Commonwealth Bank of Australia each fell nearly 0.5 per cent.

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In contrast, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd edged higher, which traders attributed to a recent Goldman Sachs note that reiterated its positive view for the bank.

Australia's large mining firms were hit by weak commodity prices. BHP Billiton Ltd and Fortescue Metals Group each fell nearly 1.5 per cent.

Shares in Woodside Petroleum Ltd declined 0.5 per cent on news its joint venture partners have decided to halt plans to build the Browse floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) project off Australia in the face of challenging market conditions.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was largely flat on Wednesday, edging up 0.10 per cent or 8.47 points to 6,672.712 - near a fresh record high of 6,686.6.

Air New Zealand rose 0.7 per cent and milk company A2 led gains, rising 3.1 per cent.

Shares in Fonterra's fund, which provides investor exposure to the farmer-owned dairy exporter, edged up 0.2 per cent after the company posted a jump in half-year net profits that were in line with expectations.

Auckland Airport lost 1.1 per cent while Fletcher Building fell 2.7 per cent.

Meridian Energy Ltd gave up 0.5 per cent as investors took profits after the stock rose 2.8 per cent on the previous session.