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Australia shares flat ahead of Fed meeting; NZ hits 5-month high

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares steadied on Tuesday ahead of the US Federal Reserve's two-day meeting, with gains in materials stocks offsetting losses in financials and healthcare shares.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slid 0.03 per cent, or 2.75 points, to 5,754.60 points by 0151 GMT.

Investors were hesitant to take big bets ahead of the US Federal Reserve's meeting that starts later on Tuesday. The Fed is widely expected to hike interest rates.

"I don't think the Australian market is going to move strongly until we get the Fed decision," said Christopher Conway, head of research and trading at Australian Stock Report.

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The S&P 500 finished flat at 0.04 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite and Dow Jones Industrial Average closed marginally higher overnight.

In Australia, financials stocks reversed early gains with the 'Big Four' banks falling between 0.1 per cent and 0.7 per cent.

Healthcare stocks were the second biggest losers on the index, with biotherapeutics company CSL Ltd shedding 0.6 per cent and medical device company Sirtex Medical Ltd losing one per cent.

The metals and mining index rose as much as 1.9 per cent after Shanghai steel rallied on Monday.

Shanghai rebar steel futures rose nearly 6 per cent on Monday helped by an improvement in seasonal demand in China, which also lifted Chinese iron ore from a one-month low.

Global miner BHP Billiton Ltd gained 1.4 per cent, snapping five sessions of losses. Rio Tinto Ltd rose 2.1 per cent.

Energy stocks were the second biggest gainers on the index, with Origin Energy Ltd and Oil Search Ltd gaining 3.5 per cent and 0.9 per cent, respectively.

Crude oil prices hovered near three-month lows on Tuesday in early Asian trading as investors await key reports and data that may shed light on a supply overhang in the global market.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat after hitting a five-month high, helped by gains in consumer staples and telecom stocks. The index was down 6.41 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 7,188.38 points by 0152 GMT.

A2 Milk Company Ltd gained 1.9 per cent, while Spark New Zealand Ltd climbed 0.4 per cent.

Industrials and utilities stocks declined, with Auckland International Airport Ltd shedding 1.3 per cent and Mercury NZ Ltd declining 2.1 per cent.