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Australia: Shares inch down as financials drop, but miners support; New Zealand slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged down on Wednesday as financial stocks followed some US banks lower, but miners supported the market on the back of gains in commodity prices the day before.

At the start of a new month, the S&P/ASX 200 index had slipped 6.5 points to 6,273.7 by 0200 GMT. It was little changed on Tuesday.

Mining and materials stocks were the biggest lift to the benchmark, buoyed by a rally in commodity prices after a Bloomberg report on Tuesday suggested the United States and China were looking to resolve trade differences.

Global miner BHP led the gains, with the sector index up close to 1 percent.

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Fellow miner Rio Tinto crept higher ahead of its half-year results later in the day, which are expected to be strong.

"Obviously, the mix of commodities prices over the last year has been very favourable, with (Rio's) profit coming from aluminium, copper and good quality ... iron ore" said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

"It's going to be their best profit figures since 2014."

However, prices for many commodities had started to ease again on Wednesday, with a source saying the Trump administration plans to propose slapping a 25-per cent tariff on $200 billion worth of imported Chinese goods.

Meanwhile, financials, which account for over a quarter of the S&P/ASX 200, were the biggest drag, with the 'Big Four' banks leading the declines. The main financial index dropped 0.7 per cent.

"I think the key trend here is the US market, the financial sector was down about 70 basis points," said Argonaut's Rooney.

"Comments about trade tariffs have sent futures lower this morning."

Commonwealth Bank of Australia dropped 1.2 per cent, with National Australia Bank down by the same percentage and Westpac Banking declining 1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4 per cent, or 34.78 points, to 8,887.31.

Telecommunications firm Spark New Zealand and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd weighed heaviest, falling 1.3 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.

Heartland Bank was among the top gainers, up as much as 1.8 per cent after it said it intended to list on the Australian Stock Exchange as part of a planned restructuring.

REUTERS