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Australia shares slip on weaker oil, commodities; New Zealand crawls up


[SYDNEY] Resource firms and banks pulled Australian shares into the red on Wednesday, dampened by slumping oil and commodity prices and a sell-off in financials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 30.67 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 5,741.7 at 0300 GMT. The benchmark gained 0.9 per cent on Wednesday.

Oil majors Woodside Petroleum and Origin Energy slipped about one per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively, both set to snap two days of losses.

Oil prices dipped as inventories in the United States suddenly rose while iron ore prices fell up to 2.8 per cent, its biggest intra-day dip in more than a week.

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In the weak materials sector, miner BHP Billiton was in the forefront, dipping up to 1.8 per cent. Fortescue Metals Group fell as much as 3.3 per cent, reversing three days of gains.

Since the start of the year, the benchmark of energy stocks was down 2.3 per cent while the index for financial stocks was up 0.2 per cent.

The 'Big Four' banks lost between 0.5 to 0.9 per cent.

Materials and financials had a very strong run-up on Wednesday "so perhaps there might have been a bit of a pricing misstep," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress.

"Commodity prices were lower last night, so the market's pulled back a little bit this morning, with most sectors in negative territory," said Mr Le Brun.

Activity in Australia's services sector ran at a brisk pace in July, with a rise in new business to three-month highs encouraging firms to take on more workers, a survey showed.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 30.01 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 7,759.45 by 0300 GMT. The bourse was on track for its third consecutive session of gains despite a fall in job growth in the second quarter for the country.

Healthcare stocks were in the spotlight, boosting the index the most with Ryman Healthcare and Fisher and Paykel Healthcare Corporation, rising 1.5 per cent and 1.7 per cent, among top gainers.