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Australia: Shares softer, dragged by resource sector; New Zealand down

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Australian shares eased slightly in cautious trade ahead of domestic employment data and the US Federal Reserve's rate decision later on Wednesday, with resource stocks as top drags.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares eased slightly in cautious trade ahead of domestic employment data and the US Federal Reserve's rate decision later on Wednesday, with resource stocks as top drags.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.2 per cent or 12.7 points to 6,682.60 by 0207 GMT. The benchmark ended 0.3 per cent firmer on Tuesday.

Australia's key monthly employment report is due on Thursday, which could influence the central bank's decision on whether to loosen monetary policy in the coming months.

"Higher unemployment rate or much slower jobs growth - that could be the sort of thing that makes economists talk about the possibility for a rate cut in October," said Steven Daghlian, market analyst at CommSec.

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The US Federal Reserve concludes its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, and economists widely expect it will cut its benchmark rate for the second time this year by a quarter percentage point.

Investors will look for clues on how far US monetary policy easing will go, given that Fed policymakers are deeply divided on whether more rate cuts are warranted.

The Australian energy sector shed 1.6 per cent, reflecting a fall in oil prices, after Saudi Arabia assured that the Kingdom would restore lost oil production by the end of the month.

Major oil and gas player Woodside Petroleum declined about 3 per cent and was the top drag on the benchmark index, while peer Oil Search slipped almost 2 per cent.

The world's largest miner BHP Group, which also has a huge exposure to oil, slipped almost 1 per cent and weighed on the main benchmark.

Australia's Qantas Airways, sensitive to moves in oil prices, rose more than 2% to its highest in over a year, after tumbling about perin the wake of the attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

Financials, which constitute the lion's share in the Australian benchmark, fell about 0.5 per cent, with all the "Big Four" banks trading lower.

Gains in the technology and healthcare sectors helped to slightly offset losses among resource stocks, falling about 2 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.

Logistics software maker WiseTech Global climbed more than 3 per cent to its highest since Sept 10, while drugmaker CSL advanced almost 1 per cent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slid 0.7 per centĀ  or 76.83 points to 10,791.20, dragged lower by consumer stocks.

Dairy company A2 Milk fell as much as 2.5 per cent to its lowest since Aug 26, while casino operator Skycity Entertainment Group hit a one-week low.

REUTERS