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Australia: Shares tumble on US election jitters; NZ extends losses

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Wednesday as growing uncertainty around the US presidential election and a Federal Reserve policy decision later in the day kept investors on edge.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.9 per cent, or 48.37 points to 5,242.10 by 0122 GMT. The index hit its lowest in nearly two months.

The Fed is expected to keep interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, but has grown increasingly confident about raising rates and is widely expected to move in December.

Investors doubt it would act so close to the US Nov 8 election.

The presidential race has appeared to tighten in the past week with Democrat Hillary Clinton leading with five-percentage-point lead over Republican Donald Trump, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday, down only slightly since the FBI said on Friday that it was reviewing more emails in its investigation of Clinton ahead of the Nov 8 election.

But a poll by ABC News showed Mr Trump leading by one point and the Los Angeles Times put the Republican candidate more than two points ahead.

"People are looking to mitigate the risks around their portfolios as the clarity of the investment landscape is deteriorating as Donald Trump picks up (vote) share," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne.

Traders are "taking some exposure off, just in case Mr Trump gets up, we don't know what the world's going to look like then," Mr Weston said.

Financial and energy sectors took a beating, with both S&P ASX 200 Energy (GIC) index and S&P ASX 200 Financials (GIC) index down nearly 1.3 per cent.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp both fell around 1 per cent.

Among oil and gas companies, Woodside Petroleum shed 1.4 per cent, while Oil Search was down 1.3 per cent after oil prices fell for a fourth stragith session.

Australia's second-biggest airline operator, Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd, slumped 2.1 per cent after it reported an underlying loss before tax of A$3.6 million for the first quarter, compared with an underlying profit before tax of A$8.5 million a year earlier.

Newspaper publisher Fairfax Media hit its lowest in nearly six months, losing as much as 2.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.6 per cent or 44.85 points to 6,885.64.

Healthcare and technology sector lost the most in the region, with Orion Health Group losing 5.96 per cent, and software service company Xero declining 2.4 per cent.