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Australia: Shares weaken, Rio Tinto drops 4.8%; NZ set to snap winning streak

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[BENGALURU] Mining giant Rio Tinto was at the forefront of declines in Australian shares on Thursday, dropping up to 4.8 per cent as it traded ex-dividend, while the broader market shivered due to expectations for rising US interest rates The S&P/ASX 200 index eased 0.9 per cent, or 55.2 points, to 5,960.8 by 0142 GMT.

The benchmark closed on Wednesday down 0.7 per cent.

Wall Street exerted a bearish influence, having fallen for a second day after comments from the new Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell hardened expectations for up to four US rate hikes this year.

Trading ex-dividend on the day, Rio Tinto's drop was its steepest intraday percentage loss in over ten months. BHP lost 1.2 per cent.

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Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange dropped 0.55 per cent to 543 yuan a tonne on Wednesday, while copper sank to its lowest in over two weeks.

Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals dipped up to 3 percent and was on-track for a third straight day of losses.

Falling oil prices impacted energy stocks with the energy index down over 2 per cent as bellwether Woodside Petroleum shed as much as 2.2 per cent.

Oil prices fell on Wednesday, after official data showed a larger-than-expected increase in US crude inventories and a surprise build in gasoline stocks.

Locally, commercial explosives maker Orica dropped as much as 6.6 per cent to its lowest in nearly three months after it said first-half earnings before interest and tax would be hit by a range of charges amounting to A$300 million.

Healthcare stock CSL, which has significant US exposure, dropped as much as 1.8 per cent mirroring losses in the US healthcare index of 1.6 per cent.

The 'Big 4' banks lost between 0.3 and 1.1 per cent, while retailer Woolworths Group dropped 2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 30.7 points, or 0.4 per cent, lower at 8,343.12, and was on course to snap a six-day winning streak.

Weighing most on the index, SkyCity Entertainment Group shares fell 3.3 per cent, hitting their lowest in three months, while dairy company a2 Milk dropped 1.1 per cent.

Official data showing that New Zealand's terms of trade hit a record high in the fourth quarter of 2017 did little to cheer sentiment.

REUTERS