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Australian shares close lower, weighed by energy sector; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed marginally lower on Wednesday as declining crude oil prices drove the energy sector lower, which offset gains in financial and healthcare stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.2 per cent weaker at 5,829 points, its fourth straight session of losses. The benchmark fell 1.1 per cent on Tuesday.

Oil prices plunged about 5 per cent overnight as a global equities sell-off raised concerns about demand growth, while Saudi Arabia promised to increase its output.

The energy index slipped 2.1 per cent, with index heavyweight Woodside Petroleum declining 1.3 per cent and Santos Ltd down 2.5 per cent.

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Oil Search extended losses into a third session and had dropped as much as 5.3 per cent during the day. The company reported strong quarterly results on Tuesday.

Metals and mining shares followed suit with a 1.1 per cent fall after base metal prices fell, reflecting doubts over China's plans to reinvigorate the country's slowing economy. China is Australia's top resource importer.

Mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto slumped 2.2 per cent and 0.9 per cent, respectively.

Outdoor equipment retailer Super Retail Group fell 11 per cent and was the biggest decliner on the Australian benchmark after its chief executive announced his retirement.

On the other hand, gold stocks gained on higher prices in the yellow metal as global political and economic uncertainties bolstered safe-haven demand for the commodity.

Newcrest Mining, the country's largest independent gold miner, rose 2.9 per cent after it said quarterly gold production increased from a year ago.

Financial shares recovered after two sessions of losses, with major lenders Westpac Banking Corp advancing 0.7 per cent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rising 0.6 per cent.

Healthcare stocks also advanced with sector heavyweights CSL Ltd and Ramsay Health Care gaining 0.5 per cent and 1.8 per cent, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 0.4 per cent or 30.94 points to finish the session at 8,642.24.

Consumer shares saw heavy losses after A2 Milk fell 1.5 per cent and Synlait Milk dropped 5 per cent. Synlait was the biggest intraday decliner on the benchmark.

REUTERS