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Australian shares edge lower on global growth concerns; NZ also down

[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged lower on Wednesday following a slump on Wall Street, with commodity and energy stocks leading losses as concerns over slowing global growth, trade tensions and disappointing corporate forecasts weighed on risk appetite.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slid 0.2 per cent or 8.7 points to 5,850.1 by 0040 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.5 per cent on Tuesday.

Global sentiment remained fragile after the International Monetary Fund trimmed its global growth forecast, mainly reflecting signs of weakness in Europe and the months-long US-China tariff war.

Meanwhile, trade war woes continued to weigh on the mood after the Financial Times reported that Washington rejected an offer for preparatory trade talks from Beijing ahead of high-level negotiations scheduled for next week.

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However, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC the report was not true.

"Overall it has been a pretty big run, so there is a bit of steam coming off," Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist said, referring to the strong gains the benchmark has posted since the turn of the year.

The main index has risen 3.7 per cent in January so far.

Pressured by overnight weakness in base and bulk metal prices, the metals and mining stocks index fell 0.9 per cent to a more than two-week low, dragging down the benchmark.

The world's biggest miner BHP Group shed 1 per cent to its lowest since Jan 4, while its rival Rio Tinto fell 0.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, a more than 2 per cent drop in global benchmark Brent oil futures curbed investor appetite for energy stocks, which slid 1.3 per cent.

Australia's number two indepedent gas producer, Santos Ltd, due to report fourth-quarter production on Thursday, weakened 1.5 per cent, while its peer Oil Search slipped as much as 2.5 per cent to a two-week low.

Meanwhile, fund manager Challenger Ltd dived 14.4 per cent and was set to post its worst session in nearly a decade after flagging a 97 per cent drop in interim profit, citing the effect of weak equity markets on its annuity business.

Bucking the trend, healthcare stocks, a defensive sector in times of market volatility, rose 0.6 per cent.

CSL Ltd, the country's fifth-biggest firm by market value, gained 0.8 per cent and Ramsay Health Care rose 0.5 per cent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 per cent or 23.66 points, to 9,090.97.

Financials and utility stocks led losses, with Meridian Energy falling 0.8 per cent, while NZ-shares of Westpac Banking Corp dropped 0.6 per cent.

Earlier in the day, data showed that New Zealand's consumer price index rose in the fourth quarter, bringing relief to the central bank and dimming the chance of an interest rate cut.

REUTERS