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Australian shares end lower as materials, financials weigh; NZ inches up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares broke a five-session run of gains on Wednesday, tracking a fall in US equities, while materials stocks fell in line with a dip in commodity prices.

Wall Street closed lower overnight after comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell revived fears about more interest-rate increases.

Iron ore futures and base metal prices dipped.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.7 per cent to 6,016.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.2 per cent on Tuesday.

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Miner BHP Billiton pulled down the benchmark about seven points, and dragged most heavily on the ASX 200. The stock lost about 2 per cent in the day.

Materials stocks were the biggest drags, with the sector index ending 1.4 per cent lower.

Financials fell in with their U.S. peers as the S&P 500 Financial Sector index shed nearly 1 per cent overnight.

The finance sector ended 0.6 per cent lower as the "Big Four" banks fell. Westpac Banking Corp ended 1.3 per cent lower, pulling the index down nearly five points.

Harvey Norman Holdings ended at a near three-month low after its headline first-half profit fell more than 19 per cent. The stock was the worst performer on the index.

Coal to retail conglomerate Wesfarmers and oil explorer Woodside Petroleum provided little support to the index, ending more than 1 per cent higher apiece.

In New Zealand, shares rose for a sixth consecutive session on climbing healthcare and consumer staples, although gains were checked by a number of falling sectors.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.16 per cent or 13.44 points to finish the session at 8,373.82.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and a2 Milk were the biggest boosts to the index, collectively pushing it up about 24 points.

Subscription television provider Sky Network Television weighed most heavily on the index, despite logging a 12 per cent rise in its first-half 2018 net profit.

REUTERS