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Australian shares end lower in muted trade; NZ falls

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Monday as investors took profits on heavyweight mining stocks after a strong rally last week, but sentiment was largely subdued ahead of a US Federal Reserve meeting later in the week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.35 per cent or 23.10 points to 6,530.90 at the close of trade, with trading volumes at their weakest in three weeks. The benchmark rose 0.2 per cent on Friday.

The metals and mining subindex ended about 1.2 per cent lower, falling from a near eight-year high touched on Friday. A rise in commodity prices on the back of supply concerns had seen the index rising about 6 per cent last week.

The index clocked its worst session in two weeks.

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Diversified miner BHP Group ended 0.4 per cent lower, while peer Rio Tinto closed down 1.4 per cent. The two are largest stocks by market capitalisation on the ASX 200, with BHP at the top.

Diversified miner South32 lost about 4.2 per cent after it lowered the estimated coal reserves at its Illawarra Metallurgical Coal project.

Vocus Group Ltd, the country's fourth-largest internet provider, ended nearly 25 per cent lower after AGL Energy dropped its US$2.1 billion offer for the company. Vocus was the largest loser on the ASX 200, while AGL rose about 1.6 per cent. Financial stocks edged higher, with three of the big four banks adding 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent. National Australia Bank bucked the trend, losing about 0.3 per cent.

Recent capital framework changes for Australian banks have been largely perceived as positive by investors, on the prospect of higher capital levels allowing them to offset a potential increase in loan losses bought about by a recent interest rate cut in the country.

However, wealth manager stocks weighed on the financial sub-index, particularly after increased regulatory pressure on AMP Ltd and weak outlook from Challenger Ltd pointed to further headwinds for the sector.

AMP ended 1 per cent lower, while Challenger lost 2.6 per cent.

New Zealand stocks ended lower, with utilities and industrial stocks weighing the most.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.6 per cent percent or 65.11 points to finish the session at 10,170.260.

Electricity retailer Meridian Energy ended 1.7 per cent lower and Auckland International Airport dropped 2.1 per cent.

Both stocks had scaled record highs last week.

REUTERS