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Oil collapse hits Australian shares, but NZ up; Fed in focus


[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Wednesday as plummeting oil prices hit energy stocks, while investors were also cautious before a crucial Federal Reserve rates meeting which is expected to reset US monetary policy for the next year.

Oil prices sank more than 5 per cent on Tuesday to levels last seen in August 2017 on fears of rising supply at a time of slowing demand.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index declined 0.2 per cent or 8.9 points to close at 5,580.60, but was off a 1-1/2-week intraday low when it fell 0.6 per cent.

The Fed is expected to raise rates at the end of its meeting on Wednesday, though the main focus will be on whether policymakers will call a pause to their three-year tightening spell. Market pricing and recent comments from senior Fed officials suggest a slowing, or possibly an imminent pause, in the US rate-hike cycle.

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The oil rout sent the energy index skidding 2.7 per cent to its lowest in just over a year.

Top loser Origin Energy dropped 5.7 per cent to over 1-1/2-year lows, while index heavyweight Santos Ltd fell nearly 4 per cent to levels last seen in March this year.

The healthcare index declined 1.4 per cent, with Mayne Pharma and Nanosonics Ltd leading the losses.

The banking sector managed to pull in some gains and helped the broad market downturn.

Shares of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) rose 1.1 per cent, while National Australia Bank (NAB) closed 0.8 per cent higher.

Shareholders voted against the executive remuneration plans of NAB and ANZ at their respective annual general meetings after a year of damaging misconduct revelations, which triggered sharp share price losses this year and undermined their growth plans.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.85 per cent or 73.82 points to end at 8,762.19.

Sky Network TV advanced 8.5 per cent to its highest in one week, while Ryman Healthcare rose 3.2 per cent.