July 5, 2017 / 6:37 AM / 2 months ago

Australia shares ease ahead of Fed minutes; NZ slides

(Updates to close)

July 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Wednesday with financials and healthcare stocks weighing on the benchmark, as a lack of major data kept activity muted and as investors awaited minutes of the Federal Reserve's last meeting due later in the day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slid 0.4 percent, or 20.52 points to 5,763.60 at the close of trade. The benchmark jumped 1.8 percent on Tuesday, posting its biggest percentage gain this year.

Investors are keeping an eye out for minutes of the Fed's June meeting to gauge how committed it was to hiking rates again this year. A holiday in the United States on Tuesday and a dearth of major data releases kept volumes subdued.

Risk sentiment was kept in check by the tensions brewing in the Korean peninsula after North Korea said it had tested a newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead.

Financial stocks were the biggest drag with the Big Four banks - Westpac, Commonwealth Bank of Australia , National Australia Bank and Australia New Zealand Banking - all edging lower.

Materials were one of the few bright spots on a day that saw most of the sectors slipping into the red.

Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto climbed 1.6 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, after Chinese steel rebar futures climbed to their highest in nearly three-and-a-half years.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 percent or 24.97 points to finish the session at 7,595.67.

Sentiment was affected by a statement from government property valuer QV saying prices for New Zealand homes grew at their slowest annual pace in more than two years.

Spark New Zealand was the biggest drag, losing 1.9 percent.

Reporting By Shashwat Pradhan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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