March 13, 2017 / 1:22 AM / 4 months ago

Australia shares fall on oil woes, US rate hike concerns; NZ edges up

March 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped on Monday as a slump in crude oil prices weighed on the resources sector and as investors turned cautious ahead of a widely expected U.S. interest rate hike later this week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4 percent or 23.92 points to 5,751.7 by 0055 GMT.

“There is caution ahead of the big week that we’ve got coming up" said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

"We have got inflation numbers and the interest rate decision coming from the U.S. So, there is a lot to potentially move the market."

A robust U.S. job report on Friday pointed to strength in the world's biggest economy, setting the stage for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this week.

The market's focus is now shifting to the pace of rate hikes beyond March.

Recently, Fed Chair Janet Yellen had signaled that the U.S. central bank would likely hike rates at its March 14-15 policy meeting if employment and other economic data hold up.

In Australia, energy and material stocks were battered with the benchmark energy index falling more than 1 percent. Oil major Woodside Petroleum Ltd shed 1 percent, while its peer Santos Ltd dropped 1.5 percent.

Mining giant BHP Billition, which has significant oil exposure, hit a four-month low while Rio Tinto dropped to its lowest in three months.

Financials, the biggest index constituent, were also in the red, with the worst performer AMP Ltd losing more than 2 percent at one point.

Defensive stocks including healthcare, consumer and telecom were sold off.

On the flipside, gold stocks jumped as the yellow metal's prices rebounded on Friday. The gold index hit its highest in more than a week with shares of Newcrest Mining rising more than 4 percent and Evolution Mining gaining over 5 percent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit a more than one-week high, helped by gains in consumer and telecom stocks. The index rose 0.3 percent or 18.2 points to 7,195.8 by 0048 GMT.

SKY Network Television Ltd was the top performer, rising 3.5 percent.

Real estate companies took a beating after the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand said house prices fell in Auckland during February. Shares of Kiwi Property Group Ltd dropped to its lowest in two months.

Reporting by Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting By Krishna. V. Kurup; Editing by Kim Coghill

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