| March 15
March 15 Australian shares declined on
Wednesday, dragged down by financial and health-care stocks,
with CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd slumping after starting to trade
The S&P/ASX 200 index, which touched a near
three-week high on Tuesday, fell 0.4 percent, or 21.04 points to
5,738.10 by 0051 GMT.
Investors are awaiting conclusion of the Federal Reserve's
two-day meeting, with traders pricing in a 90 percent chance it
will raise U.S. interest rates a quarter of a point.
The central bank's statement is due at 1800 GMT Wednesday
followed by Chair Janet Yellen's press conference.
"We are just following the pattern of most global markets,"
said Damien Hennessy, co-founder of Heuristic Investment
There is also a bit of defensiveness before the Fed comments
on future tightening, Hennessy said.
Overnight, U.S. markets finished lower in thin trading, as
oil prices dropped to their lowest since November.
Australian healthcare stocks were among the biggest losers,
with the ASX 200 Healthcare index slipping as much as
CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd shed as much as
1.3 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively after their shares
started trading ex-dividend.
The financials index , which fell the past two days,
declined 0.6 percent.
All of the "Big Four" banks dropped, between 0.3 percent and
Some of the market's declines were offset by gains in the
material index after Chinese steel and iron ore futures kept
rallying on a spike in Chinese property sales in 2017's first
The metals and mining index rose 0.6 percent, with
Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group climbing
1.6 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.
BHP Billiton gained 1.1 percent. The Escondida
copper mine it controls in Chile said it will look to restart
operations after striking employees rejected an invitation to
return to negotiations.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.5
percent, dragged by huge losses in utilities and material
The country posted its smallest current account deficit in
more than two years, according to data released on Wednesday.
However, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which meets next
week to decide the official cash rate, is unlikely to waver on
its determination to keep rates at 1.75 percent, as it focuses
on increasing inflation.
Electric utilities company Meridian Energy fell 0.7
percent and building material supplier Fletcher Building
declined 1.4 percent.
(Reporting by Krishna V Kurup in Bengaluru; Additional
reporting by Anusha Ravindranath; Editing by Richard Borsuk)