Feb 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares were slightly lower on Thursday, after two rising sessions, as losses in basic materials stocks ate into gains in the utilities sector, which was pushed higher when AGL Energy reported rising profits and a rosy outlook.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.2 percent, or 10.37 points to 5,641 at 0158 GMT.
The materials index fell 1.1 percent, despite higher commodity prices, as the index’s biggest players, miners Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton Ltd, and Fortescue Metals slipped in a range of 0.8 to 2.2 percent. BHP Billiton fell in the previous session after contract talks regarding Escondida copper mine failed to reach a deal. Workers at the world’s largest copper mine are set to strike on Thursday.
“Can’t say with certainty but if you’ve got some selling in BHP and RIO, then most of the other iron ore guys will be dragged along with that selling,” said Tony Farnham, economist with Patersons Securities.
Rio Tinto fell after the miner shrugged off concerns on Wednesday that its sale of Guinea’s Simandou project to Chinalco had stalled after an investigation into payments to a consultant who helped it win rights to the huge iron ore deposit.
Rio signed a preliminary deal in late October to sell its stake in Simandou, the world’s largest untapped iron ore reserves.
The utility sector was the biggest gainer on the main index, driven by gains in AGL Energy, which reported a 3.7 percent rise in underlying profit on rising electricity prices in the first half of the year and said it expected them to climb further.
Shares of AGL Energy rose as much as 4.6 percent to a record high of A$24.05.
“AGL results were good enough for the market to say we’ll rally that stock as well,” Farnham said.
The financial sector rose on the back of Australia’s biggest wealth manager AMP Ltd, which gained as much as 4.2 percent after it announced a A$500 million ($381.10 million)share buyback and kept its dividend steady despite posting a worse-than-expected 57 percent fall in full-year underlying earnings.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.67 percent or 47.55 points to 7,113.82 with consumer stocks and industrials leading the gains.
Gaming company Skycity Entertainment was the biggest gainer, rising as much as 7 percent after reporting interim revenue from its Auckland business, which accounts for about half of its overall revenue, grew 3.6 pct.
Earlier in the session New Zealand’s central bank held its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 1.75 percent and said monetary policy would remain accommodative.
$1 = 1.3120 Australian dollars Reporting by Sandhya Sampath in Bengaluru; Additional Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru