March 20, 2018 / 5:51 AM / 6 months ago

REFILE-Australian shares end lower as commodities drag; NZ falls

(Adds dateline)

* Light trade for ASX ahead of Fed meeting

* NZ ends lower as consumer staples and utilities drag

March 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Tuesday in light trade ahead of the year’s first Federal Reserve policy meeting, with commodity stocks pressured by concerns U.S. President Donald Trump could impose more protectionist trade measures.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4 percent, or 23 points, to 5936.4, burdened by caution ahead of new Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s first policy meeting starting later in the day.

While it is widely expected that the Federal Reserve will raise rates for the first time this year, the key focus for investors remains on whether policymakers forecast four rate hikes this year instead of the three projected earlier.

Trump has slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, despite stiff opposition from some business sectors, although he pledged to exempt some trade partners from the charges.

Materials stocks accounted for more than half the losses on the index and ended the session 1.6 percent lower.

Global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto Ltd closed down 1.9 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Base metal prices weakened and Chinese iron ore prices exceeded the biggest daily drop in almost 10 months posted on Monday. Gains in oil prices were capped by U.S. oversupply concerns.

Real estate fell with retail property manager Scentre Group ending 1.2 percent lower.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 4.97 points lower at 8487.15.

Consumer staple and utility stocks weighed on the index, with a2 Milk the biggest drag, dropping 2.1 percent. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru Editing by Eric Meijer)

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