May 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell for a third straight session on Thursday, as the basic materials sector saw a steep fall on softer metal prices and as financials lost ground on technical selling.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 31.44 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,861.7 by 0257 GMT. The benchmark dropped 0.98 percent on Wednesday.
The results of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy meeting, where they kept rates unchanged, also hurt the market as the dollar strengthened, knocking the Aussie lower.
The Fed held fire on interest rates and downplayed weak first-quarter economic growth and emphasised the strength of the labour market, in a sign it could tighten monetary policy as early as June.
Meanwhile, Australia’s March trade surplus of A$3.1 billion ($2.30 billion) failed to meet economists’ expectations for a A$3.4 million surplus in a Reuters poll.
The decline in the index was led by the basic materials sector which fell as miners declined on weaker prices of base metals and iron ore, while gold stocks lost on an overnight decline in gold.
Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals fell between 0.1 percent and 4.2 percent, while Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining shed 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.
The materials index was down as much as 1.7 percent in its eighth straight session of losses, hitting its lowest in nearly 6 months.
The financials index was down 0.7 percent as three of the ‘Big Four’ banks lost between 1.1 percent and 2 percent.
National Australia Bank was up 0.4 percent, snapping two losing days, after it reported a 2.3 percent rise in first-half cash profit, beating expectations.
In the financial sector, “more of what we’re seeing is index selling. Financials constitute almost half of the index.” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
“We’re seeing a number of technically buy/selling programmes hitting the market, and because of their index weighting, that’s turning into direct pressure on financial stocks.”
Telecom stocks also fell with Telstra down 1.1 percent, and Vocus Group, which slumped nearly 30 percent on the previous session, lower at 1 percent.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.4 percent, or 30.27 points, lower at 7,375.57, as the financial sector extended losses with New Zealand shares of Westpac Banking and Australia and New Zealand shares losing well over 1 percent.
The energy sector was also lower with Z Energy down as much as 1.7 percent, its biggest intraday percentage fall in two weeks.
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$1 = 1.3497 Australian dollars Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong