* Big Four banks rise; NAB and ANZ higher amid AGMs
* Oil price tumble weighs on energy stocks
* Graincorp down; allows due diligence to LTAP
By Nikhil Nainan
Dec 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged lower on Wednesday as energy stocks dived on a decline in crude oil prices, however, wider losses were limited by gains among the country’s “Big Four” banks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.3 percent, or 15.1 points, to 5,574.90 by 0031 GMT. The benchmark fell 1.2 percent on Tuesday.
Oil prices tumbled more than 5 percent to around $56 a barrel on Tuesday due to fears of oversupply and deteriorating demand, a far cry from prices earlier this year.
Energy stocks slumped 2.7 percent, with top stocks Woodside Petroleum and Santos down 2.3 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
“Oil prices have been absolutely belted over the last couple of trading sessions and we are seeing large drops in the energy sector,” said James McGlew, an executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.
Preventing deeper losses in the broader market were the Big Four banks, which were up in a range between 0.9 percent to 1.5 percent.
Despite the shareholder backlash against banks at two annual general meetings on Wednesday, shares in the sector rose.
“There is genuine shareholder disgust in the way the banks have been behaving, however, people’s pockets at the end of the day speak louder than their sentiments, which have no cash value,” Argonaut’s McGlew said.
Both Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank hold their annual AGMs, where shareholders were expected to protest against the executive pay after a year of damaging misconduct revelations.
Addressing disgruntled shareholders, NAB’s Chairman Ken Henry said that more than 80 percent of shareholders will likely vote against its executive pay proposal. Australia’s fourth-largest lender’s shares were up 1.5 percent.
ANZ shares rose 1.5 percent with its shareholders also expected to vote down executive remuneration plans.
Gold stocks are on course for a fourth straight session of gains, with the sector index up about 2.7 percent, as the price of the precious metal continued its rise.
Top gold producers St Barbara and Evolution Mining added 4.4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
In other news, Australia’s largest listed bulk grain handler, GrainCorp fell 2.2 percent to a near three week low after it said it was providing suitor Long-Term Asset Partners Pty (LTAP) due diligence to put forward a more certain proposal.
“There is no certainty that this bid might go ahead, and clearly some shareholders have taken the view that there is more risk of it not happening, than happening,” McGlew said.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5 percent to 8,727.64.
Heartland Group Holdings led the gains, rising 5.2 percent, while Air New Zealand gained 2.8 percent.
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Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes