* Iraq crisis, sliding iron ore prices dim mood
* Oil sector down as investors prepare to switch to WPL as
Shell sells stake
(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
By Thuy Ong and Naomi Tajitsu
SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, June 17 Australian shares
declined slightly on Tuesday and hovered near 4-week lows on
worries about sliding iron ore prices, the threat of U.S. air
strikes in Iraq and an escalating dispute over Russian gas
supplies to Ukraine.
U.S. and Iranian officials conferred about the Iraqi
crisis on the sidelines of a meeting in Vienna, sources said.
Meanwhile, Washington said it could launch air strikes if needed
to quell the Sunni Islamist rebellion that has roiled the
The mining sector made the biggest dent on the market, with
world no.4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd
falling 3.2 percent, while blue-chips BHP Billiton Ltd
and Rio Tinto Ltd each dropped 0.9 percent.
Spot iron ore fell below $90 a tonne to its lowest since
September 2012, reflecting plentiful supply and tighter credit
that has slowed purchases by Chinese mills despite a more than
30 percent plunge in prices this year.
The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 8.4 points, or 0.2
percent, to 5,403.9 by 0213 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.1 percent
The energy sector was also hard hit as investors pulled out
of oil stocks in anticipation of a large parcel of Woodside
Petroleum Ltd shares flooding the market. Oil Search
Ltd fell 1.8 percent and Santos Ltd declined
Royal Dutch Shell launched a long-awaited sell-down
of its stake in Woodside, looking to reap about $5.73 billion.
Shares in Woodside were on a halt and are due to
resume trading on Wednesday.
"My guess is that people are switching out of the other oil
plays to invest into the Woodside placement," said Shannon
Rivkin, director of Rivkin Securities in Sydney.
"I think the recent run for Woodside has prompted some
institutional shareholders to take interest in it."
Banks extended their losses, with Commonwealth Bank of
Australia slipping 0.2 percent and National Australia
Bank losing 0.3 percent.
Support for the market came from the listed property
sector, with Westfield Group and Westfield Retail Trust
climbing 1.4 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively,
ahead of Friday's vote on Westfield Group's A$70 billion
New Zealand's benchmark NZX-50 index edged up 4.16
points to 5,182.96, supported by slight gains in infrastructure
management company Infratil which rose 0.85 percent as
investors picked up shares following its slide the previous day.
Air New Zealand inched up 0.2 percent to NZ$2.26
after it announced it would increase its stake in Virgin
Australia to 25.99 percent as it competes for
Australia's domestic market with the ailing Qantas.
Shares in the company hovered near a 6 1/2-year high of
NZ$2.29 hit last week.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)