October 24, 2018 / 6:26 AM / a month ago

Australian shares close lower, weighed by energy sector; NZ down

* Aussie shares lose for 4th session

* Energy stocks hit by falling oil prices

* Gold index gains 2.7 pct (Updates to close)

Oct 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed marginally lower on Wednesday as declining crude oil prices drove the energy sector lower, which offset gains in financial and healthcare stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.2 percent weaker at 5,829 points, its fourth straight session of losses. The benchmark fell 1.1 percent on Tuesday.

Oil prices plunged about 5 percent overnight as a global equities sell-off raised concerns about demand growth, while Saudi Arabia promised to increase its output.

The energy index slipped 2.1 percent, with index heavyweight Woodside Petroleum declining 1.3 percent and Santos Ltd down 2.5 percent.

Oil Search extended losses into a third session and had dropped as much as 5.3 percent during the day. The company reported strong quarterly results on Tuesday.

Metals and mining shares followed suit with a 1.1 percent fall after base metal prices fell, reflecting doubts over China’s plans to reinvigorate the country’s slowing economy. China is Australia’s top resource importer.

Mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto slumped 2.2 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

Outdoor equipment retailer Super Retail Group fell 11 percent and was the biggest decliner on the Australian benchmark after its chief executive announced his retirement.

On the other hand, gold stocks gained on higher prices in the yellow metal as global political and economic uncertainties bolstered safe-haven demand for the commodity.

Newcrest Mining, the country’s largest independent gold miner, rose 2.9 percent after it said quarterly gold production increased from a year ago.

Financial shares recovered after two sessions of losses, with major lenders Westpac Banking Corp advancing 0.7 percent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rising 0.6 percent.

Healthcare stocks also advanced with sector heavyweights CSL Ltd and Ramsay Health Care gaining 0.5 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 0.4 percent or 30.94 points to finish the session at 8,642.24.

Consumer shares saw heavy losses after A2 Milk fell 1.5 percent and Synlait Milk dropped 5 percent. Synlait was the biggest intraday decliner on the benchmark.

Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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