Australian shares dip after Fed chair's speech

The Australian share market has lost ground, with overnight testimony by US Fed chairman Jerome Powell proving insufficient to break the market out of its trading range.

After being down as many as 47.7 points, or 0.6 per cent, in the first hour of trading on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index clawed back most of those losses after dovish talk by New Zealand's central bank.

The benchmark index ultimately finished just 12.9 points lower at 7,816.8, a loss of 0.16 per cent, while the broader All Ordinaries dropped 16.9 points, or 0.21 per cent, at 8,058.3. 

Since early June the ASX200 has traded in an increasingly narrow band, a compression pattern that usually eventually results in a big move in one direction or the other.

But Mr Powell's testimony to the US Senate banking committee was not to be that catalyst even as the S&P500 overnight rose for a sixth day to notch up its 36th closing high of 2024.

"Powell did little to sway market expectations for rate cuts this year, unveiling a more balanced assessment of inflation and growth risks, while consciously avoiding any near-term guidance," wrote Westpac economist Jameson Coombs.

Elsewhere, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand seemed to signal on Wednesday that it was pivoting towards cutting rates later in 2024.

The RBNZ left rates on hold, as was widely expected, but highlighted the gains being made in the battle against inflation, which it expects will return to target within the second half of 2024.

The ASX's 11 sectors were mixed, with five lower and six higher. 

Telecommunications was the biggest mover, rising 1.4 per cent as Telstra rose 2.4 per cent to a three-month high of $3.80 on the back of price increases the mobile operator announced on Tuesday.

The materials sector was the biggest loser, down dropping 1.2 per cent. 

BHP fell 1.3 per cent to $43.17, Fortescue fell 1.2 per cent to $21.59 and Rio Tinto retreated 1.0 per cent to $119.37.

The big four retail banks were mixed, with ANZ up 1.4 per cent to $29.70 while Westpac fell 0.6 per cent to $27.52 and CBA and NAB both edged 0.1 per cent lower, to $128.54 and $35.82, respectively. 

Insurance companies, whose bottom line tends to benefit from higher interest rates, gained ground. 

IAG rose 1.6 per cent, QBE added 1.1 per cent and Suncorp climbed 0.8 per cent.

The Australian dollar was buying 67.46 US cents, from 67.43 US cents at Tuesday's ASX close.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Wednesday down 12.9 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 7,816.8.

* The broader All Ordinaries dropped 16.9 points, or 0.21 per cent, to 8,058.3.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 67.46 US cents, from 67.43 US cents at Tuesday's ASX close

* 108.87 Japanese yen, from 108.45 Japanese yen

* 62.34 euro cents, from 62.30 euro cents

* 52.72 British pence, from 52.66 pence

* 110.82 NZ cents, from 110.14 NZ cents.

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