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Aust share market closes slightly lower

The Australian share market has closed slightly lower as falls in banking and energy stocks offset gains in miners BHP and Rio Tinto, industrials and healthcare companies.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 4.5 points, or 0.07 per cent, at 6,275.7 points at the close on Wednesday, while the All Ordinaries was down 4.1 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 6,362.1 points.

Trade war concerns swayed the market during the session, with optimism early in the session based on a report that the US and China were resolving recent trade tensions.

However sentiment turned negative later in the day on a new rumour that US President Donald Trump was considering a new raft of heavier tariffs on on $US200 billion of Chinese imports.

This injected some uncertainty back into the market, with the seemingly contradictory signals on US-China trade puzzling for investors, said CommSec senior economist Ryan Felsman.

"It's a little bit confusing, but really I think markets are ... focused more broadly on the earnings season that's going on in the US, and also Australia is about to begin its corporate earnings season," he said.

BHP gained 22 cents, or 0.6 per cent to $35.08 while Rio Tinto lifted 45 cents, or 0.6 per cent, to $81.65.

After the close of the Australian session, Rio Tinto reported a 33 per cent jump in first-half net profit to $US4.38 billion ($5.9 billion), driven by a recovery in commodity prices.

Rio Tinto's underlying earnings - which excludes impairments and exchange losses - rose 12 per cent to $US4.416 billion from $US3.9 billion a year earlier.

The big four banks all lost ground on Wednesday, holding back the gains in resource stocks.

ANZ fell 0.8 per cent to $29.07, National Australia Bank dropped 1.2 per cent to $27.98, while Westpac closed 0.9 per cent lower at $29.21 and Commonwealth Bank lost 1.4 per cent to close at $73.71.

In companies news, Cimic added 2.4 per cent to $49.49 after the construction heavyweight secured mineral processing contracts in South Africa worth $US310 million ($418 million).

And shares in testing services group ALS leaped 11.4 per cent higher to $8.30 after it said it expected first-half underlying profit to increase by up to 25 per cent thanks to strong demand for its analysis and testing services.

The Australian dollar was at 74.07 US cents at 1700 AEST, down from 74.27 US cents on Tuesday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 4.5 points, or 0.07 per cent, at 6,275.7 points

* The broader All Ordinaries index was down 4.1 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 6,362.1 points.

* The SPI200 futures contract was up seven points, or 0.1 per cent, at 6,225 points at 1630 AEST.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 74.07 US cents, from 74.27 US cents on Tuesday

* 83.0375 Japanese yen, from 82.5335

* 63.41 euro cents, from 63.36

* 56.48 British pence, from 56.54

* 109.05 NZ cents, from 108.80

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,220.81 per fine ounce, up from $US1,221.989 per fine ounce on Tuesday.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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