By Robb M. Stewart 
 

MELBOURNE--Gains by major banks helped lift the Australian equities market Wednesday after four straight sessions in decline.

Each of the "Big Four" banks notched up gains, recovering some of the ground lost of late as investors have focused on a possible end to central bank easy-money policies. The gains offset losses among resources stocks after a sharp fall in oil prices overnight.

Still, there remains some nervousness in markets ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy meeting next week. The local currency dipped in Asia, caught in a global shift away from risk that weighed on commodity prices on Tuesday.

"The share market will remain nervous while the current bond sell-off continues," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

He said that stocks remain vulnerable to a repeat of Tuesday's action, when an early rally sparked another wave of selling.

The S&P/ASX 200 finished 19.9 points, or 0.4%, higher at 5227.7. The four largest banks collectively added more than 11 points to the index, while the energy sector fell 1.4% and the basket of materials stocks slipped 0.6%.

Westpac Banking Corp. rose 1.5%, Commonwealth Bank of Australia picked up 1% and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. and National Australia Bank Ltd. each added 0.6%.

CYBG, the British lender spun off by National Australia Bank early this year, dropped 5.2%--its sharpest fall since late June--after it told investors in London it was targeting further cost cuts and expected to deliver a double-digit return on tangible equity a year earlier than originally planned.

Among energy shares, Woodside Petroleum Ltd. was 0.7% lower, Oil Search Ltd. lost 0.9% and Santos Ltd. sank 5.7%. Crude-oil prices retreated overnight after the Paris-based International Energy Agency cut its 2016 demand growth forecast by 100,000 barrels a day to 1.3 million. That came a day after a report from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that pointed to a world still awash in crude.

BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Ltd. were down 1% and 1.3%, respectively. Iron-ore producer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. was 1.7% weaker, and gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd. fell 0.5%.

 

Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 14, 2016 02:59 ET (06:59 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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