Australia shares steady ahead of Fed meeting; NZ down

* Fed meeting anticipation prompts thin trade

* Miners continue rally on commodity prices

* Financials and healthcare stocks weigh on NZ shares

*

By Shanima A

March 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares were little changed in thin trade on Tuesday, ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting later in the day, with healthcare stocks offsetting gains in the mining sector which was buoyed by robust iron ore prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.06 percent or 3.5 points to 6,187 by 0031 GMT. The benchmark added 0.3 percent on Monday.

The two-day policy meeting of the United States central bank begins on Tuesday in which it is expected to leave interest rates unchanged, with investors even building in bets for a rate cut in 2020.

Locally, healthcare stocks, which conduct the bulk of their business in the United States, were in red as the U.S. dollar slipped overnight.

The U.S. dollar stuck close to a two-week low as caution about the American economy and expectations for an accommodative Federal Reserve kept the greenback subdued.

Biopharmaceutical company, CSL Ltd, accounted for most of the declines in the sector. CSL also saw some consolidation after the stock struck a more than five-month high last week.

The stock is the fifth largest on the ASX 200.

The financial index fell more than 0.2 percent, with the Big Four banks, excluding Westpac, dipping between 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent.

Shares of Westpac Banking Corp were marginally higher after the country's second largest bank said it was exiting the provision of personal financial advice through a sale agreement with Viridian Advisory.

Global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto were boosted by strong iron ore prices, rising as much as over 1.3 percent each. The sub-index rose to a near three-week high.

Chinese iron ore futures have risen to a two-week high, due to concerns over tight supply of the steel-making raw material after Brazilian miner Vale SA announced further production cuts.

Elsewhere, A U.S. judge on Monday rejected Rio Tinto Plc's bid to dismiss a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit accusing the mining company of civil fraud in its handling of a failed investment in a Mozambique coal project.

The benchmark New Zealand S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2 percent or 21.15 points to 9,493.97, at 0010 GMT in lacklustre trade. Losses in the financials and healthcare stocks dragged the index down from a record high on Monday.

(Reporting by Shanima A in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)

2019-03-19 03:15:29

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