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Aust shares down further at lunch

Lilly Vitorovich
Australian shares are lower as investors await the US Federal Reserve's next interest rate decision

Australian shares have slipped further, with falls across all sectors bar utilities.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 was down 35 points, or 0.58 per cent, at 6,019.4 points at 1200 AEST, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 34.4 points, or 0.56 per cent, at 6,130.4 points.

Eleven out of the 12 indexes are in negative territory following mixed leads from offshore markets and as investors await the outcome of the US Federal Reserve meeting and interest rate decision.

The US central bank is expected to lift its key interest rate on Thursday but the accompanying statement could be more influential.

Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are down - 1.29 per cent to $33.25 and 1.08 per cent to $84.18, respectively - following falls offshore, with a stronger US dollar weighing on copper prices.

The big four banks are also under pressure, on investor concerns about credit growth.

National Australia Bank has dropped 1.03 per cent to $26.07, Commonwealth Bank has fallen 0.84 per cent to $68.27, ANZ has slipped 0.72 per cent to $26.37 with Westpac down 0.24 per cent to $27.44.

The only bright spot is the utilities sector, with the index up 7.58 per cent as investors pile into APA.

APA's shares have surged more than 21 per cent, to $10.03, after news that Australia's biggest gas pipeline company has received an indicative $13 billion takeover bid from a Chinese consortium led by CK Infrastructure Holdings.

The $11 a share cash indicative offer - which needs FIRB and ACCC approval - is a 33 per cent premium to APA's Tuesday closing price of $8.27.

Takeover target Atlas Iron is up 5.95 per cent at $4.45 following news that Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting has increased its stake in the Pilbara miner to 19.96 per cent, just days after a similar move by Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group.

Atlas's board in April urged its shareholders to back the $280 million takeover bid from Mineral Resources, whose shares were down 4.9 per cent to $16.44 at 1200 AEST.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar has extended its decline against its US counterpart.

The local currency was trading at 75.64 US cents at 1200 AEST on Wednesday, from 76.10 US cents on Tuesday.

ON THE ASX AT 1200 AEST:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 was down 35 points, or 0.58 per cent, at 6,019.4 points

* The broader All Ordinaries index was down 34.4 points, or 0.56 per cent, at 6,130.4 points

* The SPI200 futures contract was down 37 points, or 0.61 per cent, at 6,018 points

* National turnover was 1.637 billion securities traded worth $1.944 billion

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