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Australia shares fall as miners slump on China scrutiny over iron ore prices

* Australia excluded from coal import plan, says China state media

* Miners set for worst day in over two months

* Regulator to scrap dividend caps for banks next year

* NZ consumer confidence rebounds in Q4

Dec 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Tuesday as heavyweight miners were pressured by fears of higher regulatory scrutiny over surging iron ore prices in the steelmaking ingredient’s top consumer, China.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4% to 6,630.1 by 0016 GMT, with top miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto giving up 2.5% and 1.1%, respectively.

Iron ore futures fell more than 4% on Monday after China’s steel producers pushed for a regulatory probe into skyrocketing prices.

Strong speculative interest in the steelmaking ingredient had pushed the benchmark spot price in China last week to the highest since February 2013 at $159.50 a tonne.

The broader metals and mining sub-index lost as much as 2.5% and was set for its worst session since Oct. 10, with Fortescue Metals Group easing 4%.

Beijing’s top economic planner has also excluded Australia from a plan to allow coal imports from several countries without clearance restrictions, state-backed newspaper Global Times said.

The news sparked concerns over demand for Australian coal, sending shares of its producers sharply lower. Whitehaven Coal lost 10.2%, while New Hope Corp tumbled 13%.

Energy companies also declined as an oil price rally lost steam on concerns of oversupply. Woodside Petroleum dropped 1.9%, while Santos gave up 2.6%.

Gold stocks fell over 1% as the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States sparked optimism in wider financial markets for an economic recovery.

Financials ticked down 0.2% even after the country’s banking regulator said banks would no longer have to hold a portion of their profit back starting next year, raising prospects for higher dividends.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged 0.1% lower to 12,824.37, with financials and utilities dominating losses.

The island nation saw consumer confidence rebound in the fourth quarter after a sharp fall in the preceding quarter.

Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni

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