New Zealand shares fell as a sharp drop in oil prices and doubts about the prospects for China-US talks weighed on sentiment in Asian markets.

The S&P/NZX 50 index fell 33.78 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 8,827.74. Within the index, 22 stocks fell, seven were unchanged and 21 rose. Turnover was $130 million.

US stocks fell for a third day as the drop in oil prices hit some of the country's major industrial firms and mixed signals on the pending US-China trade talks spooked investors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.4 per cent, while the S&P 500 Index was down 0.2 per cent. In Australia the S&P/ASX 200 index was recently down 1.6 per cent, led by oil producers and other resource plays.

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Greg Smith, head of research at Fat Prophets, said the bounce global equity markets enjoyed earlier this month has proven "short-lived" and investors are likely to be more wary ahead of the US-China trade talks at the G20 summit in Argentina.

That could make it a long wait, he said, noting the "good cop, bad cop" routine played out in the US overnight as White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow talked up the progress with talks and Vice President Mike Pence sought a change in behaviour from China to avoid a new cold war with the United States.

"This market could be in feet-finding mode for the next couple of weeks," said Smith.

The biggest gainer in the local benchmark today was global logistics firm Mainfreight, which rose 5.2 per cent to $30.25. The firm today reported a better-than-expected 32 per cent increase in first-half profit to $55.7m.

Smith said the strong performance of Mainfreight's international business was heartening, and noted that investors will still reward companies that deliver good results.

Generator Meridian Energy was the heaviest traded stock with almost 3 million shares changing hands – more than twice the daily average. It rose 0.5 per cent to $3.235, after high wholesale power prices last month pushed its average New Zealand generation price for the four months through October almost 50 per cent higher at $124.50/MWh. Generation volumes in the same period were 16 per cent higher, while retail volumes rose 2.9 per cent.

Genesis Energy rose 1.6 per cent to $2.55. Contact Energy rose 1.2 per cent to $5.87.

"They are still a good defensive story," Smith said of the generators.

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Other big volume stocks today included Precinct Properties, down 0.4 per cent at $1.425, with 2.7 million shares traded; Kiwi Property Group, up 1.1 per cent at $1.35, with almost 2.6 million shares traded; and Spark New Zealand, up 0.7 per cent at $4.14, with more than 1.8 million shares traded.

Among the bigger local decliners were some of the higher-growth "market darlings", Smith said. Stocks with a heavy investor base in Australia also suffered with the weaker sentiment in that market.

A2 Milk Co fell 2.8 per cent to $10.01, Westpac Banking Corp fell 2.4 per cent to $27.40, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare fell 1.8 per cent to $13.45.

Freightways led the declines, falling 6.2 per cent to $6.81. More than 430,000 shares changed hands, about three-times the daily average of the past three months.

Chorus fell 2 per cent to $4.92. The telecommunications network operator announced plans to reduce the wholesale price of its gigabit residential fibre product in mid-2019 and again in mid-2020. Volume of 243,000 was about half the daily average.

Pharmaceuticals and pet food company Ebos rose 1.2 per cent to $21.20. The company told investors the 10,000 square-metre warehouse it opened in Brisbane last month may deliver similar productivity and cost improvements to the warehouse it opened in Victoria in2015. That boosted productivity more than 50 per cent the past three years.

Infratil, which yesterday reported a 19 per cent increase in half-year operating earnings and raised its full-year forecast, rose 0.7 per cent to $3.51.