Australia shares rise as financial stocks gain; NZ down

* Financial shares up 1.4 pct

* BHP Group reports 8 pct drop in H1 profit

* Healthcare index hits over 1-mth closing low (Updates to close)

By Niyati Shetty

Feb 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed modestly higher on Tuesday as losses in the mining and healthcare sectors were offset by significant gains in financial stocks as investors turned to the safety of the nation's biggest banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent, or 17.1 points, to 6,106.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark had gained 0.4 percent on Monday.

Financial stocks advanced 1.4 percent, led by the "Big Four" banks, which rose between 1 percent and 2.3 percent.

Australia and New Zealand Banking rose more than 2 percent after the bank pledged on Tuesday to lend more to investors as it reported the lowest annualised growth rate in mortgage lending in more than two years.

Investors have "refocused attention on the big four because that's where the gains are," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Meanwhile, the metals and mining sub-index erased early gains to end marginally lower, with iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd slipping 0.3 percent.

World's biggest miner BHP Group ended flat as investors awaited the company's results after market hours. The firm posted a 8 percent decline in first-half profit, citing production disruptions and a fall in commodity prices.

Healthcare stocks finished 1.7 percent down, hitting a more than 1-month closing low, with hearing implant firm Cochlear Ltd slumping 8 percent after it flagged slower growth in U.S. and Europe.

Australian medical firms conduct most of their business in the United States and any concerns of a slowdown in the country would negatively impact the entire sector.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was marginally lower, falling 0.23 percent or 21.18 points to finish the session at 9,224.26.

Dairy product maker a2 Milk Company skid 2.2 percent, while Auckland International Airport dipped 0.6 percent. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru, Additional Reporting by Nikhil Subba; Editing by Kim Coghill)

2019-02-19 08:03:07

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