Australia shares weaker on financials, healthcare weakness; NZ down
* Westpac slips, says will exit finance advice business
* Mining stocks rise as iron ore prices firm
(Updates to close)
By Rashmi Ashok
March 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged lower on
Tuesday, led down by financial and healthcare stocks although
trading was limited as global investors remained cautious ahead
of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 5.7 points or 0.1 percent
to 6,184.8 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent
Financial stocks fell for an eighth straight
session. National Australia Bank lost 0.6 percent,
while top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell
Westpac Banking Corp ended 0.4 percent lower. The
bank said it would exit its financial advice business, as
regulators stepped up pressure on the scandal-hit sector to act
in customers best interests.
"There is a high realisation that there will be significant
change in the financial sector in the coming years after the
Royal Commission inquiry," said Michael McCarthy, chief market
strategist at CMC Markets.
"The announcement that Westpac will be selling off its
advice business is just a reiteration of this change that is
Healthcare stocks, which conduct a majority of their
business overseas, slipped after an overnight fall in the U.S.
dollar. Index heavyweight CSL Ltd fell 1.6 percent.
Offsetting losses, miners notched strong gains as
iron ore prices rose, with mining behemoth BHP Group
and rival Rio Tinto Ltd both gaining 1.7 percent.
"We have seen strong leads from U.S. and European markets,
commodity prices are higher... the overall failure of the market
to record a gain, and even yesterday's lacklustre gain suggests
that there is underlying weakness in the Australian market and
we could be up for a significant tumble in the near future,"
In the Reserve Bank of Australia's minutes released on
Tuesday, members discussed the steep falls in home prices and
weakness in household consumption, with car sales especially hit
by tumbling property prices.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.19
percent or 17.85 points to finish the session at 9,497.27, with
dairy giant a2 Milk Company Ltd slipping.
(Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)
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