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 on Monday.

Financial stocks fell for an eighth straight session. National Australia Bank lost 0.6 percent, while top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.7 percent.

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 coming."

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," McCarthy added.

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)

2019-03-19 08:12:46

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