Australian shares hit by ECB's surprise reversal; NZ at record high

* ECB's surprise dovish turn rattles markets

* Financials drag as top CEOs appear before govt

* Australian index slated for third straight week of gains

* New Zealand to gain for fifth straight week

By Ambar Warrick

March 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares pulled back on Friday as financials and miners lost ground after a surprising dovish turn by the European Central Bank inflamed concerns about the state of the global economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.6 percent or 39.3 points to 6,224.6 by 0033 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Thursday.

U.S stocks fell overnight after European Central Bank raised fresh concerns over the global economy with an unexpected decision to offer more stimulus, having only recently signalled its intent to start tightening policy sometime this year.

In Australia, however, the wagers for policy stimulus this year had underpinned its equities this week. The Reserve Bank of Australia last month abandoned its long-held tightening bias in the wake of rising economic risks.

The ASX 200 was set for a 0.5 percent gain this week, its third straight week in the black.

Greg McKenna, Strategist, Trader, and Founder at McKenna Macro, said the index would face resistance at 6,300.

For the day, financials lost substantially, with the sector subindex shedding about 1.2 percent. The two largest banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking were down 1.8 and 1.3 percent respectively, as their Chief Executives face a day of parliamentary questioning related to widespread misconduct in the sector.

In his opening statement before the parliamentary committee, CBA Chief Executive Matt Comyn said there was "significant work still to do" as the bank implemented the recommendations of the powerful Royal Commission inquiry. Westpac's CEO was slated to appear later in the day.

Shares in the other two largest banks in the country, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank, declined more than 1.5 percent each. Their CEOs will appear before the parliamentary committee later this month.

Mining stocks also dragged on the index, as heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto slumped 1.8 percent each. The two were also pressured by an overnight dip in copper prices.

Automotive Holdings Group and Infigen Energy were the largest decliners on the ASX 200 after S&P Dow Jones Indices said they would be removed from the benchmark on March 18.

On the other hand, the industrial sector strengthened slightly as a number of infrastructure developers gained. Companies such as Transurban Group and Sydney Airport Holdings stand to benefit from domestic stimulus, owing to their government contracts.

New Zealand stocks touched a record high as utility and consumer stocks gained. The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 percent or 29.06 points to 9,466.42.

The New Zealand benchmark was set to gain 1.3 percent for the week, their fifth week of gains.

New Zealand manufacturing sales volumes rose 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, data showed on Friday, with dairy and meat products rising 4 percent.

A2 Milk Co Ltd rose about 1.7 percent, while energy retailer Mercury NZ added 0.8 percent. (Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

2019-03-08 03:19:55

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