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Banks, miners drag down Australian shares; NZ ends at record high

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Dec 19 (Reuters) – Australian shares ended lower on Thursday, with banking stocks and miners leading losses, while New Zealand’s benchmark index closed at a record high for a second day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3%, or 18.3 points, to 6,833.1. The benchmark had closed flat on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Developments around Brexit and the U.S.-China interim trade deal had eased two long-drawn pressure points for markets, but caution has returned given the steep plunge U.S. stocks posted in December last year, and due to the developments on U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

“The market is breathing a half sigh of relief, but is still very cognitive that we haven’t finished the year yet,” said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

Blue-chip banking stocks accounted for most of the index’s fall, with the “big four” banks giving up between 0.2% and 1.1%.

National Australia Bank Ltd fell the most, after saying on Wednesday it had self-reported shortcomings in its anti-money laundering systems to authorities, another blow just a day after regulators filed a lawsuit against the bank over fee charges.

In a latest development to a string of scandals affecting Westpac, Australia’s markets regulator said a court had ordered the bank to pay a penalty of A$9.2 million over a financial planner’s poor advice.

Meanwhile, the world’s biggest miner BHP Group declined 0.7%.

Heavyweight healthcare stocks also weakened after closing at a record high in the previous session. CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd closed 1.6% and 0.9% lower, respectively.

Energy units fell 0.9%, with top loser Beach Energy Ltd giving up 4.8%. Sector heavyweight Santos Ltd declined 0.9%.

Elsewhere, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index jumped 1.3% to 11,480.61.

The index was boosted after data showed the country’s economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the third quarter on robust retail spending, lifting sentiment.

Retirement village operator Arvida Group Ltd gained the most, adding 4.7% to end at a fresh peak. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Rashmi Ashok; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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