Australia shares fall on financials, materials; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower for a third straight day on Monday, hurt by losses in energy and materials, as a jump in fourth quarter company earnings failed to uplift sentiment.

Investors were on a wait-and-watch mode ahead of US President Donald Trump's Tuesday speech, his first major policy address to Congress. His address is expected to include some details of his infrastructure spending and tax plans.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.3 per cent, or 14.79 points, to 5,724.2. The benchmark shed 0.8 per cent in the previous session.

Company gross operating profits for the fourth quarter rose 67.9 per cent compared with the previous quarter, the bureau of statistics said on Monday, far surpassing analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for an 8 per cent increase.

But the data was not enough to lift the index into positive territory.

Losses were centred in basic materials and financial stocks.

Shares of three of the 'Big Four' banks edged lower by less than 1 per cent, while National Australia Bank Ltd nudged up 0.3 per cent.

Financial stocks saw "a bit of profit-taking" on fears their share prices have peaked in the short term, said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Basic materials remained under pressure with mining giants Rio Tinto Ltd and BHP Billiton Ltd down 0.6 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.

Higher iron ore prices helped boost Fortescue Metals Group Ltd shares by 1.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.3 per cent, or 20.6 points, higher at 7,079.18.

Gains were led by industrials and utilities stocks, with Auckland International Airport Ltd and Meridian Energy Ltd 3.6 per cent and 1.7 per cent higher, respectively.


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