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Australia: Shares close at weakest since February


[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on Tuesday with financial and material stocks leading the decline, while the central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged, as widely expected, at its June policy review.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 1.52 per cent, or 87.367 points, lower at 5,667.5, its lowest close since Feb 9.

Shares in the 'Big 4' banks fell between 1.4 per cent and 1.7 per cent, weighed down by the potential impact on profits from a planned bank levy.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left its cash rate unchanged at 1.5 per cent and policy makers signalled a steady outlook for much of the year ahead.

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The decline on the benchmark was broad-based.

Miners BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals shed between 0.8 per cent and 1.4 per cent as iron ore prices weakened, and lower oil prices added to BHP's woes.

Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search lost 1.1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.

Gold stocks, however, rose, with Newcrest Mining up 0.9 per cent.

The utility sector suffered some profit taking. AGL Energy and Origin Energy lost 4 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended flat, down 0.07 per cent, or 5 points, to finish the session at 7,494.97.

The finance sector showed weakness however, with New Zealand shares of Westpac Banking and ANZ Banking Group falling nearly 3 per cent.