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Australia shares dip as political uncertainty knocks sentiment; NZ slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares slipped on Thursday, as uncertainty over who the country's next prime minister would be rattled investor confidence and losses in financials capped wider gains from resources firms.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's leadership looked doomed on Thursday after three of his senior ministers who backed him in a leadership vote on Tuesday tendered their resignations and called for a repeat vote.

The country's parliament was adjourned on Thursday to allow for a meeting of the ruling Liberal party, with former home affairs minister Peter Dutton and Treasurer Scott Morrison seen as likely contenders for leadership. The Aussie dollar was trading more than 0.8 per cent lower against the greenback.

"We are seeing elevated sovereign risk in our country, I think it looks like the Prime Minister is going to get knocked off any minute now, so there is definitely sovereign risk here compared with emerging markets," said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

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Financials pushed the benchmark S&P ASX 200 index down 0.2 per cent to 6,256.1 at 0200 GMT on Thursday but a deeper decline was averted by gains in the materials and energy sectors. The benchmark lost 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

Financial stocks were 1.1 per cent lower, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the nation's largest lender, down 1.2 per cent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd dipping 1.9 per cent.

Blue Ocean Equities' Mr Somasundaram said money parked in Australian financials was being redeployed as trade war fears eased somewhat, sending funds to growth-oriented investments.

Shares of Qantas Airways were down 6.9 per cent despite the airline reporting a record annual profit, as it flagged a rise of about A$690 million in its fiscal 2019 fuel bill.

Supporting sentiment, however, global miner BHP and peer Rio Tinto Ltd were 1.4 per cent and 0.5 per cent higher, respectively.

Australian energy stocks were trading 0.5 per cent higher, after oil prices rose 3 per cent on Wednesday, after a larger-than-expected draw in crude inventories and as Washington's sanctions on Iran signalled tightening supply.

The sector index's move was helped by gains in stocks such as Santos Ltd, which was trading up as much as 10.5 per cent after saying first-half underlying profit nearly doubled and reviving its dividend.

On Wednesday, Santos agreed to buy privately held Quadrant Energy for at least US$2.15 billion, grabbing what may be the biggest oil find off Western Australia in over two decades.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped, as stocks such as Air New Zealand weighed on the index.

The benchmark was trading 0.1 per cent lower at 9,151.58 on Thursday. It rose 0.5 per cent on Wednesday.

Air New Zealand was trading down 2.9 per cent after a two per cent rise in the airline's full year net profit attributable missed analysts' estimates.

REUTERS