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Australia: Shares dip slightly as Westpac weighs; New Zealand falls

[BENGALURU] Australian shares were flat on Monday, as financial stocks offset gains in other sectors, including energy firms, after Westpac Banking Corp posted a weaker-than-expected net profit and flagged challenging conditions ahead.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.1 per cent, or 2.78 points to 5,957.8 by 0057 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.5 per cent on Friday.

Westpac Banking Corp reported a 3 per cent rise in annual cash profit, helped by its consumer and business lending arms and reduced costs on impaired assets, but narrowly missed forecasts.

Westpac's shares slipped as much as 2.6 per cent after the results, the biggest intraday percentage fall in over 4 months, and its lowest price in nearly a month.

Market voices on:

"The market hasn't taken the result very well, as it has been a little bit more negative than anticipated," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stock broking for Argonaut in Perth.

Other "Big Four" banks followed suit, falling in the range of 0.4 per cent and 0.6 per cent. The financial index fell to its lowest in three weeks.

Elsewhere in the sector, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd said it would close its retail banking business in Philippines as big Australian banks try to shed capital-intensive assets amid stiffer bank capital rules.

Energy stocks were headed for a ninth straight day of gains, rising as much as 1.7 per cent.

Oil prices hit their highest levels since July 2015 as markets tightened, while Saudi Arabia's crown prince cemented his power over the weekend through an anti-corruption crackdown that included high profile arrests.

Santos Ltd, which topped the energy index, rose to its highest in 14-months. Oil Search Ltd, Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Beach Energy Ltd added between 1.9 per cent and 2.5 per cent.

Australia's healthcare stocks gained as much as 1.1 per cent, with medical technology company Nanosonics Ltd up as much as 2.1 per cent.

The mining and materials index rose marginally supported by gains in iron ore prices last week, with Rio Tinto Ltd hitting its highest in over six years.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 26.39 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 8,038.73 at 0051 GMT.

The index saw broad-based losses, led by financials and consumer staples, with dairy company a2 Milk falling more than 3 percent.