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Australia: Shares ease off 11-year peak as financials drag

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Australian shares ended lower on Monday after losses in financial stocks pulled the benchmark down from a more than 11-year high as investors remained cautious ahead of bank earnings.

[SYDNEY] Australian shares ended lower on Monday after losses in financial stocks pulled the benchmark down from a more than 11-year high as investors remained cautious ahead of bank earnings.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.4 per cent, or 26.10 points, at 6,359.50, snapping four straight days of gains. The benchmark gained 0.1 per cent on Friday to close at its highest since Dec 2007.

Investors are awaiting the US Federal Reserve's meeting this week and Chinese factory data for further clues on policy direction and health of the world's biggest economies.

Financials, the benchmark's biggest sector, saw their worst day in more than two weeks. Index heavyweights Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank are due to report their half-yearly earnings on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

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"Banks are a very substantial part of the Australian index. There has been a lot of talk around (bank earnings) with a couple of reports over the weekend saying that the earnings might disappoint. That of course is affecting the selling we are seeing today," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The "Big Four" banks were in the red with National Australia Bank as the biggest loser, shedding 0.9 per cent. The financial index snapped an eight-day winning streak to end 0.6 per cent lower.

The energy index fell 0.7 per cent as oil prices extended Friday's slump after President Donald Trump demanded that producer club Opec raise output to soften the impact of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Across the Tasman, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 0.2 per cent, or 18.20 points, at 10,012.77.

New Zealand-listed shares of A2 Milk Company gained 1.6 per cent, while Spark New Zealand firmed 1.5 per cent.

REUTERS