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Australia shares end down, commodities drag; NZ finishes at record

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended on a dour note on Tuesday as losses in commodity stocks outweighed a relief rally for banks after Commonwealth settled a civil lawsuit filed by financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.5 per cent lower, or 30.6 points at 5,994.9. The benchmark rose 0.6 per cent on Monday.

Australia's central bank left interest rates unchanged at record lows as expected, flagging lukewarm inflation and wage growth.

Mining stocks declined on weak metal prices, notably iron ore, while a sharp overnight fall in global oil prices hurt energy shares.

Global mining heavyweights Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton both fell 1.4 per cent.

Gas supplier Origin Energy lost 2.4 per cent, while Woodside Petroleum shed 0.7 per cent.

Real estate stocks were under pressure with Mirvac Group falling 3.5 per cent after UBS downgraded the stock, citing weaker home prices, said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

Credit tightening could impact "Mirvac's best customer, the investor, and best market, Sydney," said UBS in a note.

Home prices across Australia's major cities eased for an eighth straight month in May as tighter lending standards at banks cooled demand in Sydney and Melbourne.

Meanwhile, healthcare stocks pulled back from a record high on Monday. CSL Ltd dropped 0.9 per cent and Ramsay Health Care slid 3 per cent to its lowest close in over two years.

Rooney said US based drug developer Nektar Therapeutics' overnight tumble sapped confidence in Australian pharma stocks. Nektar's shares tanked nearly 42 per cent after data from trials testing its experimental cancer drug with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo disappointed investors.

"It just reminds people that being involved with new discoveries can be fairly difficult," said Mr Rooney.

On the other hand, financials held up as CBA extended gains and rose 1 per cent despite being slapped with a record penalty to settle money laundering charges by AUSTRAC on Monday.

However, after markets closed, Australia's competition watchdog charged Australia and New Zealand Bank, along with units of Citigroup and Deutsche Bank, with criminal cartel charges.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 1.4 per cent or 120.88 points, to a record closing high of 8,757.0.

The index enjoyed broad gains led by dairy producer A2 Milk Company, which added 5.3 per cent.

Peer Fonterra Co-Operative Group rose about 1 per cent after it said total domestic milk production in April rose 3 per cent.

REUTERS

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