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Australia shares end lower as caution prevails; NZ slightly down

[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed lower on Monday, tracking weakness on Wall Street amid increasing doubts about the Trump administration's ability to deliver on its economic agenda.

The S&P/ASX 200 index finished down 0.4 per cent or 21.21 points, at 5725.90. The index closed 0.6 per cent lower on Friday.

Trump has alienated many senior members of his own Republican Party, some corporate leaders and US allies with his comments after violence at a Virginia rally organized by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

In a surprise move, Mr Trump on Friday fired chief strategist Steve Bannon, known as an economic nationalist and an advocate of "America First" policies.

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which has found itself in troubled waters in the past two weeks over damaging publicity about a money-laundering lawsuit, fell nearly 1 per cent to close at its lowest in more than two months.

Other banks in the "Big Four" followed suit, with National Australia Bank slipping 0.5 per cent to its lowest in a week.

The healthcare and industrial sectors recorded losses with CSL Ltd losing 1.5 per cent, and Brambles Ltd falling 1.33 per cent.

Bucking the trend, the metals and mining index posted small gains helped by world No 4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals which climbed 6.4 per cent to close at its highest in over two weeks.

Fortescue Metals on Monday reported a 113 per cent rise in full-year net profit and a 19 per cent rise in full-year revenue.

However, the biggest drag on the index was BlueScope Ltd, which tumbled 21.8 per cent after its full-year underlying earnings missed estimates, and as the company said it expects net profit for first half of 2018 to be lower than second half of 2017.

Major miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gained 1.2 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively, supported by firm commodity prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished slightly lower, down 5.77 points, as gains in the healthcare sector were offset by losses in telecommunications shares.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare gained 1.1 per cent, while Spark New Zealand Ltd declined 0.8 per cent.

REUTERS