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Australia: Shares end lower as RBA stands pat, financials weak

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares ended lower on Tuesday as losses in financials eclipsed gains in the material sector in a session marked by a general rise in global risk aversion.

Earlier in the day, the Reserve Bank of Australia kept rates at a record low of 1.5 per cent, as widely expected, in the face of a red-hot property markets.

Soaring home prices, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, have virtually shut the door on any further stimulus, with regulators stepping up new measures to cool the property market.

The S&P/ASX 200 index finished 0.3 per cent lower at 5,856.60, tracking weaker Asian markets as investors fretted about a looming meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this week.

Financials accounted for nearly two thirds of the losses on the benchmark, with the "Big Four" finishing 0.4 to 1 per cent lower.

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On the positive ledger, material stocks ended 0.6 per cent higher, with gold shares gaining the most as prices for the yellow metal hit one-week highs amid a bid for safety in the wake of rising geopolitical tensions.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd, Northern Star Resources Ltd and Evolution Mining Ltd gained 3.5 per cent to 4.9 per cent.

Australian thermal coal prices rose to a four-month high on Monday due to a disruption to domestic exports from Cyclone Debbie, which struck last week.

Shares of coal miners with assets in jurisdictions that were not impacted by Debbie surged, as the impact of the cyclone raised the prospect of major producers declaring force majeure.

Whitehaven Coal Ltd climbed 5.5 per cent, while New Hope Corporation Ltd closed up 3.9 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent, or 19.52 points, to finish the session at 7,244.54.

Utilities accounted for half the gains on the index, with Meridian Energy Ltd and Contact Energy Ltd rising 3.2 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.


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