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Australia shares end lower; Fletcher Building hurts NZ

[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell 0.3 per cent on Wednesday as trepidation ahead of key US inflation data and losses in Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which traded ex-dividend, eclipsed gains in healthcare and industrial stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 per cent or 14.7 points to 5,841.2, following a 0.6 per cent rise on Tuesday.

Investors were cautious ahead of US inflation data due later in the global day that could either upset Wall Street's fragile recovery or clear the way for additional gains.

Global equity markets largely remained volatile after a brutal selloff recently, which was triggered by anxiety over expectations of higher inflation and interest rates.

A mixed bag of earnings also kept Australian equities subdued.

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CBA led the decline with a 3 per cent drop as it traded ex-dividend. Others in the 'Big Four' traded marginally lower, while National Australia Bank rose 0.4 per cent.

A government-backed inquiry into the country's finance sector, rocked by scandals including interest rate rigging and alleged money laundering, has put enders under pressure. The inquiry on Monday said it will start its year-long investigation by scrutinising banks' mortgage selling tactics.

Fast-food chain Domino's Pizza Enterprises Ltd said half-year profit rose 17 per cent, but missed market expectations, sending shares down 6.1 per cent.

Telecom stock Telstra Corporation Ltd slipped 1.4 per cent.

On the brighter side, healthcare giant CSL Ltd jumped as much as 6.2 per cent to a record high after it said first-half profit climbed 35 per cent and upgraded its earnings guidance for the full year.

Shares of CSL pared some of those gains to finish the session up 5.1 per cent.

Insurance Australia Group rose 3.2 per cent to a record close after clocking a 24 per cent jump in half-year net profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.8 per cent or 63.42 points to settle at 8,058.8 - its weakest close since Nov. 16. The index fell for a sixth session in seven.

Fletcher Building, New Zealand's biggest construction company, accounted for most of the losses on the index, plunging 9.3 per cent to finish at its lowest since Dec 7.

The builder said it expected its embattled commercial building unit to post a NZ$660 million (S$636.6 million) loss in fiscal 2018, pushing its shares down as much as 13.8 per cent - its biggest intraday drop in nearly two decades.


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