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Australia shares extend slide after strong run; NZ dips

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Wednesday, with financial and healthcare stocks leading the decline as investors locked in gains following a strong run since January.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.2 per cent or 13.6 points to 6,161.20, extending losses for a fourth straight session.

Investors took some money off the table after the benchmark rose about 9 per cent so far this year, fuelled by hopes for a Sino-US trade deal and China's stimulus plans to shore up its cooling economy. The index lost 6.9 per cent in 2018.

Financial stocks led the day's losses, with the sector down 0.3 per cent. Westpac Banking Corp fell 0.7 per cent and National Australia Bank Ltd lost 0.4 per cent.

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The sector turned down late in Tuesday's session after the federal government said it would no longer seek to abolish hidden commission payments to home loan brokers by banks, reversing a recommendation from an inquiry.

The healthcare sector also ended lower, with drugmaker CSL Ltd down 1.1 per cent as the company's shares started trading ex-dividend.

Pharmacy operator Sigma Healthcare Ltd slumped 12 per cent, the worst performer on the benchmark, after its board rejected a A$727 million takeover bid from Australian Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

The energy sub-index closed down 0.9 per cent. Oil and gas explorers Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd slid 1.3 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively.

The gold sector bucked the trend with a 1.9 per cent gain, including top gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd up 3 per cent.

Newcrest said on Tuesday it entered a joint venture with London-listed Greatland Gold, a day after announcing plans to buy a 70 per cent stake in a Canadian copper and gold mine.

A new sentiment survey released on Wednesday said Australian consumers have turned gloomy in a one-two punch to the economy already battling a property downturn and anaemic wages growth, raising the risk of an interest rate cut as early as next month.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged down 0.1 per cent, or 9.56 points, to close at 9,387.69.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company Ltd fell 1.1 per cent, while telecom firm Spark New Zealand Ltd slipped 0.7 per cent.

Outdoor clothing and retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd fell up to 1.6 per cent during the session after it flagged a suspected data breach at its online trading websites.