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Australia: Shares fall as banks drag amid inquiry; NZ slips


[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Wednesday, with losses dominated by banking stocks amid an inquiry into the scandal-ridden sector, while the departure of yet another senior official from the Trump administration further soured sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.7 per cent or 43.9 points to 5,930.8 by 0027 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.4 per cent on Tuesday.

Financial stocks logged the biggest share of losses after the first day of the government-backed inquiry heard National Australia Bank Ltd issued almost US$19 billion in home loans under a scheme involving falsified documents.

Shares of NAB fell as much as 1.4 per cent, while others in the "Big Four" dropped between 0.9 and 1.2 per cent.

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"The headlines coming out of the first day of the Royal Commission haven't been all that kind to the banking sector, so its not a surprise that banks are off a little bit," said Damien Hennessy, co-founder of Heuristic Investment Systems.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia executives will be questioned later this week about fraudulent broker arrangements and loan applications.

Mr Trump's firing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not do a lot for investor confidence either, Hennessy noted.

Major US indexes fell overnight as Mr Tillerson's dismissal and the possibility of additional US import tariffs against China dragged down stocks across multiple sectors.

Australian healthcare giant CSL Ltd retreated from recent record highs to drop 1.3 per cent.

Telecom stock Telstra Corp was among the top drags on the index, marking its sharpest intraday fall in two weeks with a 2.4 per cent drop.

Weak commodity prices kept materials stocks in the red, with the world's No.1 miner BHP Billiton down 0.8 per cent.

Oil prices fell more than 1 per cent on concerns over rising US production, while huge iron ore stockpiles in China sent Chinese iron ore futures to near their weakest level since November.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index snapped four straight sessions of gains to fall as much as 0.6 per cent.

Sky Network Television Ltd was the top loser on the index, plunging 8 per cent to a record low.

Telecom company Spark New Zealand fell as much as 2.2 per cent, while a2 Milk Company slipped 1.9 per cent.

The country posted a wider-than-expected current account deficit in the fourth quarter on the back of aircraft imports and robust earnings by foreign firms on local investments, official data showed.