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Australia: Shares pulled lower by banks; New Zealand up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ticked down on Friday as weakness in banks outweighed gains in health care stocks, while materials firmed on the back of higher commodity prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.2 per cent or 9.70 points to 6,258600 by 0200 GMT. The benchmark firmed 0.9 per cent on Thursday and was on track for a weekly fall of about 0.3 per cent.

Banks set the bearish trend on Friday and accounted for half of the losses on the main index.

"There's no particular catalyst for that other than the fact that they've rallied rather strongly over the last couple of weeks," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

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Financial stocks had gained more than four percent in June. They remain in positive territory this month taking a battering in first quarter from revelations of serious misconduct at the powerful Royal Commission inquiry into financial services.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia dipped 1.1 per cent and was the biggest drag on the main index, while Westpac Banking Corp dropped 1.2 per cent.

Health care and materials stocks firmed, braking the benchmark's slide.

A jump in Chinese iron ore futures coupled with a recovery in base metal prices lifted materials stocks.

Global miner BHP jumped 0.6 per cent and was the biggest boost to the benchmark, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd firmed 0.7 per cent.

Indonesian state-owned miner PT Inalum plans to acquire the Indonesian unit of Rio Tinto, which holds a 40 per cent participating interest in Grasberg, the world's second-biggest copper mine, for US$3.5 billion.

Health care stocks posted strong gains after climbing to their highest level in the previous session. The sector, which has significant exposure to the US market, has benefited from a lower Aussie dollar.

The Aussie dollar has been on defensive in the past few sessions as Australia's dependence Asia, exports and commodities left it hostage to fallout from the China-US trade dispute.

Pharmaceutical firm CSL Ltd scaled as much as 1.1 per cent to a record high, while bionic ear maker Cochlear Ltd firmed 2.4 per cent to three-week high.

Across the Tasman Sea New Zealand's shares rose slightly, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ticking up 0.2 per cent or 19.73 points to 9,005.20.

The benchmark was on track to lose 0.9 per cent for the week, its biggest fall since April.

Utilities stocks led the gains, with Contact Energy Ltd rising 1 per cent, its biggest intraday percentage in more than a week, while Infratil Ltd jumped 2.4 per cent.

REUTERS