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Australia shares retreat as banks weigh, CBA under fire from govt; NZ muted

China sought to stabilise the deteriorating trade relationship with the US, as the prospect of an investigation by the Trump administration on intellectual property raised the risk of tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.

[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell on Thursday, as disappointment over Rio Tinto's earnings pressured materials while bank stocks fell after Commonwealth Bank of Australia was accused of money laundering breaches.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 9.1 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5,735.1 at the close of trade. The benchmark fell 0.5 per cent on Wednesday.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia dipped 0.3 per cent. In the first case of its kind against a major bank, the country's biggest mortgage lender was accused by the financial intelligence agency Austrac of contravening money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules.

Rio Tinto slipped 2.5 per cent after the global miner reported a 152 per cent leap in half-year underlying earnings but still missed analyst expectations.

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Similarly, Suncorp Group reported a rise in annual profit which was slightly below expectations. Shares of the second-largest insurer by market share plunged as much as 7 per cent to a three-month low.

Consumer discretionary stocks were among the few sectors in the black with Flight Centre Travel Group and Southern Cross Media Group among the best performers.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 5.44 points, or 0.07 per cent, to finish the session at 7,753.75.

Consumer discretionary stocks fell the most in New Zealand but specialist outdoor retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd was among top percentage gainers in the benchmark, ending 2.9 per cent higher, after reporting a rise in annual sales.