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Australia: Shares slip to lowest in 7 weeks, financials fall

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares finished at their lowest in seven weeks on Wednesday, as bank stocks lost ground while disappointing wage growth and consumer confidence data also hurt sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 1.1 per cent, or 64.518 points, to 5,786 at the close of trade, to its lowest settlement since March 27. The index posted its biggest one-day fall in two months. The benchmark rose 0.2 per cent on Tuesday.

Financial stocks accounted for more than half of Wednesday's losses with the "Big Four" banks leading decliners in the benchmark.

National Australia Bank extended losses as it got knocked down to a three-month low after trading ex-dividend on Tuesday, while Westpac Banking Corp was set to trade ex-dividend on Thursday.

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Australia's wages growth in the first quarter was unchanged at 1.9 per cent from a year earlier, the lowest on record, which subdued both inflation and spending at a time when household debt has climbed to an all-time peak.

Even though S&P affirmed Australia's coveted triple-A rating, concerns about the government's ability to return to a budget surplus still remain.

Resource stocks were the only part of the Australia market in positive territory, led by gold shares, which rose as the yellow metal hit a two-week high.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.2 per cent, or 14.89 points, to finish the session at 7,422.5.

The healthcare sector led gains with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, up as much as 4.8 per cent, among top gainers on the benchmark.

The medical device maker recorded its biggest single-day rise in over five months after Health appliance firm ResMed Inc withdrew its US trade complaint against Fisher & Paykel.