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Australia: Westpac Banking Corp weighs heavily on shares; New Zealand up

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Australian shares extended losses on Thursday, pulled down by Westpac Banking Corp as accusations of money laundering breaches against the lender rattled the financial sector, which has been in regulatory crosshairs for nearly two years.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares extended losses on Thursday, pulled down by Westpac Banking Corp as accusations of money laundering breaches against the lender rattled the financial sector, which has been in regulatory crosshairs for nearly two years.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.7 per cent, or 48.30 points, to 6,674.10 by 0042 GMT. The benchmark fell 1.4 per cent on Wednesday.

Financial stocks slipped 0.7 per cent, with shares of Westpac Banking Corp falling as much as 3.4 per cent.

The toppling share price followed regulators' accusation on Wednesday of 23 million breaches of anti-money-laundering laws by the country's second biggest lender.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that the board of Westpac must review the position of CEO Brian Hartzer, laying further pressure on the company.

Investors grew wary of the sector as a whole amid speculation that the other banks might divulge similar breaches.

"People want to make sure that they are doing the right thing," said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut. "We will probably hear from all the banks regarding this."

Shares of National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group shed 0.6 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively.

NAB on Wednesday said it reached a A$49.5 million (S$45.8 million) settlement in a class action lawsuit over the sale of worthless insurance policies to customers for their credit cards.

Meanwhile, concerns over the completion of the first phase of the trade deal between Beijing and Washington sliding into next year also weighed on investor sentiment.

Mining stocks dropped 0.7 per cent, with shares of the world's top miner, BHP Group, declining 1.2 per cent, while Rio Tinto logged a 1 per cent fall.

The energy sub-index edged slightly lower, but a 2 per cent jump in oil prices overnight propped up some of the stocks.

Shares of Beach Energy dropped 1.3 per cent, while Origin Energy gained as much as 2.2 per cent to an over one year high.

The energy retailer on Wednesday said that it was actively looking to expand its Australian onshore exploration efforts, while signalling higher output for its Australia Pacific LNG project.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent, or 11.56 points, to 10,987.05.

Shares of Contact Energy rose 2.1 per cent, while those of Mercury NZ gained 1.6 per cent.

REUTERS