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Australian shares end lower, weighed by financials; NZ slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended slightly lower on Thursday, as a decline in financial stocks, weighed by a fall in the local currency and mortgage concerns, offset gains in healthcare.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.2 per cent or 10.8 points to 5,910.80 at the close of trade. The benchmark added 0.6 per cent on Tuesday. Australian markets were closed for a public holiday on Wednesday.

Banks led the losses on the benchmark, with the Australian financial index posting its biggest per centage drop in more than a month.

Mathan Somasundaram, Market Portfolio Strategist at Blue Ocean Equities, said banks have also been hit by a sharp decline in the Australian dollar. The currency was stuck near four-month lows on Thursday.

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Index heavyweight Westpac Banking Corp dropped 3.6 per cent to its lowest in more than two years and was the biggest drag on the benchmark.

UBS analysts downgraded Westpac's rating to "sell" from "neutral", and cut its price target to A$26.5 from A$31.0. The analysis said Westpac mortgages data showed its debt-to-income ratio was much higher than initially thought. Westpac in response defended the quality of its mortgage book.

In other sectors, Australia's second biggest private hospital owner Healthscope posted a record gain of 14.8 per cent, boosting the broader healthcare sector, which rose about 2.1 per cent to its highest since March 19.

Healthscope, which went public four years ago, received a US$3.1 billion buyout approach from domestic private equity firm BGH Capital and pension fund AustralianSuper.

Biotherapeutics company CSL Ltd climbed 2.4 per cent, its biggest one-day gain since Feb 14, while Sonic Healthcare Ltd rose 0.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.1 per cent or 6.59 points to finish the session at 8,282.05.

Utilities accounted for most of the losses, with Contact Energy Ltd slipping 0.8 per cent, while Meridian Energy Ltd fell as much as 0.7 per cent.