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Australian shares fall, inquiry testimony hits financials; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell on Thursday as banks and insurers were pummelled by damaging testimony of a powerful inquiry, though gains in miners on a recovery in commodity prices capped the losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.8 per cent or 47.2 points to 6,128.7 at the close. The benchmark ticked down 3.80 points on Wednesday.

Financials accounted for most of the losses on Thursday, hurt by the latest revelations of a year-long inquiry into Australia's financial sector misconduct.

The insurance arm of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) rejected a trauma payout to a customer using outdated criterion that found his heart attack was not severe enough, the inquiry heard on Wednesday.

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On Thursday, it was told that Australia's corporate regulator allowed an insurer to make a A$300,000 (S$295,900) community donation to resolve cases of misleading advertising which could have drawn fines of up to A$8 million.

CBA fell about 1 per cent on Thursday, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd dropped 1.1 per cent to a more than two and a half month low.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd, an index heavyweight, dropped 2.7 per cent to a four-week low and was the top drag on the benchmark.

Shares of biggest grocer Woolworths Group, which were trading ex-dividend, fell 3.2 per cent to a more than four-month low.

Bucking the trend, materials rose, underpinned by a recovery in base metals prices and a jump in Dalian iron ore futures.

Anglo-Australian miner BHP firmed 0.7 per cent to a one-week high and was the biggest boost to the benchmark, and peer Rio Tinto Ltd rose 1.7 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index strengthened 0.6 per cent or 53.42 points to finish at 9,248.99.

Healthcare stocks and consumer discretionary led the gains, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd rising about 1 per cent, while Trade Me Group Ltd surged 3.8 per cent.

REUTERS