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Australian stocks fall as financials losses offset materials gains; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed lower on Wednesday, as investors took profit on recent financials sector gains, which offset moves higher in materials stocks on the bank of higher commodities prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 per cent, or 18.2 points to 6,247.6 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.6 per cent on Tuesday.

Financials stocks were biggest drag on the main board, with the sector index dropping 0.6 per cent after several weeks of gains. The sector is up more than 8 per cent since mid-June.

Westpac Banking and Commonwealth Bank of Australia led the losses, closing 1 per cent and 0.6 per cent lower, respectively.

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Healthcare stocks also fell, with the healthcare index dropping 1.5 per cent. Biotherapeutics firm CSL led the sector declines, losing 1.7 per cent.

"CSL is seen as an earner of international revenues and when the Aussie dollar rallies, the stock often comes under pressure," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

While the local currency pulled back in Asian trade, it remains supported around the US$0.74 mark.

Elsewhere, materials saw healthy gains after overnight strength in commodity prices carried into Asian trade, with the metals and mining index climbing 1.5 per cent.

Global miner BHP was up 2.2 per cent, overwhelmingly leading the gains on the sector index as well gains on a largely weaker benchmark.

Shanghai copper touched a three-week high after rising as much as 2.2 per cent, amid tense negotiations at BHP's Chile's Escondida copper mine, the world's largest.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.4 per cent, or 32.57 points to close at 8,933.89.

a2 Milk Company drove the benchmark higher with a 2.4 per cent rise, shrugging off a recent of heavy losses.

REUTERS