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Financials drag down Australian shares; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Monday, following a weak lead from Wall Street caused by uncertainties over Republican tax reforms and before minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) November meeting are published on Tuesday.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index finished down 0.19 per cent or 11.554 points at 5,945.700. The benchmark rose 0.2 per cent on Friday but had recorded its worst weekly performance since June.

Investors have hoped that a US tax overhaul could boost corporate profits, but the next step in passing the tax has now shifted to the Senate where the Republican majority is slimmer.

Investors were also cautious ahead of the RBA minutes.

Market voices on:

"Markets will pay close attention to the RBA, though, at the moment its stand is very well flagged to the market. The RBA wants to raise rates but will wait for economic indicators such as inflation and growth. The common perception is that, at this stage, rates are on hold," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The ASX financial index tracked its US counterpart, falling 0.38 per cent. Three of the "Big Four" banking heavyweights were lower in a range of 0.3 per cent to 0.6 per cent.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group's 0.6 per cent loss was the biggest drag on the main board.

But healthcare and real estate stocks clocked gains on the index with biotherapeutics developer and health sector heavyweight CSL Ltd advancing for a second straight session and rising by 0.6 per cent to A$142.95, its highest closing level in a week.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.35 per cent or 27.82 points to 8,089.800. Healthcare and information technology stocks buoyed the index to three straight session of gains as medical device manufacturer Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd touched a record high, up 2.44 per cent. Accounting software developer Xero Ltd extended its gains to a fifth session, closing 2.39 per cent higher at its highest in nearly two weeks.