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July 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended at a three-week low on Wednesday, dragged down by financial stocks, which trailed their U.S. peers lower amid caution ahead of Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen’s semi-annual congressional testimony later in the day. The Australian benchmark index finished at its lowest level since June 21, down about 1 percent at 5,673.8. Markets will closely watch Yellen’s comments before the House Financial Services Committee for clues on the pace of U.S. monetary policy tightening, though no major changes to the policy outlook are expected. Investors are also lying low ahead of major U.S. second quarter earnings reports later this week with big banks, including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup, due to report on Friday. Financial stocks were the biggest losers on the benchmark with the big banks shedding in a range of 1 percent to 1.5 percent.
Healthcare stocks too were among the top decliners with CSL Ltd, a sector heavyweight, posting a 2.5 percent loss.
The basic materials sector was the only one to gain with its miners supported by an uptick in commodity prices.
Big miners BHP, Rio Tinto, and Fortescue added in a range of 0.1 percent to 0.8 percent, helped by a surge in iron ore and base metals prices.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 0.6 percent lower at 7,586.02.
Telecom and industrial stocks were the top losers with Auckland International Airport and Spark New Zealand shedding 1.6 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. (Reporting by Rushil Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)