December 4, 2017 / 6:23 AM / a year ago

Australia shares edge lower; NZ down slightly

(Updates to close)

Dec 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares eased marginally on Monday, as financial stocks weakened.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.07 percent or 4.156 points to 5986.600 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Friday.

The financial index was down 0.6 percent with the ‘Big Four’ banks sliding between 0.3 percent and 1.2 percent.

The Australian government last week said it will hold a wide-ranging inquiry into a scandal-hit finance sector, arguing one was needed to restore public confidence as it reversed its long-held opposition amid mounting political pressure.

Real estate and consumer discretionary stocks were the next biggest losers on the main index, with Lendlease Group falling 1.4 percent and G8 Education Ltd plunging more than 23 percent after the childcare centre operator lowered its earnings forecast for the 2017 financial year.

Meanwhile, Shanghai steel futures traded near their strongest level since mid-September on Friday while three-month LME copper rose 1.1 percent, boosting building material stocks, which gained about 1 percent.

Sector heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto added 1.6 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

Rio signalled on Monday it will stick with its “value over volume” strategy, outlining further moves to boost shareholder returns and appointing a new chairman from within its board.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.05 percent or 3.96 points to 8184.870.

Healthcare stocks were the biggest drag on the index with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd slipping over a percent.

Building firm Fletcher Building lost about a percent. ($1 = 1.3167 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Christina Martin in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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