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April 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended at their lowest level in over three weeks on Wednesday as investors dumped heavyweight bank shares after the central bank flagged risks in the country’s housing market, while persistent weakness in oil battered energy stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.56 percent or 32.74 points to 5804.00 at the close of trade.
Stocks also tracked wider market weakness in the region as presidential elections in France and escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea continued to dampen sentiment.
“There is a view out there now that interest rates are not going to increase in Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the (Reserve Bank of Australia) would like to see some heat taken out of our housing market prices,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.
Minutes from the Australian central bank’s April meeting on Tuesday showed board members saw greater risks in the housing market, and the regulators would be ready to take more measures to cool the market if necessary.
The benchmark financial index fell to a more than one week low with the “big four” banks ending in the red.
Real estate stocks also took a beating with shares of property developers Scentre Group and Stockland Corporation finishing down 2.4 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, sentiment in the market was further dented as growing worries about a production glut pressured crude oil prices.
Woodside Petroleum, WPL.AX Australia’s largest independent oil and gas producer, closed 0.9 percent lower.
On the positive side, telecom stocks bounced back, with shares of Telstra snapping a four-day losing streak. The stock has been dropping since April 12 after rival TPG Telecom Ltd won a spectrum auction.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.21 percent or 15.1 points lower at 7218.51.
Utility and consumer stocks dragged down the benchmark, while industrial stocks trimmed earlier losses to close higher.
Specialist outdoor retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd was the worst performer on the index, losing 4.5 percent.
Reporting by Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Hanna Paul; Editing by Sam Holmes