* Gold stocks slide more than 1%
* Westpac down 0.9% on regulatory probe
* Lynas Corp slips after failing to get Malaysia’s nod (Updates to close)
By Shreya Mariam Job
Dec 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed nearly flat on Tuesday as gains in material and energy stocks were offset by losses in gold stocks and a scrutiny-ridden financial sector.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.04% down at 6,847.30 after recording its best gain in seven month on Monday.
Trade deal optimism, fading Brexit woes and rising hopes of an interest rate cut in February had helped the benchmark index add over 2% in the last two sessions.
“We’re coming off the back of a very strong session yesterday and a bit of profit taking as we get close to the end of the year,” said Steven Daghlin, market analyst at CommSec.
The non-committal move, Daghlin said, was also because it was that part of the year when volumes and amount of money flowing into the market dries up completely.
Weighing the most on the benchmark was the more than 1% drop in gold stocks as Newcrest Mining slipped 2% and Evolution Mining 1.7%.
The Australian gold space has seen a rise in deals as the domestic miners expand their portfolios amid higher bullion prices.
Meanwhile, financial stocks slipped into the red, led by a 0.9% drop in Westpac Banking Corp, which is set to be investigated by the country’s banking regulator on whether the bank directors and executives broke the law as part of the bank’s money laundering scandal.
Shares of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd edged higher after it decided to refund owners of 3.4 million customer accounts for past wrongs and its board survived an investor vote over executive pay.
Elsewhere, shares of Lynas Corp dropped 6.2% after the rare earths miner said it failed in securing approval from a Malaysian regulator to increase its lanthanide concentrate processing limit for 2019.
However, an uptick in heavyweight material stocks eased some pressure on the index. Shares of BHP Group Ltd gained 0.5% and Rio Tinto 1.5%.
Firmer oil prices underpinned gains among energy stocks with shares of Woodside Petroleum adding 0.7% and New Hope Corp 2.9%.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3% or 34.01 points to finish the session at 11,260.
Shares of Air New Zealand gained 1.6%, while A2 Milk Company rose 0.4%. (Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)