November 21, 2018 / 6:02 AM / 20 days ago

Australia shares end lower amid global equity sell-off; NZ also falls

* Aussie benchmark closes at 21-month low

* Slump in oil prices sends energy stocks to 8-month low

* Miners hit 4-week low on soft iron ore prices

* Financials pare losses to end slightly higher (Updates to close)

By Rashmi Ashok

Nov 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at their lowest level since February 2017 on Wednesday as worries of slowing global growth and a plunge in oil prices triggered a global equity sell-off.

The S&P/ASX 200 index clawed back some early losses but still closed 0.51 percent or 29.00 points lower at 5,642.800. The benchmark fell 0.4 percent on Tuesday.

Miners were the biggest drag on the index, dropping 2.9 percent to four-week low after iron ore prices fell 1.8 percent.

Global miner BHP and its rival Rio Tinto Ltd both tumbled by 3.3 percent each.

Weighed by the plunge in oil prices on Tuesday, energy stocks slumped 2.5 percent to an 8-month low.

Even though oil recovered some of the losses on Wednesday, overall market weakness remained little changed. Shares of Woodside Petroleum Ltd fell 2.1 percent, while Santos Ltd tumbled 4.4 percent.

However, financial stocks recovered late in trade to inch up, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s top lender, gaining 1.2 percent and National Australia Bank Ltd rising 0.7 percent.

“The big banks are a safe bet in troubled waters... their underlying profit remains very strong. When we see buying come into the market, it tends to come through CBA to begin with... because of its large exposure to the domestic market,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

McGlew added that sanity seemed to return after the initial selling, saying “CBA is always seen as the safest bet amongst them, and they’re all at a point where the price and dividend yield is too attractive to ignore.”

The healthcare index, a defensive sector which benefits during uncertain periods and broader sell-offs, rose 1.5 percent at close.

Sector heavyweight CSL Ltd rose 1.7 percent and Cochlear Ltd firmed 2.3 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.55 percent or 47.9 points to finish the session at 8,672.400.

Dairy giant a2 Milk Co Ltd fell 3.4 percent at close and was among top drags on the main index.

But online marketplace operator Trade Me Group closed 16.3 percent higher after a takeover offer by private equity player Apax Partners. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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