March 13, 2018 / 1:28 AM / 10 months ago

Australia shares down, banks weaken ahead of inquiry, miners decline; NZ edges up

* Aussie shares slip with banks, miners in the lead

* U.S. inflation data will be watched closely

* NZ up 0.3 pct; healthcare, dairy stocks lift

By Chris Thomas

March 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Tuesday ahead of U.S. inflation data which could hint at the pace of rate hikes, with bank stocks weakening as a government-backed inquiry into misconduct by the banks began a first round of public hearings.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 0.6 percent, dropping 37.2 points to 5,958.9 by 0056 GMT, to reverse Monday’s gains.

Sentiment was dampened after a weak close overnight on Wall Street, with industrial stocks hit by worries about President Donald Trump’s metal tariffs.

“We think, overall, its going to be a profit-taking day. It’s a holding pattern for the U.S. inflation data tonight,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

The financial index headed lower after three sessions of gains, with the “Big Four” banks falling between 0.4 and 0.8 percent.

The government inquiry into suspected misconduct is focusing on banks’ practices related to residential mortgages, car finance, credit cards and add-on insurance products.

Weak metal and oil prices weighed on the material sector, with the metals and mining index falling as much as 0.9 percent.

The biggest miner BHP Billiton declined 1.2 percent, while rival Rio Tinto dropped 1.9 percent.

Newcrest Mining Ltd extended losses into a fourth session, losing 2.5 percent. The gold miner on Monday flagged a hit to its full-year guidance as a dam wall breach led to operations being suspended at its main mine.

After the market opened a technical glitch prevented S&P indices from updating on traders' screens, but the issue was resolved after about an hour, and trade on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) continued unaffected throughout.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose as much as 0.3 percent to an all-time high of 8,491.7.

Retirement village operator Summerset Group Holdings Ltd was the top gainer, rising as much as 5.9 percent to a record high.

Ryman Healthcare Ltd rose about 1 percent, while dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd climbed 1.2 percent after an early drop. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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