April 4, 2018 / 3:11 AM / a year ago

Australia shares ease for 4th day as financials drag; NZ higher

* ANZ falls for the eighth straight day

* Fonterra slightly lower after NZ milk production falls in Feb

By Susan Mathew

April 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares eased for a fourth consecutive day on Wednesday, dampened by weakness in financial stocks, although gains in the defensive healthcare sector capped overall losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 5.7 points to 5,747.2 by 0225 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.1 percent lower on Tuesday.

Financials are under pressure as they are a currency proxy, said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist, Blue Ocean Equities.

“The market is beginning to see a bounce in the U.S. dollar and the Aussie dollar is falling, which means you’ll see exposure reduction by global investors in Australia, and that hits the big banks.”

The Aussie is hovering near four-month lows, hurt by the outlook for global growth amid escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group posted its eighth straight losing session, down 1 percent, while other lenders among the ‘Big Four’ fell between 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent.

Mining giant BHP was marginally higher after having fallen as much as 0.4 percent. Iron ore on the Dalian commodities exchange snapped a five-day gaining streak on Tuesday, and was 1.3 percent lower at 0225 GMT.

Weaker bullion hit gold stocks with Newcrest Mining dropping 1.3 percent.

Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals, however, edged higher. Fortescue saw a rating upgrade to ‘buy’ from Deutsche Bank.

CSL Ltd led gains among healthcare stocks, rising as much as 2 percent, its best one-day gain in more than three weeks.

“I think that (healthcare) is pretty much a safety play at this point, as most of the stocks in the healthcare sector like CSL, Cochlear are way overvalued, if you look at it on historical terms,” Somasundaram added.

Cochlear, however, was slightly lower for the day.

The biggest power producer in Australia, AGL Energy , rose as much as 0.3 percent, before trading flat after Alinta Energy, owned by Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, expressed an interest in acquiring its coal-fired Liddell Power Station in New South Wales state.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent, or 16.27 points, to 8,346.2.

Dairy company a2 Milk and Auckland International Airport pushed up the index the most. A2 was up 3 percent, while Auckland edged 0.8 percent higher.

The world’s biggest dairy exporter Fonterra was marginally lower after it said its New Zealand milk output in February fell 2 percent.

For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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