September 12, 2018 / 2:38 AM / 2 months ago

Australian shares edge lower as banks, materials falter; NZ down

* Financials and materials drag Aussie shares

* Energy stocks bolstered by higher oil prices

* Spark New Zealand leads NZ shares lower

By Aditya Soni

Sept 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares ticked down on Wednesday as financials took another hit and mining stocks slumped on the back of falling commodities prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged down 0.2 percent or 9.8 points to 6,169.9 by 0200 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Tuesday.

Banks and insurers were on the back foot, unable to shake off revelations in a high profile months-long inquiry of widespread misconduct in the industry. On Monday, the Royal Commission heard examples of possible misconduct by insurance companies, including spying on policyholders, overcharging customers and misleading sales calls.

Mathan Somasundaram, Market Portfolio Strategist with Blue Ocean Equities, said a weaker Australian dollar wasn’t helping either.

The Australian dollar has lost about 9.3 percent this year amid the intensifying Sino-U.S. trade dispute, and was hovering around 2-1/2 year lows against the greenback on Tuesday.

Westpac Banking Corp slipped 0.4 percent, while National Australia Bank Ltd dropped 0.6 percent to a more than two-week low.

Elsewhere, Freedom Insurance Group Ltd tumbled 20 percent to an all time low after testifying at the banking inquiry on Tuesday.

Somasundaram said that the big insurance firms will be next in the inquiry’s spotlight “and it will get much more uglier” over the next week.

Insurance majors Suncorp Group Ltd and QBE Insurance Group Ltd were trading 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent lower.

Adding to weak sentiment, Chinese Iron ore futures lost 1.6 percent after sources suggested China may allow for more flexible production cuts, driving a weakness in materials stocks, especially miners.

Global miner BHP dipped 1 percent, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd fell 0.6 percent.

However, energy stocks bucked the market and were up for the third straight session as a report of falling crude inventories and the looming sanctions against Iran bolstered buying interest into the sector.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd, the country’s biggest listed oil and gas explorer, jumped 1.9 percent to a more than one-week high, while Santos Ltd rose 2.4 percent to its highest since August 24.

APA Group also rallied 2.4 percent after Australia’s competition watchdog gave its nod to Hong Kong’s CK Infrastructure Holdings Ltd for a A$12.98 billion ($9.21 billion) takeover of the gas pipeline operator.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dipped 0.5 percent or 41.34 points to 9,184.23.

Teleco Spark New Zealand Ltd fell 1.4 percent and was the top drag on the benchmark.

$1 = 1.4092 Australian dollars Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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