June 25, 2018 / 3:38 AM / 25 days ago

Australian shares fall as banks sag on CBA spin-off plans; NZ slips

* Banks drag Aussie shares

* Materials and energy rise on higher commodities and oil prices

* NZ falls on a2 Milk

By Aditya Soni

June 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares dipped on Monday, as declines in banks offset gains in materials and energy stocks after Commonwealth Bank of Australia stepped up plans to spin off its wealth management business as the industry grapples with a series of scandals.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.2 percent or 14.7 points to 6,210.5 by 0320 GMT. The benchmark declined 0.1 percent on Friday.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) dropped 2.3 percent on Monday, its biggest intraday percentage drop in nearly seven-weeks, weighing on the benchmark.

Earlier in the day, CBA said it would step up plans to offload its wealth management businesses as it looks to become a smaller lending-focused bank, as well as announcing an overhaul of its executive ranks.

Preempting structural reforms likely to be brought in by a powerful banking commission, CBA said it would also explore whether to divest its general insurance business.

Australia’s “Big Four” spent years building large networks of financial advisers to recommend their products, but the powerful misconduct inquiry into the sector could force the separation of the development of financial products from sales of them.

“The message is that the market has not liked this news, and perhaps viewing it as a little bit of a panic reaction by Commonwealth Bank,” said James McGlew, executive director for corporate stockbroking at Perth-based Argonaut.

The sentiment emanating from CBA hit the wider financials sector, which slid 1 percent.

National Australia Bank Ltd fell about 1 percent, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd slid 0.5 percent.

However, materials and energy stocks rose, capping the fall of the benchmark.

The Australian energy index jumped as much as 1.8 percent, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd firming 1.7 percent, while Origin Energy Ltd rose 1.7 percent.

“Clearly energy stocks are responding very well to that surge in oil prices after the OPEC agreement was announced last Friday,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

Oil prices soared on Friday after oil producers agreed to modest crude output increases to compensate for losses in production at a time of rising global demand.

Materials stocks also advanced, benefitting from higher iron ore and copper prices.

Global miner BHP jumped 1.6 percent, while its rival Rio Tinto Ltd strengthened 1.3 percent.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 11.07 points or 0.1 percent to 8,988.30.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd declined 3 percent, dragging the benchmark, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd dipped 0.6 percent.

$1 = 1.3473 Australian dollars Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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