* Financials biggest drag on benchmark
* Aristocrat Leisure leads gains on solid 1H
* a2 Milk rally boosts New Zealand
By Aditya Soni
May 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged down on Thursday, with banks leading the way lower.
The S&P/ASX 200 index, which has lost ground the past five sessions, was down 9.50 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6023.0 at 0324 GMT. The benchmark declined 0.2 percent on Wednesday.
Thursday’s biggest gainer was gambling equipment maker Aristocrat Leisure, which reported a solid rise in first-half profit.
The financial index, which has also declined five straight days, dipped 0.9 percent to a near four-week low.
“The ongoing Royal Commission enquiry into the sector is clearly having an impact,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
Financials have lost more than 1 percent since the third round of Australia’s inquiry into the industry began on Monday.
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd slipped 0.9 percent to its lowest since May 14 and National Australia Bank Ltd slid as much as 1.3 percent.
An Australian court on Thursday rejected the regulator’s rate-rigging case against Westpac Banking Corp.
McCarthy said with the clearance for the manipulation charge and the expected penalties, the impact on the bank’s bottom line should be small.
Shares of the second-biggest lender were 1 percent lower.
Material stocks on Thursday also had losses, due to overnight weakness in iron ore and copper prices.
Global miner Rio Tinto Ltd dipped 0.7 percent, while Fortescue Metals Group Ltd dropped as much as 1.5 percent to its lowest since April 30.
A fall in oil prices led to weakness in energy stocks, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd dropping 1 percent, while Oil Search Ltd declined as much as 1.7 percent to a two-week low.
Aristocrat Leisure Ltd surged 8.1 percent to its highest ever level. It said net profit for the half ended March 31 rose 2.8 percent as digital revenue more than tripled.
Consumer staples were also higher, propped up by gains in Australia-listed shares of A2 Milk Company Ltd, which rose 6.8 percent, their biggest intraday percentage advance in more than three months.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.7 percent or 61.50 points to 8,614.73.
Dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd accounted for most of the gains, rising as much as 6.5 percent to its highest since May 22. The stock lost nearly 14 percent the past four-days. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru;Additional reporting by Shanima A; Editing by Richard Borsuk)