Australia shares slip, healthcare sector buoyed by Cochlear results

Mon Aug 4, 2014 9:55pm EDT

* ASX 200 trickles lower, health sector pares broader losses

* 77 shares trading higher, 103 lower, 20 unchanged (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped 0.2 percent on Tuesday to hover at 2-1/2 week lows as investors remained cautious at the start of earnings season, though sentiment was underpinned by the healthcare sector as investors cheered results from Cochlear.

Among losing stocks, top banks Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank declined 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent.

The market will also be watching the outcome of the Reserve Bank of Australia's policy meeting, due at 0430 GMT. All 23 economists polled by Reuters see the cash rate unchanged at a record low of 2.5 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 8.7 points to 5,532.2 by 0139 GMT, recovering from session lows of 5,526.2 after news of Australia's trade deficit coming in at A$1.68 billion, versus A$1.9 billion forecast in a Reuters poll.

The benchmark index hit a six-year high of 5,644.2 on July 31, but has been routed in recent sessions, in tandem with losses on Wall Street.

Among consumer discretionary stocks, Crown Resorts Ltd dumped 3.8 percent to its lowest since July 18 of A$15.22, while rival Echo Entertainment Ltd lost 2.1 percent.

"People are probably nervous about Crown's growth pipeline getting a bit full," said Brian Han, equities analyst at independent research firm Morningstar, adding that other gaming such as Echo were collateral damage.

"Crown are expanding to a lot of regions in Macau and now the U.S., they're looking at some other Asian markets so people might be concerned they have too much on their plate."

Elsewhere, stocks in the healthcare sector helped contain losses as investors cheered bionic ear maker Cochlear's results. Cochlear bounced 7.5 percent to A$67.21, it highest since May 2013. The bionic ear maker said its full year revenue was up 7 percent to A$804.9 million and announced a dividend of A$1.27 per share, though its net profit dropped 29 percent to A$93.7 million.

Blood products maker CSL Ltd was up 0.6 percent, while medical glove and condom-maker Ansell Ltd edged 0.1 percent higher.

Meanwhile, Australia's biggest toll-road operator Transurban Group added 0.1 percent after posting a rise of 12.9 percent in toll and other road revenue earnings.

Downer EDI Ltd tumbled 4.3 percent after posting a full year underlying net profit after tax of A$216 million a slight uptick against A$215.4 million posted in the prior corresponding period, and anticipating a smaller net profit after tax next year because of pressure on commodity markets.

New Zealand stocks managed a slight lift higher with the benchmark NZX 50 index rising 0.14 percent to 5,098.09, after it had touched a three-week low on Monday.

Most leading stocks edged higher as they clawed back some recently lost ground, notably casino and hotel operator Sky City Entertainment up 1.1 percent at NZ$3.73, after it hit a seven-month low on Monday.

Retailer Briscoe Group vaulted 3.3 percent higher on modest volumes to NZ$2.80, an 11-year high, after it reported a lift in sales and margins in the second quarter and forecast a record first half profit. (Editing by Eric Meijer)

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