March 13 (Reuters) - The material and financial sectors dragged Australian shares lower on Tuesday as commodity prices weakened and a government-backed inquiry into bank misconduct began its first round of public hearings.
The broader market ended the day lower tracking a weak close overnight on Wall Street while investors awaited U.S. inflation data, which could provide clues on the likely pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes.
The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 0.4 percent, falling 21.40 points, to 5,974.70 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Monday.
Weak metal and oil prices pushed material stocks lower with the Aussie mining index finishing the day 1.3 percent down.
BHP Billiton, the largest miner on the index by market capitalisation, fell 0.8 percent while rival Rio Tinto dropped nearly 2 percent.
Australia’s “Big Four” banks closed between 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent lower.
In what could be a year-long inquiry into suspected misconduct heard National Australia Bank Ltd issued almost $19 billion in home loans under a scheme involving falsified documents.
The government-backed probe follows years of scandals in Australia’s financial sector including poor financial advice, interest-rate rigging, and accusations of breaking money-laundering rules.
After the market open, a technical glitch prevented S&P indices from updating on traders’ screens, but the issue was resolved after about an hour, and trade on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) continued unaffected throughout.
In New Zealand, stocks edged up and finished the day higher for a fourth consecutive session.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 0.1 percent or 9.15 points to finish the session at 8,473.14.
Healthcare and consumer staples contributed to nearly half the gains while utility and real estate stocks weighed on the index.
Retirement village operator Summerset Group Holdings finished the day at a record high, closing 5.6 percent up while Stride Property Ltd finished 2.3 percent down. (Reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)