March 13, 2019 / 6:15 AM / 5 months ago

Australia shares extend slide after strong run; NZ dips

* Aussie stocks down for 4th straight session

* Sigma Healthcare slumps 12 pct, board rejects takeover bid

* Newcrest Mining rises on JV deal (Updates with closing figures)

March 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Wednesday, with financial and healthcare stocks leading the decline as investors locked in gains following a strong run since January.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.2 percent or 13.6 points to 6,161.20, extending losses for a fourth straight session.

Investors took some money off the table after the benchmark rose about 9 percent so far this year, fuelled by hopes for a Sino-U.S. trade deal and China’s stimulus plans to shore up its cooling economy. The index lost 6.9 percent in 2018.

Financial stocks led the day’s losses, with the sector down 0.3 percent. Westpac Banking Corp fell 0.7 percent and National Australia Bank Ltd lost 0.4 percent.

The sector turned down late in Tuesday’s session after the federal government said it would no longer seek to abolish hidden commission payments to home loan brokers by banks, reversing a recommendation from an inquiry.

The healthcare sector also ended lower, with drug maker CSL Ltd down 1.1 percent as the company’s shares started trading ex-dividend.

Pharmacy operator Sigma Healthcare Ltd slumped 12 percent, the worst performer on the benchmark, after its board rejected a A$727 million ($513 million) takeover bid from Australian Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

The energy sub-index closed down 0.9 percent. Oil and gas explorers Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd slid 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

The gold sector bucked the trend with a 1.9 percent gain, including top gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd up 3 percent.

Newcrest said on Tuesday it entered a joint venture with London-listed Greatland Gold Plc, a day after announcing plans to buy a 70 percent stake in a Canadian copper and gold mine.

A new sentiment survey released on Wednesday said Australian consumers have turned gloomy in a one-two punch to the economy already battling a property downturn and anaemic wages growth, raising the risk of an interest rate cut as early as next month.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged down 0.1 percent, or 9.56 points, to close at 9,387.69.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company Ltd fell 1.1 percent, while telecom firm Spark New Zealand Ltd slipped 0.7 percent.

Outdoor clothing and retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd fell up to 1.6 percent during the session after it flagged a suspected data breach at its online trading websites. ($1 = 1.4170 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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