March 14, 2018 / 6:30 AM / 6 months ago

Australian shares close lower as banks weigh; NZ ends run of gains

(Updates to close)

March 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Wednesday, with losses led by banking stocks amid a hard-nosed official inquiry into the embattled sector, while the departure of yet another senior official from the Trump White House further dampened sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.7 percent lower or 39.4 points to 5935.3. The benchmark fell 0.4 percent on Tuesday.

Financial stocks claimed the biggest share of losses after the the government-backed inquiry heard National Australia Bank Ltd issued almost $19 billion in home loans under a scheme involving falsified documents.

Shares of NAB closed 1.2 percent lower, the second biggest drag on the index, while the other “Big Four” banks lost between 0.5 and 0.9 percent.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia executives will be questioned later this week about allegedly fraudulent broker arrangements and loan applications.

Real estate stocks also declined with Scentre Group down 1.8 percent.

Telco Telstra Corp was the top drag on the main index, ending the session 2.6 percent lower.

Major U.S. indexes fell overnight as the dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the possibility of additional U.S. import tariffs against China dragged down stocks across multiple sectors.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended four straight sessions of gains to close 0.5 percent lower.

Healthcare and telecom stocks accounted for most of the losses.

Sky Network Television Ltd, top loser on the index, recovered slightly from a record low touched earlier in the session to close 5.8 percent lower.

New Zealand posted a wider-than-expected current account deficit in the fourth quarter on the back of aircraft imports and robust earnings by foreign firms on local investments, official data showed. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath Editing by Eric Meijer)

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