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Australian shares end lower as BHP weighs; financials jump

* Miner BHP down over 7%, sees worst day since May 2020

* Miners down up to 3.5%, worst day in 3 months

* RBNZ holds rates prompted by lockdown (Updates to close)

Aug 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed slightly lower on Wednesday as global miner BHP Group dropped after it announced an exit from its petroleum business and an end to its UK dual listing, although solid gains in financials helped limit losses on the benchmark.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.1% at 7,502.1, marking a negative close for a third straight session.

Miners were the top losers, falling 3.5% to their lowest since May 19. BHP Group weighed further on the index that was already tracking a drop in iron ore prices.

BHP ended about 7% lower after its announcement on Tuesday about the dual listing in UK and hiving off of its petroleum business to Woodside Petroleum in a nil-premium merger.

“We see the most credible growth options from this transaction coming from BHP,” RBC Capital Markets’ oil and gas analyst Gordon Ramsay said in a note while pointing out that outside of Scarborough and Sangomar, Woodside lacks growth options.

Woodside fell 2.1% to be the top loser on the energy index . Lower oil prices also weighed on the sub-index, which closed 0.5% lower.

Financial stocks rose 0.7%, with the “Big Four” banks climbing between 0.2% and 1.4%.

Meanwhile, New South Wales logged a record jump in new COVID-19 cases. RBC’s Macro Rates Strategist Robert Thompson said in a note that rising cases “could put more pressure on the central bank to press ‘hold’ on tapering QE purchases at the September meeting, rather than scaling them down.”

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 0.7% at 12,718.88.

The country’s central bank earlier in the day announced a delay in raising rates as policymakers quickly changed gears after the country was put into a snap COVID-19 lockdown over a handful of new cases. (Reporting by Savyata Mishra in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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