May 22, 2018 / 6:54 AM / in 10 months

Australian shares plunge to three-week low, banks weaken

* Aussie shares see worst day in nearly eight weeks

* Financials account for most of the losses

* NZ trades flat as staples, healthcare diverge (Updates to close)

May 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares tumbled to a three-week low on Tuesday, led by bruised banks following admissions of misconduct by the country’s biggest lenders in a powerful Royal Commission inquiry into the scandal-hit sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.7 percent, or 42.6 points, to 6,041.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark slipped 2.90 points on Monday.

The country’s “Big Four” banks have all admitted to misconduct in their submissions at a third round of public hearings that focuses on loans to small businesses.

The financial index fell 0.7 percent to its lowest since April 27.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd declined 1.6 percent and was the biggest drag on the benchmark, while Westpac Banking Corp slid 0.8 percent to a near four-week low.

Material stocks also accumulated losses, weakened by an extended fall in iron ore prices.

BHP, the country’s biggest firm by market value, dipped 0.7 percent, while Rio Tinto Ltd dropped 0.5 percent.

Bucking the wider trend, James Hardie Industries PLC climbed 4 percent after reporting a 17 percent rise in annual adjusted net operating profit.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 2.40 points to finish the session at 8,613.32.

Consumer staples accounted for nearly half of the losses, with heavyweight a2 Milk Company Ltd dipping about 3 percent.

However, the fall was capped by gains in healthcare stocks, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd rising 1.3 percent to a six-week high.

Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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