March 22, 2018 / 6:03 AM / a month ago

Australian shares slip, led down by banks; New Zealand falls too

* Banks fall, Westpac faces ire at Royal Commission

* Losses capped by commodity stocks’ rise on strong prices

* NZ index dips, led down by healthcare stocks (Updates to close)

March 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Thursday, as early gains from solid jobs data were erased by losses among banks which were rooted in a Royal Commission’s inquiry into the embattled financial sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.2 percent, or 13.1 points, to 5937.2. The benchmark had advanced 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

Data showed employment rose in February in a 17th straight month, the longest such run since the series began in 1978, as hiring for full-time positions surged.

Westpac was the last among fellow ‘Big Four’ banks to face the Royal Commission’s ire as the inquiry on Wednesday heard that it relied on car yard managers to approve auto loans and approved applications that held no expense information.

Australia’s financial index shed 0.5 percent with the ‘Big Four’ falling in a range between 0.3 to 1.2 percent.

Real estate stocks added to losses on the index, with retail property manager Scentre Group dropping 2.3 percent.

But losses were capped by commodity stocks supported by stronger oil and metal prices.

The mining and metals index climbed 2 percent, with heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto up 2.7 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Energy stocks closed 1.3 percent higher as oil prices rallied on a surprise draw on U.S. crude inventories as well as ongoing dollar weakness. Woodside Petroleum, added 2.2 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gave up early gains and ended 0.1 percent lower, or 7.48 points to 8600.81.

Losses in the healthcare sector pulled down the index. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd lost 1.3 percent.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) on Thursday held interest rates at a record low of 1.75 percent, as expected, and said monetary policy would remain accommodative for a considerable period. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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