July 25, 2018 / 7:32 AM / a year ago

Australian stocks fall as financials losses offset materials gains; NZ up

* Rise in commodity prices support materials (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Nainan

July 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Wednesday, as investors took profit on recent financials sector gains, which offset moves higher in materials stocks on the bank of higher commodities prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 percent, or 18.2 points to 6,247.6 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Tuesday.

Financials stocks were biggest drag on the main board, with the sector index dropping 0.6 percent after several weeks of gains. The sector is up more than 8 percent since mid-June.

Westpac Banking and Commonwealth Bank of Australia led the losses, closing 1 percent and 0.6 percent lower, respectively.

Healthcare stocks also fell, with the healthcare index dropping 1.5 percent. Biotherapeutics firm CSL led the sector declines, losing 1.7 percent.

“CSL is seen as an earner of international revenues and when the Aussie dollar rallies, the stock often comes under pressure,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

While the local currency pulled back in Asian trade, it remains supported around the US$0.74 mark.

Elsewhere, materials saw healthy gains after overnight strength in commodity prices carried into Asian trade, with the metals and mining index climbing 1.5 percent.

Global miner BHP was up 2.2 percent, overwhelmingly leading the gains on the sector index as well gains on a largely weaker benchmark.

Shanghai copper touched a three-week high after rising as much as 2.2 percent, amid tense negotiations at BHP’s Chile’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.4 percent, or 32.57 points to close at 8,933.89.

a2 Milk Company drove the benchmark higher with a 2.4 percent rise, shrugging off a recent of heavy losses. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Ambar Warrick; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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