October 10, 2018 / 1:46 AM / 9 days ago

Australia shares flat as banks weigh; NZ falls

* Australia shares flat; healthcare offsets bank losses

* Financials down ahead of committee hearing

* NZ falls to near two-month low

By Aditya Soni

Oct 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares were relatively flat on Wednesday as gains in healthcare offset losses in financials a day before a parliamentary committee begins grilling bank executives over their business practices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 2.70 points to 6,043.80 by 0100 GMT.

The benchmark posted a sharp loss of 1 percent on Tuesday that pushed it into negative territory for the year.

The benchmark has been hit by concerns about slowing growth in China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, and a bank sector weakened by damaging revelations from an inquiry into financial misconduct.

Banks dominated the losses on Wednesday, with the financial index falling as much as 0.9 percent to a near four-month low.

“Banks remain very much under the spotlight,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

Australia’s highest profile bankers are scheduled to start appearing before a parliamentary committee this week, where they will be grilled over their business practices.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO Matt Comyn, who took over the role in April after formerly heading CBA’s retail banking operations, is the first chief executive scheduled to appear, on Thursday.

CBA fell 0.8 percent, while Westpac Banking Corp slid 0.5 percent to its lowest level in nearly six years.

Elsewhere, healthcare stocks rose 1.6 percent and led gaining sectors. The healthcare index had fallen as much as 2.9 percent in the previous session, weighed down by fears about slowing Chinese growth.

Rooney said while healthcare stocks enjoyed a rebound today, the sector is likely to remain under pressure due to its exposure to China.

The Australian dollar, a proxy for China-related trades and a gauge of broad risk appetite, was 0.3 higher by 0042 GMT.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd firmed 1.9 percent. Cochlear Ltd climbed as much as 2.8 percent, its biggest intraday percentage gain in nearly two months.

Education provider Navitas Ltd surged 24.4 percent to its highest level since Jan. 22.

Navitas received a A$1.97 billion ($1.4 billion) takeover bid from an Australian private equity firm and the company’s co-founder, sending its shares 20 percent higher.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.5 percent or 42.09 points to a near two-month low of 9,027.89.

Shares in telecommunication services were the worst performers, with Spark New Zealand Ltd falling 1.1 percent. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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