Australia shares end lower as Ukraine crisis intensifies

Feb 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Tuesday, with financial stocks and miners leading declines, as deepening tensions between Ukraine and Russia heightened market uncertainty.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) closed 1% lower at 7,161.3 after hitting a two-week low earlier in the day. It gained 0.2% on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognising them as independent, worsening a crisis that has roiled global markets for weeks. read more

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Financial stocks (.AXFJ) were the biggest drag to the benchmark and closed 1.5% lower. The "Big Four" banks slid between 1% and 2.1%.

Miners (.AXMM) retreated 1.1%, with heavyweights BHP Group (BHP.AX) and Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) declining 0.9% and 1.4%, respectively.

Technology stocks (.AXIJ) were also in the negative, falling 3.2% in the fourth straight day of losses. The subindex closed at its lowest level since July 2020.

Australia-listed shares of Block Inc slumped as much as 7.3% to a record low, while Xero Ltd (XRO.AX) and Wisetech Global (WTC.AX) dropped 3.1% and 4%, respectively.

"Technology stocks are overvalued, and investors look for companies that have strong cash flows and are not susceptible to trends," said Brad Smoling, managing director of Smoling Stockbroking, adding that tech stocks are the first to get dumped when uncertainty hits the market.

With most sectors caught in a sell-off, investors turned to safe-haven commodity stocks in a panic move, he said.

Domestic gold stocks (.AXGD) advanced 1.9% after bullion prices hit a near nine-month high. Sector major Newcrest Mining (NCM.AX) gained 2.3%.

Oil prices jumped to a fresh seven-year high, driving domestic energy stocks (.AXEJ) 1.9% higher. Heavyweights Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) and Santos (STO.AX) gained 3.8% and 3.2%, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) closed 0.3% lower at 12,114.63.

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Reporting by Himanshi Akhand in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath

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