Australian shares slip as healthcare, banking stocks drag

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Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian stocks closed slightly lower on Tuesday, as shares of export-focussed healthcare companies slid due to a softer U.S. dollar, and banks weakened after data showed a spurt in COVID-19 cases battered consumer confidence.

The S&P/ASX 200 (.AXJO) closed 0.1% lower at 7,408.80 after rising 0.3% earlier in the day. The benchmark had added 0.3% on Monday.

Healthcare stocks (.AXHJ) gave up 1.2% as the U.S. dollar failed to capitalise from a rise in Treasury yields. CSL led the decline with a 1.3% drop.

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Risk sentiment was also hit as Australia suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic, with the Omicron variant pushing up hospitalisation rates to record levels. read more

"Investors continue to be cautious amid the COVID-19 situation," said Kunal Sawhney, chief executive officer of Kalkine Group.

"Quarterly updates will be the biggest drivers of the market in the days to come, besides sinusoidal economic factors and evolving COVID-19 developments."

Meanwhile, Australian consumer confidence slid to its lowest since October 2020, lower even than during the Delta variant surge, a survey from ANZ showed. read more

Heavyweight financials (.AXFJ) retreated 0.3%, with the country's four largest lenders falling between 0.2% and 0.4%.

By contrast, miners (.AXMM) rose 0.6% after two straight sessions of losses, with Fortescue Metals Group (FMG.AX) and BHP Group (BHP.AX) up 0.4% and 1%, respectively, while South32 (S32.AX) climbed 2.2%.

However, Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) dropped as much as 2% after the world's biggest iron ore producer forecast weaker-than-expected 2022 iron ore shipments due to a tight labour market and production delays.

New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 (.NZ50) inched 0.1% higher to 12,814.46, even as a survey showed business confidence and demand dropped in the fourth quarter of 2021 as the COVID-19 outbreak dragged on. read more

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Reporting by Upasana Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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