March 8, 2017 / 6:14 AM / 9 months ago

Australia shares inch down, thanks to weak miners; New Zealand flat

(Updates to close)

March 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended marginally lower on Wednesday as falls in iron ore prices the previous day and in China’s February iron ore imports pulled miners down.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which rose the past two days, was off 0.03 percent, or 4.89 points, to end at 5,756.4.

The mining index declined for the second straight session. BHP Billiton lost more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals shed 0.6 percent.

China’s iron ore imports in February fell to 83.49 mln tonnes, down 9.3 percent from January, data from China’s customs authority showed on Wednesday.

Chinese iron ore futures fell on Tuesday pressured by a rising mountain of the raw material at China’s ports and weaker steel prices.

The gold index fell 0.7 percent as gold prices held near 4-week lows amid growing expectations of a U.S. rate hike next week.

Newcrest Mining was 0.7 percent lower while Evolution Mining lost more than 2 percent.

The biggest loser on the benchmark index was baby-food maker Bellamy’s Australia which fell 4 percent after the filing of a second shareholder lawsuit alleging breaches of continuous disclosure rules.

Financial stocks ended flat with three of the ‘Big 4’ banks gaining between 0.4 percent and 0.9 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia was 0.4 percent lower.

Among gainers, industrial and healthcare stocks gained as Sydney Airport added 1.3 percent and CSL Ltd rose for a second straight session, climbing 0.8 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.148 percent, or 10.6 points, higher at 7,178.23 on Wednesday. The index barely moved through the day after the exchange’s opening was delayed by 90 minutes due to a technical problem.

A gain in financials was countered by a steep loss in consumer cyclicals and industrial stocks.

New Zealand listed shares of ANZ Bank gained more than 1 percent while Auckland International Airport and Fletcher Building lost 0.4 and 1.1 percent respectively. (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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