* NAB up 0.8 pct, names new chairman
* Mining stocks down 0.5 pct
* Rio Tinto falls 4.8 pct, worst performer in Aussie benchmark (Updates to close)
By Niyati Shetty
March 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Thursday as hopes for a central bank rate cut boosted consumer and financial stocks, but gains were capped by a weak mining sector after index majors began trading ex-dividend.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent, or 18.3 points, to 6,263.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark gained 0.8 percent on Wednesday.
Bets are growing that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)will cut key interest rates this year to stimulate the economy after data on Thursday showed only marginal growth in January retail sales. The weak consumer reading came a day after news that the economy had lost momentum in the second half of last year.
“Investors are expecting a low interest rate environment and are buying those stocks that are sensitive to interest rates, or that will benefit from lower interest rates,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
Retailers Wesfarmers Ltd and Coles Group Ltd rose 1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, boosting the consumer sector.
Financial stocks gained as lender National Australia Bank Ltd added 0.8 percent, closing at a four-month high, while Westpac Banking Corp rose 0.3 percent.
NAB on Wednesday named interim Chief Executive Philip Chronican as its new chairman following strong criticism from a financial sector inquiry into widespread misconduct prompted his predecessor to resign.
On the other hand, the metals and mining sub-index dropped half a percent on Thursday after mining majors BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd began trading ex-dividend.
BHP lost 0.7 percent, while Rio Tinto slumped 4.8 percent and was the worst performer on Australia’s benchmark index.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.24 percent or 22.36 points to finish the session at 9,437.36.
Auckland International Airport Ltd added 1.3 percent and telecom form Spark New Zealand Ltd advanced 1.1 percent. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)