May 18, 2017 / 7:02 AM / 7 months ago

Australia shares falter as financials weaken

(Updates to close)

May 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares sank on Thursday dragged down by financials such as Westpac Banking Corp , after it traded ex-dividend, despite an improvement in the country’s jobless rate.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.8 percent, or 47.728 points to 5,738.3 at the close of trade. The benchmark fell to its lowest in nearly eight weeks in early trade. The bourse slipped 1.1 percent on Wednesday.

All sectors were in the red with bank stocks accounting for more than half of the losses on the benchmark.

The country’s second-biggest lender Westpac dived as much as 4.7 percent to its lowest close in more than 5 months as it traded ex-dividend while the other banks in the “Big Four” fell between 0.2-0.9 percent.

The gloomy sentiment in the bourse was also prompted by a slump in Wall Street on mounting concerns over U.S. President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver on his tax, banking reforms and infrastructure spending policies, following reports of his interference with a federal investigation.

Global miner BHP Billiton joined the top losers in the bourse, falling 1.3 percent, at one point. Activist investor Elliott Management said a meeting with BHP’s chief executive this week was ‘constructive’. The fund is urging the miner to make strategic changes.

Bucking the trend, Fairfax Media leapt 7 percent to a more than 6-year high, after the country’s oldest newspaper publisher received a $2.87 billion takeover bid from a second U.S. private equity firm.

“A bidding war for Fairfax Media may have started as the media company received a new bid from global private equity firm, Hellman and Friedman,” said Chris Conway, Head of trading and research at Australian Stock Report.

Australia’s unemployment rate slipped to 5.7 percent in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said, compared with analysts’ expectations for a steady 5.9 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.7 percent, or 50.74 points, to finish the session at 7,371.76. The index recorded its biggest one-day fall in two months despite reports of growing consumer confidence in the country in May.

Health care and telecom stocks were the biggest drags with telecom service provider Spark New Zealand, down 1.8 percent, among the top decliners. (Reporting by Hanna Paul; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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