August 10, 2017 / 7:13 AM / 11 days ago

Australia shares end lower as banks pull back; NZ slips

(Updates to close)

Aug 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended slightly lower on Thursday, as financial stocks retreated after a brief bout of buying, while ex-dividend trading Rio Tinto also weighed on the index.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 4.76 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,760.9 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.4 percent on Wednesday.

Top lenders Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group fell about 0.3 percent each while National Australia Bank recovered to settle slightly higher.

Earlier, global investors bought into Australian lenders, attracted by a strong dollar, pushing banks higher, said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

"The minute they finished their buying, the selling pressure kicked in, and banks have now gone back to negative territory."

Rio Tinto, trading ex-dividend, was the biggest drag on the index. The mining giant fell 2.1 percent to close at its lowest in a week, while BHP Billiton gave up gains to slip 0.5 percent.

Shares of Woolworths Ltd dipped 0.8 percent after Australia's antitrust regulator said it was concerned BP Plc's plan to buy the petrol stations of the grocery giant would hurt competition, a sign it may block the A$1.8 billion ($1.42 billion) deal.

Meanwhile, gold stocks finished the session strong, backed by solid yellow metal prices. Newcrest Mining rose 3.8 percent to post its highest close in over seven weeks, and kept the index from slipping further.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index pulled back from an all-time intraday high, closing 9.93 points, or 0.1 percent, lower at 7,789.71.

Spark New Zealand pinned the index down, falling 1.8 percent, while Air New Zealand dropped 1.5 percent to close at its lowest since July 25.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand stuck firmly to its neutral stance, saying there was no need to cut rates given a likely pick-up in inflation and appeared to be less worried about the country's strong currency than some expected.

$1 = 1.2692 Australian dollars Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru

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