March 5, 2018 / 6:09 AM / 19 days ago

Australia shares end at over 2-week low; NZ slightly lower

* Australian shares close lower for fourth straight session

* New Zealand closes lower for third straight session (Updates to close)

March 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Monday as concerns over heightened global trade tensions knocked investor sentiment, with mining and financial stocks leading declines, while the prospect of a hung parliament in Italy also hurt appetite.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.57 percent, or 33.90 points, to 5,895.0 at the close of trade, its lowest since Feb. 14. The benchmark fell 0.7 percent on Friday.

Italy’s election results have cast the euro zone’s third-largest economy into a political gridlock, while fears of a trade war sparked by proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports in the U.S. rattled stock markets.

In Australia, financials were the worst performing sector, with the sector index ending about 0.7 percent lower. The “big four” banks led declines.

Mining stocks were the second biggest losers on the index. Heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto pulled down the Australian benchmark about 8 points, with BHP serving as the largest detractor to the ASX 200.

Rio Tinto fell after Australia’s corporate watchdog on Friday launched court action against it and two former executives for misleading investors about the coal reserves it reported in a $4 billion acquisition in Mozambique.

Casino operator Crown Resorts also ended lower after it said its Melbourne unit might have breached gambling regulations when it conducted a trial of gaming machines last year.

Retail Food Group was the biggest percentage loser on the benchmark after its interim profit dived. The stock ended about 28 percent lower.

On the other hand, retailer Myer Holdings ended 15 percent higher after recording a record intraday gain. The stock was the best performer on the benchmark.

New Zealand shares ended marginally lower, as falling consumer staples slightly offset gains in healthcare and real estate.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.1 percent or 8.59 points to finish the session at 8,279.83.

A2 Milk ended about 1.4 percent lower and served as the biggest drag on the benchmark, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare ended up 1.7 percent. (Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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