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Financials

Australia shares end lower as banking stocks drag; NZ hits new record high

(Updates to close)

Dec 20 (Reuters) - Weighty financial stocks and healthcare units dragged Australian shares slightly lower on Friday ahead of a quiet holiday week, but clocked a second consecutive weekly gain.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 16.8 points, or 0.25%, to 6,816.3.

The main board added 1.1% this week, buoyed by Monday’s jump on the back of strengthened expectations of a further rate cut by the Australian central bank as well as news of the United States and China agreeing to a “phase one” trade deal.

“Since then, there has not been anything fresh or any catalyst to warrant continued improvement in the market. Part of that is how close we are to record highs,” said Steven Daghlian, a market analyst at CommSec.

Australian equities are on track to mark their best year in a decade.

“It’s a bit of a wait-and-see mode for markets. Next week historically it ends up being one of the quietest weeks of the year... investors and fund managers are squaring their positions as we head into the end of the year,” Daghlian added.

Blue-chip financial stocks weighed the most on the benchmark, with the “big four” banks losing between 0.4% and 0.6%.

Westpac Banking Corp, the country’s second-biggest lender , which has been hit by a string of lawsuits in the recent weeks, slipped for a fourth consecutive session.

Westpac on Friday appointed two people to a panel which will assess the bank’s accountability in a money laundering scandal.

Consumer stocks also weighed on the benchmark, with retail store operators Wesfarmers Ltd and Woolworths Group Ltd down 0.3% and 1.6%, respectively.

Jumbo Interactive Ltd was the biggest loser on the benchmark, falling as much as 16% after flagging a decreased earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBIDTA) margin.

Strength in metal prices pushed up miners, with Rio Tinto advancing 1.4%, while Newcrest Mining rose 1.9%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed slightly higher at yet another record high.

Sky Network Television Ltd was the top gainer for a second consecutive session.

SKT shares added 5.7%, a day after the television broadcaster agreed to buy entertainment streaming service Lightbox and merge it with its own entertainment streaming service Neon.

The benchmark kiwi stock index notched a weekly gain of 2.1%, after two straight weeks of losses.

Reporting by Devika Syamnath and Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich

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