October 15, 2018 / 6:00 AM / a month ago

Australian shares close at 6-month low as bank earnings loom; NZ down

(Updates to close)

By Nikhil Nainan

Oct 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell to a six-month low on Monday, led by the financials on growing concerns about the hit to earnings from an inquiry into misconduct in the sector and as sentiment in global markets remained broadly bearish.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1 percent, or 58.6 points to 5,837.1.

Broad-based weakness among financial stocks in the wake of damaging revelations in a months-long quasi-judicial Royal Commission inquiry pulled the sub-index to its lowest level in over two years, closing 1.6 percent lower.

The “Big Four” banks sank with Commonwealth Bank of Australia down 2.1 percent to its lowest in over five years.

“Headwinds for them (banks) out of the Royal Commision are a bit of a double whammy,” said Dale Raynes, associate Director at CPS Capital, referring to both the financial penalties imposed on the banks and the fear of a cut to dividends.

“They haven’t announced that yet but if their earnings are down, they will have to cut dividends. So that’s why we are seeing further selling,” added Raynes.

Most major banks are set to report earnings next week with some flagging hits to their earnings as a result of poor banking practices.

CBA named Alan Docherty as its chief financial officer following the unexpected exit of the previous CFO in May. He becomes the eight appointment to the executive leadership team at the country’s largest bank since a money-laundering scandal last year.

Metal prices eased as global trade tensions and an uptick in the U.S. dollar clouded outlook global demand. The metals and mining index fell 1.1 percent.

Global miner BHP fell 1.5 percent to its lowest in nearly four weeks, while its peer Rio Tinto lost 0.7 percent.

Energy stocks were among the few gainers, supported by higher oil prices on supply concerns as international pressure on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist stoked worries about geopolitical tensions.

Santos gained 2.9 percent, while the energy index rose 0.4 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index inched 0.1 percent lower, losing 5 points to finish the session at 8,838.07.

Shares of steel distributor Steel & Tube Holdings fell 1.3 percent as Fletcher Building pulled their offer for the company after a sweetened deal was rebuffed earlier in the day. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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