* Analysts expect China to tighten coal import rules
* Energy stocks hit a more than 2-month high
* Gold stocks fall on lower bullion prices (Updates to close)
By Soumyajit Saha
May 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Thursday, hurt by losses in heavyweight miners and banks, as sentiment took a hit on fears of Chinese restrictions on the country’s iron ore exports and a bleak forecast about bank loan defaults.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.41% lower at to 5,550.4.
China, Australia’s largest trading partner, on Wednesday announced changes to the inspection process for its iron ore imports, a move traders and analysts speculate could spill onto another important Australian export — coal.
Tensions between the two countries have heightened recently over Australia’s support for an international probe into the origin of the novel coronavirus.
“There’s some real nervousness that new laws could be used to extend the restrictions China has imposed on barley and beef imports onto essential exports like iron ore,” said Kyle Rodda, market analyst at IG Markets.
Among sectors, the mining index fell for a second consecutive session.
Global miners Rio Tinto and BHP Group lost 1% and 0.6%, respectively, while iron ore giant Fortescue Metals Group dropped over 2%.
Financials stocks snapped two sessions of gains, with the “big four” banks shedding between 0.5% and 1.7%.
“The banking sector still faces a high level of uncertainty about the extent of defaults and impediments”, Rodda said.
Australian banks’ will see a fall in their capital buffers over the year due to likely loan losses as thousands of jobs are lost, the head of the prudential regulator said.
Gold stocks were also lower as bullion prices fell, with Newcrest Mining falling 1%.
Meanwhile, the energy index hit an over 2-month peak as oil prices climbed on a drawdown of U.S. crude inventories and output cuts by major producers.
The number of issues on the ASX that advanced were 858 while 768 declined.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.5% lower, dragged lower by financials.
Real estate co Goodman Property Trust was 1.5% lower. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)