August 18, 2017 / 7:01 AM / a year ago

Financials lead Australia shares lower after U.S. woes; NZ ends at record high

(Updates to close)

Aug 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Friday, led by Westpac, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and other financials which accounted for about half of the losses, as sentiment was hurt after heavy overnight selling in U.S. stocks.

U.S. stocks sold off on Thursday, with the S&P 500 recording its biggest daily percentage drop in three months, as escalating worries about the Trump administration’s ability to push through its economic agenda rattled investors.

The latest cause of concern around Washington was speculation over the possible departure of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

“Markets were in a cautious mode yesterday on the back of negativity surrounding the Trump administration,” Mizuho said in a note.

The declines on Wall Street spilled over into the Australian markets, with the S&P/ASX 200 index falling 0.6 percent or 32.11 points to 5,747.1 at the close of trade. The benchmark edged 0.1 percent lower on Thursday.

Financial stocks were the biggest drag, with the “Big Four” banks - Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group - all ending lower.

The financial sector accounts for about 40 percent of the benchmark based on market value.

The materials sector also weighed on the index with mining giants BHP Billiton and South32 Ltd shedding 2 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, after Shanghai metals futures opened lower across the board, hurt by the negative sentiment in metals markets overnight.

Despite the broad losses, the index ended the week 0.9 percent higher aided by gains earlier in the week.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index crept up 0.04 percent, or 3.49 points, to eke out a fourth-straight record closing high of 7,873.55.

The benchmark had its best week since April, rising 2 percent.

Industrials and healthcare stocks drove the gains on the index.

Tourism Holdings and Meridian Energy were the top percentage gainers, advancing 2.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. (Reporting By Shashwat Pradhan in Bengaluru; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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