* Aussie shares on track for four straight losing sessions
* Financials the biggest drag on the benchmark
* NZ trades flat as staples, healthcare diverge
By Aditya Soni
May 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares plunged to a near three-week low on Tuesday, as investors fled stocks across the board, with banks bruised by the latest admissions at a powerful Royal Commission inquiry into the scandal-hit sector.
The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.9 percent or 51.6 points to 6,032.9 by 0247 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.1 percent on Monday.
James McGlew, executive director for corporate stockbroking at Perth-based Argonaut, said the market was being driven down by a broad-based sell-off.
“The banks are all weak...the Royal Commission is still weighing heavily on the market’s perceptions. It’s not only the perception of what has happened, but also the perception of what’s going to happen,” McGlew said.
The country’s “Big Four” lenders all admitted on Monday to misconduct in their submissions at a third round of public hearings that focuses on loans to small businesses.
Westpac Banking Corp admitted to signing a legally blind pensioner as guarantor without warning her of the risk losing her home, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) said it was aware that 47 fraudulent business loans had been extended last year.
The news of the transgressions led to a sell-off in the sector, with the financial index falling as much as 0.9 percent to its lowest since April 30.
Westpac fell as much as 0.7 percent, while ANZ dropped 1.6 percent.
Materials stocks, especially miners, were lower, weakened by an extended fall in iron ore prices. China’s Dalian iron ore futures fell more than 3 percent on Monday to their weakest in two weeks and were trading 2.1 percent lower by 0247 GMT.
BHP, the world’s biggest miner, slipped 1.1 percent while rival Rio Tinto Ltd slid 0.9 percent. Healthcare stocks were also hurt, led lower by CSL Ltd , Australia’s fifth-biggest company by market value. The biotherapeutics company declined 1.1 percent, having gained nearly 6 percent in the past two days after announcing a second profit upgrade in three months on Friday.
Hospital group Healthscope fell 4.3 percent after rejecting takeover approaches of more than $3 billion from rival suitors Brookfield Asset Management and BGH Capital, saying both undervalue the company.
Bucking the wider trend, James Hardie Industries PLC , the world’s top fibre cement building materials maker, rose 3.8 percent. The company posted a 17 percent rise in annual adjusted net operating profit, helped by higher unit prices and an uptick in house construction in the key U.S. market.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 2.02 points to 8,613.70.
Consumer staples led the fall, with the a2 Milk Company Ltd dipping 1.9 percent.
Countering the losses on the benchmark was a jump in healthcare stocks, with Ryman Healthcare Ltd climbing 1.8 percent. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Shanima A Editing by Eric Meijer)