Financial, healthcare stocks drag Australian shares to near three-week low

Financial, healthcare stocks drag Australian shares to near three-week low

* Financials emerge as the top loser

* Miners, energy stocks caps losses

* Benchmark hits lowest level since Aug 3 (Updates to close)

By Jaskiran Singh

Aug 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares extended losses on Tuesday, dragged down by financials and healthcare stocks, but gains in mining and energy stocks on firm commodity prices capped losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO ended 1.2% lower at 6,961.8 points at the close of trade, hitting its lowest level since August 3. The index ended 1% lower on Monday.

Global sentiment was subdued as investors awaited policy cues from U.S. Federal Reserve chair's speech at the Jackson Hole symposium of central bankers on Friday, while a spike in European energy prices stoked fears of recession.

Financials .AXFJ were the top laggards on the benchmark, falling for the fourth straight session after shedding 2.1%. All of the so-called "Big Four" banks trading in negative territory.

While one cannot pin-point a specific reason, but higher bond yields in the wake of anxieties around Fed's further rate hikes can be one cause for financials, said Kunal Sawhney, chief executive officer, Kalkine Group.

Additionally, healthcare stocks .AXHJ fell 1.7%, with biomedical giant CSL Ltd CSL.AX shedding 2%.

Capping losses, the export centric-miners and mining sub-index .AXMM edged higher, with sector giants BHP Group BHP.AX adding 0.3%.

China's iron ore and steel prices rose after the government's latest benchmark lending rate cuts boosted sentiment, with the demand outlook also set to improve ahead of the peak season for construction steel.

Similarly, energy .AXEJ and gold stocks .AXGD rose 1.3% and 0.6%, respectively, buoyed by gains in oil and bullion prices.

Energy sector majors Santos Ltd STO.AX and Woodside Energy Group WDS.AX jumped 2.3% and 1.9%, respectively, while Australia's largest gold miner Newcrest Mining NCM.AX rose 0.7%.

Boral Ltd BLD.AX rose more than 2%, even as the cement products maker said its annual underlying profit fell by a third, as it met its guidance.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 ended 1% lower at 11,643.21.
Reporting by Jaskiran Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich