Australian shares ended slightly lower on Tuesday as losses in healthcare stocks countered gains in banks and miners after biotech giant CSL extended losses, while investors awaited U.S. inflation data for clarity on the timing of interest rate cuts.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.2% down at 7,603.60. The benchmark fell 0.4% on Monday.
Investor attention is on the crucial January U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) report due later in the day, as it could help shape the Federal Reserve's rates outlook and determine the timing of interest rate cuts.
In Australia, a survey showed that consumer sentiment rebounded to a 20-month high in February, buoyed by a slowdown in inflation, which fuelled hopes interest rates had finally peaked.
However, the central bank reiterated that although inflation was slowing, it was still too high and would take time to return to target range.
Healthcare stocks led the losses on the benchmark index, with a decline of 1.6%.
Biotech giant CSL fell as much as 4% to its lowest level since Dec. 19, due to a weaker outlook for its divisions Seqirus and Vifor.
Financials gained as much as 0.8%, and mining stocks rose 0.4%.
Among individual stocks, Macquarie dropped 1% after its year-to-date fiscal 2024 net profit after tax fell "substantially."
James Hardie fell 8.5% and was among the top laggards on the benchmark after its fourth-quarter adjusted net income forecast fell short of market consensus.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.2% down at 11,739.68.
A Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) survey showed that the country's inflation expectations dropped to their lowest levels in more than two years in the first quarter, indicating interest rate hikes have been successful in curbing price increases.
"Conditions are moving in the right direction... while the RBNZ won’t be easing their foot off the brake just yet, they are likely to feel comfortable that policy settings are tight enough to get inflation back to target," Westpac analysts said.
(Reporting by Sherin Sunny in Bengaluru; Editing by Dhanya Ann Thoppil)