* Financials top losers on Australian benchmark
* RBA retains accommodative policy settings
* Australia reports nine new locally acquired cases (Updates to close)
June 1 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Tuesday, as concerns over rising COVID-19 cases in Victoria overshadowed optimism about the country’s central bank reiterating its accommodative policy stance.
The S&P/ASX 200 benchmark index closed 0.3% lower at 7,142.6, after ending down 0.3% in the previous session.
Melbourne, the capital of Australia’s second most populous state Victoria, is battling fresh infections, with the country reporting nine new locally acquired cases on Monday.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) held its cash rate at record low of 0.1% for a sixth straight meeting and reiterated its outlook that rates could remain there until 2024.
The Australian dollar slipped from a one-week high hit earlier, as some market participants were expecting a hawkish tilt in the statement.
“With policy accommodation front-loaded, fiscal policy stimulus on the generous side and the economy on a steady mend, the RBA has no reason to accentuate its dovish stance,” Mizuho Bank said in a note.
Australian home prices surged in May, while approvals to build new houses reached record highs, adding yet another challenge for the RBA, which wants to keep rates low until inflation revives.
Financials ended 0.7% lower and were the worst-hit sectors on the benchmark, with all the “Big Four” banks closing in the red.
Energy stocks rebounded after falling 1.6% on Monday and were the top performers on the index, boosted by higher oil prices.
Multi-media firm Nine Entertainment jumped as much as 4.7% after it signed multi-year content supply deals with Google and Facebook. The stock, however, ended 0.7% higher.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 closed up 1.2% at 12,462.47.
China-focused baby food makers Synlait Milk and a2 Milk were among the top gainers, after Beijing relaxed the cap to allow married couples to have up to three children from the existing limit of two.
Reporting by Harish Sridharan in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich