The stock markets in Australia ended lower on Tuesday, following weak cues on Wall Street where the major indices declined amid profit taking by investors and negative comments by analysts on financial stocks.

The Dow closed Monday's session down 41.74 points or 0.5% at 7,976, the Nasdaq closed down 15.16 points or 0.9% at 1,607 and the S&P 500 closed down 7.02 points or 0.8% at 835.

In Asian trading, crude oil advanced $0.50 to $51.55 a barrel in electronic trading. Light sweet crude for May delivery closed down $1.46 at $51.05 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday over demand concerns. Traders now look forward to Wednesday's Department of Energy inventory report.

In Sydney, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index declined 50.3 points, or 1.34%, at 3706.3, and the broader All Ordinaries index lost 47.9 points, or 1.3%, to 3648.5.

On the economic front, the Australian Industry Group/Housing Industry Association's Performance of Construction index for March registered a reading of 30.4, a gain of 0.9 points from the February reading but still below the 50.0 mark that separates expansion in the sector from contraction.

In a central bank decision, the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered the interest rate by 0.25% to a 49-year low of 3.00% with effect from April 8, 2009. The central bank noted that the Australian economy is contracting at a much less rate in comparison to other major trading partners.

Financial and resource stocks led the declines as investors preferred to take profits ahead of the U.S. earnings season.

Among financial stocks, ANZ Banking Group lost 1.16%, Commonwealth Bank shed 1.36%, National Australia Bank declined 2.29% and Westpac Banking slipped 1.93%. Investment bank Macquarie Group fell 4.87%

In the resources sector, index leader BHP Billiton declined 3.83%, and Rio Tinto plunged 10.02%. Gold miners ended mixed. While Lihir Gold gained 1.03%, Sino Gold lost 2.29%, and Newcrest Mining dropped 1.61%.

Among energy stocks, Woodside slipped 0.63%, Oil Search fell 3.45%, and Santos declined 1.45%.

Telephone company Telstra Corp Ltd rose 4.36% after the government announced plans to build a new A$43 billion national high-speed fibre-optic broadband network. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government would ask private companies join a new private-public firm to build the network. The project will support 37,000 jobs.

Retail stocks ended higher. David Jones advanced 0.34%, Coles' owner Wesfarmers gained 0.79%, and Woolworths added 1.43%.

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