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Australia: Shares drop, led by financials, NZ flat

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares ran out of steam on Thursday to drop 0.6 per cent after five straight days of gains, with financials weighing down the index following Wall Street's weak lead.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.6 per cent, or 31.09 points to 5,340.1 points by 0148 GMT. The index hit a 9-month high on Wednesday before ending at 5,372.30 points.

The S&P/ASX 200 has risen for seven out of the last 10 sessions and is on track for its third straight monthly rise. Despite recent gains, it is up a mere 1 per cent so far this year.

"Weak leads from the United States overnight have dampened bullish sentiment at home and abroad," said Tim Nicol, client adviser at Atlantic Pacific Securities.

Mr Nicol also blamed softer-than-expected corporate earnings for Thursday's sell-off. "It would be no surprise if we see some more downside pressure in the short term."

Financials led the losses on the index with Australia's top wealth manager AMP tumbling to a one-month low. It dropped more than 6 per cent after posting a near 39 per cent fall in first-quarter cashflow at its Australian wealth unit.

No 3 lender Westpac Banking Corp was down 4 per cent after trading ex-dividend.

Other banks were mixed with Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank up 0.5 per cent each and ANZ Banking down 0.2 per cent.

Energy shares were in the black helped by an overnight bounce in oil prices with Woodside Petroleum, Origin and Santos up 1.7-3.6 per cent.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources were also up.

Major miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose 0.5 and 1 per cent respectively. Fortescue jumped nearly 5 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was largely unchanged on Thursday, inching up 1.84 points to 6,946.18 after hitting a record high on Wednesday.

Investors shrugged off a weak night on Wall Street and were largely treading water with few driving factors.

The index was weighed by a 2.0 per cent fall in Xero after the company reported another full year net loss.

In the other direction, Sky Network Television added 2.2 per cent on some bargain-hunting after the stock fell sharply on a downbeat forecast.

REUTERS