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Australia: Shares end flat in cautious mood; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed flat on Thursday, after rising marginally earlier, with investors maintaining caution and opting for less risky assets ahead of next week's hotly contested US presidential election.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.06 per cent at 5,225.6 with gains in materials offset by losses in financials.

Opinion polls showing a tightening White House race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have rattled markets.

"One of the things that the markets are finding very difficult to quantify is what the world would look like if (Donald Trump) happens to get in...and the one place that people would stay up to take some comfort in is gold," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

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Australia's gold index rose 3.4 per cent, with Newcrest Mining rising about 3 per cent to hit its highest in about two months.

The benchmark financials index closed down 0.2 per cent, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp weighing on the index most.

"Performance of financial stocks is perhaps suggesting that the easing cycle in Australia might be coming to an end a little quicker than people had anticipated, also there is a bit of growing stress within the bad debt side of the linebooks for all of these major banks," Mr McGlew added.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group was up about 0.6 per cent, after posting its full year results on Thursday.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell for a third consecutive session to close 1.1 per cent down at 6,778.94.

Consumer discretionary and telecom sectors were among the biggest losers on the index, with Spark New Zealand and Skycity Entertainment Group both falling about 2.6 per cent.

REUTERS

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