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Australia: Shares flat, New Zealand rises on company results

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares were flat on Thursday, trading largely in response to company results and outlook, with falls in energy and commodities stocks offset by retailers' gains, while New Zealand shares rose, pushing the index near record highs.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ticked 3 points lower to 5,558.6 by 0306 GMT, a fall of 0.05 per cent.

"I don't really think there's really a catalyst in the market at the moment," said Mathan Somasundaram, a quant strategy researcher at stockbroker Baillieu Holst.

"People are waiting for guidance because the market lacks any real sentiment to go in either direction," he said, adding that traders will closely follow Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's speech to a global central bankers' gathering in Jackson Hole on Friday.

Retailers Metcash and Woolworths, Australia's biggest grocer, were among the biggest gainers after Woolworths explained details of its exit from a disastrous foray into the home improvement business, with Metcash to purchase some hardware stores.

Metcash shares added as much as 11 per cent and Woolworths' 7 per cent. Woolworths also reported its first annual loss, as expected, with investors hopeful it caps a poor year for the company.

Amcor Ltd shares rose 4.6 per cent after it beat analysts' forecasts with a 7.5 per cent rise in underlying annual profit to US$671 million.

Mining and energy stocks fell, as oil tumbled and other commodities fell overnight. Gold miner Newcrest traded 2 per cent lower, and iron ore majors BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both fell 1 per cent, while Fortescue Metals Group fell further, dropping 2.8 per cent.

BHP spinoff South32 reported a 76 per cent slump in underlying annual earnings, but it was better than analysts'expectations and shares added 0.7 per cent.

Local fund manager Perpetual Ltd added 4 per cent, after reporting a rising profit, a bright spot among falls in banks and other finance stocks.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.34 per cent, or 24.94 points, to 7,435.24.

The biggest gainers were honey exporter Comvita, up 3.6 per cent on some bargain hunting after the stock fell when the company said demand from China had waned. Healthcare company Ebos Group was trading up 1.8 per cent after its positive full year result.

The biggest losers include Orion Health Group, down 1.1 per cent.

REUTERS