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Australia shares flat; NZ up for a fifth straight session

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were flat on Monday as gains in financials slightly outweighed the losses in the basic material sector, which slipped on falling iron ore and copper prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.1 per cent, or 3.4 points to 5,868.8 at 0145 GMT.

Financial stocks gained with three of the 'Big Four' banks rising between 0.06 per cent and 0.4 per cent. Westpac Banking Corp however lost 0.03 per cent. "Financials have had a good run, driving the market, but today they are flat. So, people don't really know what to make of the financial sector in Australia at the moment," said Chris Weston, an institutional dealer at IG Markets.

Banks are focusing on their loan books and investor lending, and are looking at leverage in the property market, Weston said. "Also, they are raising rates independently and that is really helping their margins as well." The Australian Securities and Investments Commission on Monday said it was launching a new round of industry surveillance to ensure banks and brokers were not recommending overly expensive interest-only loans to customers.

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This comes after the banking watchdog, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, said it would tighten rules on interest-only loans.

Meanwhile, home prices in Australia's major cities jumped again in March to propel annual growth to the fastest in almost seven years.

Among commodity stocks, miners Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals lost 0.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively, while BHP Billiton, which has significant oil interests, shed 0.7 per cent.

Chinese iron ore futures had fallen 3 per cent on Friday, and copper fell more than 1 per cent on Friday as the end of a strike at Peru's biggest copper mine dampened fears of reduced supply.

Oil futures also dipped in early Asian trade on Monday on worries about global oversupply after a higher US rig count pointed to rising US shale production, while a stronger dollar also put pressure on crude.

Energy stocks were lower with Worley Parsons losing 2 per cent, while Woodside Petroleum lost 0.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent, or 16.39 points, higher at 7,213.17 extending gains into its fifth straight session. Trade was delayed at the open by a technical problem.

A2 Milk Company and Argosy Property led the gains, rising more than 2 per cent each, with A2 Milk rising to an all-time high of NZ$3.09.

REUTERS

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