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Australia: Shares flat on US election worries; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were flat on Thursday, after Wall Street fell for a seventh straight session, with investors bracing for the prospect of a hike in US interest rates in December as well as volatility stemming from a tense US election campaign.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.09 per cent, or 4.80 points at 5,233.80 by 0130 GMT, with healthcare and material sectors gaining the most.

The Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, but said the economy had gained steam and job gains remained solid, expressing more optimism for a rate hike next month.

It was the last Fed decision before next week's presidential election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, a race that has rattled markets by opinion polls showing a tightening White House race.

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An average of polls compiled by the RealClearPolitics website showed Mrs Clinton just 1.7 per cent ahead of Mr Trump nationally on Wednesday.

While most national polls still favour Mrs Clinton, investors are also starting to factor in the possibility that Mr Trump might pull off a victory on Nov 8, deepening investor anxiety given uncertainty about his stance on issues including foreign policy, trade relations and immigrants.

"Global sentiment is still fairly fragile on the anticipated election results out of the US," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress.

Donald Trump's improved performance in polls has added to the concerns of the global markets, he said.

The Australian market saw "a significant sell-off yesterday," which in turn, "to a large degree, has insulated from the losses we saw on Wall Street last night," Mr Brun said adding that "today we might see some bargain hunters step into the market."

Losses in early trade on the index were erased by gains in the financial and material sectors.

S&P ASX 200 Financials (GIC) index was up marginally, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and ASX among the top performers.

ANZ Banking Group gained 1 per cent, after reporting full year results, where it said it would look to sell its Australian insurance and wealth division, a move that could release up to A$5 billion of capital.

BT Investment Management Ltd rose 4.8 per cent after flagging a 12 per cent increase in full year net profit.

S&P ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index gained marginally, with index heavyweight BHP Billiton rising nearly 1 per cent.

Meanwhile, building and construction materials company Boral declined 4.2 per cent, after the company reported that first half FY2017 was expected to be lower than first half FY2016 for Boral Australia.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 0.9 per cent, or 58.28 points, at 6,795.47.

Industrial and telecom sectors were among the biggest losers on the index, with Spark New Zealand falling 1.7 per cent, while Auckland International Airport fell 1.4 per cent.

REUTERS

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