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Australia shares languish ahead of US payrolls; NZ slightly lower

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares lost ground for a third consecutive session on Friday as apprehension mounted around potentially robust US jobs data, expected later in the day, which could bolster the argument for a US Federal Reserve rate rise in the near term.

The market also took cues from overnight moves on Wall Street, where stocks were flat with gains in the tech sector offsetting a disappointing US factory activity report and lower oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index shed 52 points, or one per cent, to 5364.1 by 0316 GMT. The benchmark finished 0.3 per cent lower on Thursday.

Strength in the US labour market has inspired hawkish comments from some Federal Reserve officials of late, with vice chair Stanley Fischer and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester both hinting at an imminent rate hike.

Employers are expected to have added 180,000 jobs in August, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

"Looking at volumes, we are seeing weak trading volumes here and across the Asia Pacific region," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist with CMC Markets.

"It reflects an uncertainty ahead of a major market event."

About 266 million shares changed hands, less than half of the 30-day average.

Telco and healthcare stocks were the biggest drags on the index.

While aged care facilities operator Estia Health was the biggest loser, telecom giant Telstra Corp lost 1.5 per cent.

The energy sector remained weak as oil headed for its biggest weekly loss since mid-January after losing more than 3 per cent a day earlier.

Oil explorer Woodside Petroleum fell 2 per cent, and natural gas infrastructure business APA Group 1.2 per cent.

Financials suffered as the "Big Four" banks declined in a range of 0.9 to 1.7 per cent.

Basic materials snapped two consecutive sessions of losses, gaining marginally after manufacturing data from China, Australia's biggest trading partner, showed an unexpected expansion on Thursday.

Mining major Rio Tinto Ltd gained 0.6 per cent, while peer BHP Billiton Ltd was 0.3 per cent lower.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was marginally lower at 7414.2 points.

Losses in financials and telecom services were balanced out by gains in basic materials, technology and utilities.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and Westpac Banking Corp were among the biggest losers on the benchmark, each a little over 2 per cent lower.