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Australia: Shares pare losses, Woolworths results disappoint


[SYDNEY] Australian shares were flat on Friday as gains in financials were offset by weakness in the consumer staples sector after Woolworths shares slumped nearly 10 per cent and energy-related shares fell on lower oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index were flat at 5,908.3 points at 0056 GMT.

The benchmark fell 0.6 per cent on Thursday after hitting a seven-year peak earlier in the week.

"Our run towards 6,000 points has been put on hold this week," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionXpress. "This is the final day of earnings season and then we go back to a strong focus on economic data for next week. Hopefully we get some data which will lend itself to having a siginificant run at the 6,000-points barrier," he added.

The stock market will look towards a batch of local data due next week, as expectations build for another rate cut from the Reserve Bank of Australia's monetary meeting on Tuesday.

Global equities dipped overnight as investor enthusiasm was dampened by a pullback in oil prices. US consumer prices fell over the past year for the first time since 2009.

Australian business investment slipped to a three-year low while future spending plans were on the weaker side of expectations.

Grocer Woolworths warned full-year earnings will come in at the bottom end of consensus estimates due to planned investments.

Graincorp Ltd fell 3.6 per cent after it said earnings in the 2015 financial year will fall to a five-year low.

Big banks including Westpac and ANZ were in negative territory.

Karoon Gas, Beach Energy and Sundance Energy were down 1.8-4.7 per cent after oil fell sharply on rising inventories.

New Zealand stocks eased slightly from a record high as the market consolidated and investors took some profit. The benchmark NZX-50 index was down 0.3 per cent at 5845.65. It has gained a total of 1.7 per cent this month.

The drivers of the recent surge all gave ground, with top stock Fletcher Building down 1 per cent at NZ$8.69, the number two stock telecommunications operator Spark easing 1.7 per cent at NZ$3.24, and accounting software company Xero, down 1.8 per cent to NZ$24.55.

National carrier Air New Zealand added 1.25 per cent to NZ$2.85, the highest since June 2007.