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Australia: Shares retreat after 4-session gain, NZ stocks ease

[SYDNEY] Australian shares cooled after four straight sessions of gains, dragged by consumer and health care stocks and as investors shifted their attention from central banks to American politics.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged down 15.40 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 5,415.9 by 0205 GMT.

Investors are awaiting Monday evening's US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that could influence stock trading. The first of three debates ahead of the November election looks set to draw a record high US television audience.

"The (Australian) market won't like it if there are signs that Trump might get in," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst with OptionsXpress.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, suddenly vulnerable in the presidential race, is under pressure to deliver a strong performance against Republican Donald Trump in the debate, a moment that could be the most significant yet of the 2016 election.

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows about 20 per cent of the electorate remains undecided, far higher at this stage in the campaign than the 12 per cent undecided four years ago.

Oil prices slumped 4 per cent on Friday on signs that Saudi Arabia and Iran were making little progress in achieving preliminary agreement ahead of talks by major crude exporters next week aimed at freezing production.

"We have had a few sectors turn positive, namely the materials and the financials, coupled with property trusts and discretionary. So, if we see this momentum continue, there is a good chance we will close in positive territory," Mr Le Brun added.

Consumer stocks were among the biggest drag on the benchmark. Retail giants Wesfarmers Ltd and Woolworths Ltd fell 1.2 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively.

Miner Iluka Resources Ltd fell as much as 3.4 per cent to record its biggest intra-day percentage loss in three-weeks.

Oil major Woodside Petroleum shed 0.8 per cent while WorleyParsons Ltd declined 1.5 per cent.

Sai Global soared as much as 33.2 per cent, its biggest intra-day percentage gain since it started trading. The firm is backing a US$761 million takeover from Hong Kong-based Baring Asia Private Equity, two years after KKR & Co LP and a domestic buyout firm scrapped a higher offer.

Whitehaven Coal Ltd was among the top gainers, reversing Friday's losses to climb 5.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index drifted down 0.3 per cent, or 25.32 points, to 7,271.42.

New Zealand reported a wider-than-expected trade deficit in August, as milk powder exports plummeted to a seven-year low and meat exports also waned.

Utilities, health care and telecom stocks were the biggest drag on the index.

Meridian Energy Ltd dropped 2.3 per cent while Spark New Zealand Ltd wilted 1.1 per cent.

REUTERS