[SYDNEY] Australian shares eased on Friday as energy and mining stocks stayed under pressure, putting the market firmly on track to end lower for a third straight week.
The S&P/ASX 200 index dipped 0.24 per cent, or 12.22 points, to 5,025.50 by 0158 GMT, having erased morning gains. On the week, it was down 2.45 per cent, taking losses in the past three to more than 4 per cent.
The market has been hit hard by a rout in commodity prices and energy stocks and miners remained in the red. Oil and gas producer Santos fell 0.57 per cent, while BHP Billiton shed 1.37 per cent.
The major banks were mixed after the recent drubbing. Shares in National Australia Bank rose 0.33 per cent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia eased 0.06 per cent.
Overall, a mood of caution shrouded the market as investors braced for more data out of China on Saturday, including industrial production and retail sales.
Any disappointment in the numbers could reinforce worries about slower growth in China's economy, keeping commodity prices under pressure. "Despite the recent capitulation we stay underweight resources, particularly energy stocks," analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in their 2016 outlook report.
"Valuations are closer to fair, but we worry about the value-destructive behaviour that firms may engage in to maintain dividends in the face of collapsing earnings." For more individual stocks activity click on Faring better, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.54 per cent, or 32.36 points, to 6,072,92.
Analysts said investors were hunting for yield a day after the central bank cut rates by 25 basis points to match a record-low 2.50 per cent.
Meridian Energy was the best performer, adding 2.3 per cent after its retail sales volumes increased by 4.6 per cent in November, compared to the same period a year ago.
In contrast, diversified insurer Tower dipped 0.77 per cent.