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Aussie shares flat, Commonwealth Bank down 2.7%; NZ slips 0.7%

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[BENGALURU] The Australian stock market was steady on Wednesday, with gains dented by slips in Commonwealth Bank of Australia and BHP Billiton.

Shares in the country's biggest mortgage lender, Commonwealth Bank of Australia began trading ex-dividend and promptly fell 2.7 per cent, snapping five sessions of gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 6.57 points or 0.15 per cent to 5,799.6 by 0104 GMT.

Surprisingly, mining giant BHP Billiton fell 0.4 per cent, despite posting a first-half net profit, after making a loss a year ago.

Market voices on:

"Markets did not react strongly to BHP's results released Tuesday, which was little surprising. It is a very strong result for BHP and their commitment to discipline capital management issues overall suggests real strength in the business," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist with CMC Markets.

"That is probably one of the key factors that swung us from positive to negative today - the lack of support for BHP at these high share price levels."

Focus is also on individual stock results today, Mr McCarthy added.

Media intelligence company, iSentia Group was the biggest loser on the index, falling to an all-time low of A$1.66, after it said first-half core earnings fell 13 per cent.

Vitamin maker Blackmores Ltd fell to a two-month low after half-year net profit slipped 41 per cent on slowing demand from Chinese shoppers in Australia.

The country's third-biggest iron producer, Fortescue Metals also slipped 2 per cent after its interim profit of US$1.2 billion fell short of market expectations.

On the flip side, Sydney Morning Herald owner Fairfax Media gained 9.5 per cent after half-year profit rose 6.1 per cent, and confirmed it was preparing for a demerger of its real estate classifieds arm. Domain Group is its highest-earning division, which is valued by analysts at A$2 billion.

"A lot of investors who are not interested in Fairfax's old media assets are interested in earning a part of the main business. Now that there is a clear plan to split the two businesses, they are happy to buy Fairfax shares to make sure they have exposure to the main business that is spun out," Mr Michael said.

Fairfax was the second biggest percentage gainer on the benchmark, followed by Coca-Cola Amatil.

The beverage distributor rose to a near-two year high after its annual profit jumped 6 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.7 per cent or 56.41 points to 7,059.28.

Fletcher Building fell as much as 4.5 per cent to its lowest in around four months after it said the global market outlook was uncertain.

Subscription television provider Sky Network Television fell 2.9 per cent after its half-year profit fell 31.9 per cent.