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Australia, NZ: Aussie shares soften ahead of Christmas while NZ hits 2-wk closing high


AUSTRALIA-STOCKS/ CLOSE Aussie shares soften ahead of Christmas; NZ hits 2-wk closing high (S(Updates to close)) Australian shares ended softer on Friday ahead of the Christmas long-weekend as lower commodity prices hurt miners, while financial stocks lost traction - pruning some of their earlier gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 0.3 per cent or 16.04 points to end at 5627.9. The benchmark rose 1.7 per cent over the week, however.

Mining stocks sagged following a drop in Chinese steel and iron ore futures on Thursday after smog engulfing some territories in China affected trade.

A decline in copper prices on Thursday added to the gloom.

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Basic materials were the worst hit on the index followed by consumer stocks. Large-cap iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group closed 4.5 per cent lower and was the second-worst performer on the benchmark, while Rio Tinto ended 2.2 per cent lower. Nickel miner Western Areas Ltd lost 2.3 per cent.

Tatts, Australia's largest betting operator, closed 2.9 per cent lower after it rejected a US$5.27 billion takeover bid from a consortium backed by KKR and Macquarie Group , in favour of the offer from Tabcorp Holdings.

Shares of National Australia Bank pulled back from its 13-month high ending the session 0.5 per cent lower.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.37 per cent or 25.12 points higher to finish the session at 6876.99, its highest closing level in two weeks. The index gained 1.7 per cent on the week.

Industrials and utility stocks drove the gains with shares of Meridian Energy Ltd ending 1.6 per cent higher and the top gainer Auckland International Airport Ltd rising 2.3 per cent.