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Australia, NZ: Shares tread water before US presidential debate while NZ eases

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares held steady on Monday, with gains in materials and financials offset by losses in consumer and health care stocks, as investors shifted their attention from central banks to American politics.

Investors are awaiting Monday night's US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which 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 S&P/ASX 200 index finished at 5,431.4 points at the close of trade.

Consumer stocks were among the biggest drag on the benchmark with retail giant Woolworths Ltd ending 2.1 per cent weaker.

Sai Global soared as much as 33.2 per cent, its biggest intra-day percentage gain.

The risk-compliance 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.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.4 per cent, or 31.87 points to finish the session at 7,264.87.

Meridian Energy fell 2.1 per cent while EBOS Group was the biggest percentage loser on the benchmark, dropping 2.4 per cent.