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Australia, NZ stocks end little changed as geopolitical risks weigh


[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended little changed on Wednesday as gains in financial stocks outweighed a sell-off in some telecom companies.

Investors were also averse to making fresh bets amid rising geopolitical risks in the Middle East and North Asia.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.1 per cent, or 4.726 points, at 5,934.

Financials recouped early losses to end 0.4 per cent higher. The "Big Four" banks gained between 0.2 per cent to 1 per cent.

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But shares of Telstra Corp dropped as much as 8.6 per cent at one point to their lowest level since 2012, after rival TPG Telecom Ltd won an auction for mobile phone airspace that will pave the way for the firm to bring services to 80 per cent of the population.

Telstra was not allowed to bid in the government auction because of its dominant market position. TPG stocks were suspended ahead of the announcement and will not resume trading until April 18.

Stocks were also under pressure from rising geopolitical tensions over US relations with Russia and North Korea, sending investors to safer assets. Gold hit a five-month high.

Newcrest Mining rose 1.6 per cent and St. Barbara Ltd climbed 1.4 per cent, both hitting their highest close since November 9, 2016.

BHP Billiton dismissed a wide-ranging proposal by shareholder Elliott Advisors to overhaul its corporate strategy and sell off oil interests, saying the measures would not benefit the firm.

The response offered no counterproposal and instead defended the miner's longstanding strategy.

BHP shares slipped 0.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell a marginal 2.84 points to finish the session at 7,251.54.

Materials and healthcare stocks led the losses.

Fletcher Building lost 2.6 per cent, while medical devices maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp dropped 0.7 per cent.