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Australia shares end flat as BHP, Woolworths drag; NZ slightly up

[BENGALURU] Australia shares ended flat on Thursday, surrendering early gains on a positive lead from Wall Street, hurt by declines in BHP and Woolworths which traded ex-dividend.

The Australian benchmark index, which also rose in early trading on receding tensions on the Korean peninsula, finished 0.17 points higher at 5,689.90.

The benchmark shed 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

The consumer staples sector was the worst performer as Woolworths shares slid 1.8 percent to their lowest in more than two months.

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Earlier in the session, data showed retail sales were flat in July, upsetting expectations for a 0.3 per cent increase after a solid 1.8 per cent gain in sales in the June quarter.

Trade data for July was also disappointing with Australia's surplus on goods and services narrowing unexpectedly to A$460 million (S$496.91 million) in July.

Healthcare shares too were among the top losers, with the biggest stock in the sector CSL among the top drags on the main index with its one per cent fall.

Rio Tinto was the main attraction in an otherwise sluggish mining sector. Its shares rose as much as 1.4 per cent to a six-month high after the world's second-biggest miner increased the estimate of coal reserves by 50 per cent at its 80 per cent owned Kestrel mine in Queensland.

Rival BHP's shares, which traded ex-dividend, fell 1.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.18 per cent to 7,804.26, supported by consumer and healthcare shares.

Building materials maker Fletcher Building Ltd and medical devices maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare were the biggest advancers on the benchmark, rising 1.4 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively.

Shares of Air New Zealand were the biggest drag on the index, down 2.5 per cent.